A carillon (ˈkærɨlɒn, ˈkærɨljɒn, or kəˈrɪljən; kaʁijɔ̃) is a musical instrument
Musical instrument
A musical instrument is a device created or adapted for the purpose of making musical sounds. In principle, any object that produces sound can serve as a musical instrument—it is through purpose that the object becomes a musical instrument. The history of musical instruments dates back to the...

 that is typically housed in a free-standing bell tower
Bell tower
A bell tower is a tower which contains one or more bells, or which is designed to hold bells, even if it has none. In the European tradition, such a tower most commonly serves as part of a church and contains church bells. When attached to a city hall or other civic building, especially in...

, or the belfry of a church or other municipal building. The instrument consists of at least 23 cast bronze, cup-shaped bell
Bell (instrument)
A bell is a simple sound-making device. The bell is a percussion instrument and an idiophone. Its form is usually a hollow, cup-shaped object, which resonates upon being struck...

s, which are played serially to play a melody, or sounded together to play a chord. A carillon is played by striking a keyboard
Musical keyboard
A musical keyboard is the set of adjacent depressible levers or keys on a musical instrument, particularly the piano. Keyboards typically contain keys for playing the twelve notes of the Western musical scale, with a combination of larger, longer keys and smaller, shorter keys that repeats at the...

 - the keys of which are sometimes called batons - with the fists, and by pressing the keys of a pedal keyboard with the feet. The keys mechanically activate levers and wires that connect to metal clappers that strike the bells, allowing the performer, or carillonneur, to vary the intensity of the note according to the force applied to the key.

The carillon is the heaviest of all extant musical instruments; the total weight of bells alone can be 100 tons in the largest instruments.

The greatest concentration of carillons is still found in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Northern France, where they were symbols of civic pride and status. Some of the most spectacular are now protected by UNESCO
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations...

 as part of the world heritage site the Belfries of Belgium and France
Belfries of Belgium and France
The Belfries of Belgium and France is a group of 56 historical buildings designated by UNESCO as World Heritage Site, in recognition of an architectural manifestation of emerging civic independence in historic Flanders and neighbouring regions from feudal and religious influences, leading to a...



In medieval times, bells were first used as a way of notifying people of fires, storms, wars and other events. The great bell Rowland announced births, deaths, fires, and military attacks. A ringing of bells rung from the lowest note to the highest note indicated that an attack had taken place. The use of bells in a musical fashion originated in the 14th century in the Low Countries
Low Countries
The Low Countries are the historical lands around the low-lying delta of the Rhine, Scheldt, and Meuse rivers, including the modern countries of Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and parts of northern France and western Germany....


In the 17th century, François and Pieter Hemony developed the art of bell-founding
Bellfounding is the casting of bells in a foundry for use in churches, clocks, and public buildings. A practitioner of the craft is called a bellmaker or bellfounder. The process in Europe dates to the 4th or 5th century. In early times, when a town produced a bell it was a momentous occasion in...

, designing, and tuning, which they passed on to Antwerp bellfounder Melchior de Haze. In the 18th century, several members of the Van den Gheyn bellfounders dynasty also mastered the skill of bell tuning, such as Andreas Joseph Van den Gheyn. Unfortunately his techniques also died with him. It was not until the 19th century in England under the John Taylor Bellfounders
John Taylor Bellfounders
John Taylor & Co, formerly trading as Taylors, Eayre & Smith Ltd and John Taylor Bellfounders Ltd, and commonly known as Taylor's Bell Foundry or simply Taylor's, is the world's largest working bell foundry, located in Loughborough in the United Kingdom.The company manufactures bells for use in...

 at Loughborough, England, that bell tuning was re-invented.

The greatest concentration of carillons is still found in the Netherlands, Belgium, and in the north of France, where they were mounted in the grand towers of rich cities as tokens of civic pride and status. Carillons were usually housed in church towers, belfries, or in municipal buildings. In Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

, a carillon is also called a Glockenspiel
A glockenspiel is a percussion instrument composed of a set of tuned keys arranged in the fashion of the keyboard of a piano. In this way, it is similar to the xylophone; however, the xylophone's bars are made of wood, while the glockenspiel's are metal plates or tubes, and making it a metallophone...


Musical characteristics

Since each separate note is produced by an individual bell, a carillon's musical range
Range (music)
In music, the range of a musical instrument is the distance from the lowest to the highest pitch it can play. For a singing voice, the equivalent is vocal range...

 is determined by the number of bells it has. Different names are assigned to instruments based on the number of bells they comprise:
  • Carillons with 23 through 27 bells are referred to as two-octave carillons. Players of these instruments often use music arranged specifically for their limited range of notes.
  • The "keyboard" of a carillon is called a baton console.
  • A concert carillon has a range of at least four octaves (47 bells). This is sometimes referred to as the "standard-sized" carillon.

The Riverside Carillon in New York City has (or did have—there may be other instruments with larger bourdon
Bourdon (bell)
The bourdon is the heaviest of the bells that belong to a musical instrument, especially a chime or a carillon, and produces its lowest tone....

s) the largest tuned bell in the world, which sounds the C two octaves below middle C on the piano.
  • Travelling or mobile carillons are not placed in a tower, but can be transported. Some of them can even be played indoor—in a concert hall or church—like the mobile carillon of Frank Steijns.

  • Modern imitation instruments (such as those made by Schulmerich) use semantra
    The semantron or semanterion , also called a xylon is a percussion instrument used in monasteries to summon monks to prayer or at the start of a procession.-Origins and use:...

     (rectangular metal bars roughly the diameter of a pencil, but of varying lengths) struck by an electric solenoid
    A solenoid is a coil wound into a tightly packed helix. In physics, the term solenoid refers to a long, thin loop of wire, often wrapped around a metallic core, which produces a magnetic field when an electric current is passed through it. Solenoids are important because they can create...

    . They may be played from a keyboard, organ console, or by means of music roll
    Music roll
    A music roll is a storage medium used to operate a mechanical musical instrument. They are used for the player piano, mechanical organ, electronic carillon and various types of orchestrion. The vast majority of music rolls are made of paper...

    s. The resulting sound is electronically amplified
    Generally, an amplifier or simply amp, is a device for increasing the power of a signal.In popular use, the term usually describes an electronic amplifier, in which the input "signal" is usually a voltage or a current. In audio applications, amplifiers drive the loudspeakers used in PA systems to...

     and broadcast by loudspeaker
    A loudspeaker is an electroacoustic transducer that produces sound in response to an electrical audio signal input. Non-electrical loudspeakers were developed as accessories to telephone systems, but electronic amplification by vacuum tube made loudspeakers more generally useful...

    s. Although called "carillons" or "electronic carillons
    Electronic Carillon
    Electronic carillon is a blanket term used to refer to an automated system which imitates the sound of a carillon. These systems simulate and amplify bell sounds which are then played from loudspeakers housed in a bell tower...

    ", their sound does not conform to the definitions given by the World Carillon Federation or the Guild of Carillonneurs in North America
    Guild of Carillonneurs in North America
    The Guild of Carillonneurs in North America is a professional society of carillonneurs in the United States and Canada, dedicated to the promotion of the carillon art. The GCNA was founded in Ottawa, Ontario in 1936 and is a member of the World Carillon Federation . It holds an annual congress at...

    . The GCNA as of 2000 has disqualified all instruments in which more than 12 bells are played electrically. Twelve bells are allowed so that automatic chiming of tunes may take place. Chiming means that one bell at a time is usually played.

The carillonneur or carillonist is the title of the musician
A musician is an artist who plays a musical instrument. It may or may not be the person's profession. Musicians can be classified by their roles in performing music and writing music.Also....* A person who makes music a profession....

 who plays the carillon. The carillonneur/carillonist usually sits in a cabin beneath the bells and presses down, with a loosely closed fist, on a series of baton-like keys arranged in the same pattern as a piano keyboard. The batons are almost never played with the fingers as one does a piano, though this is sometimes used as a special carillon playing technique. The keys activate levers and wires that connect directly to the bells' clappers; thus, as with a piano, the carillonneur can vary the intensity of the note according to the force applied to the key. In addition to the manual keys, the heavier bells are also played with a pedal keyboard. These notes can either be played with the hands or the feet.

To a musician's ear, a carillon can sound "out of tune." Poorly tuned bells often give this impression and also can be out of tune with themselves. This is due to the unusual harmonic
A harmonic of a wave is a component frequency of the signal that is an integer multiple of the fundamental frequency, i.e. if the fundamental frequency is f, the harmonics have frequencies 2f, 3f, 4f, . . . etc. The harmonics have the property that they are all periodic at the fundamental...

 characteristics of foundry
A foundry is a factory that produces metal castings. Metals are cast into shapes by melting them into a liquid, pouring the metal in a mold, and removing the mold material or casting after the metal has solidified as it cools. The most common metals processed are aluminum and cast iron...

 bells, which have strong overtones above and below the fundamental frequency
Fundamental frequency
The fundamental frequency, often referred to simply as the fundamental and abbreviated f0, is defined as the lowest frequency of a periodic waveform. In terms of a superposition of sinusoids The fundamental frequency, often referred to simply as the fundamental and abbreviated f0, is defined as the...

. Foundry bells are tuned to have the following set of partials (overtones):
  • Octave above prime
  • Fifth
  • Minor third
  • Prime and strike tone resultant
  • Hum tone (an octave below prime)

There is a major 10th, 12th, and 15th which are not typically individually tuned, but are usually present anyway. They all combine to create a "resultant" pitch, which is in unison with prime on a well-tuned bell. Properly tuned bells emphasize the fundamental frequency of the bell.
There is no standard pitch range for the carillon. In general, a concert carillon will have a minimum of forty-eight bells. The range of any given instrument usually depends on funds available for the fabrication and installation of the instrument: more money allows more bells to be cast, especially the larger, more costly ones. Older carillons can be transposing instruments, generally transposing upward. Most modern instruments sound at concert pitch. A carillon clavier
Musical keyboard
A musical keyboard is the set of adjacent depressible levers or keys on a musical instrument, particularly the piano. Keyboards typically contain keys for playing the twelve notes of the Western musical scale, with a combination of larger, longer keys and smaller, shorter keys that repeats at the...

 has both a manual and a pedal keyboard.

Carillon music is typically written on two staves. Notes written in the bass clef are generally played by the feet. Notes written in the treble clef are played with the hands. Pedals range from the lowest note (the bourdon) and may continue up to two and half octaves. In the North American Standard keyboard, all notes can be played on the manual.

Because of the acoustic peculiarities of a carillon bell (the prominence of the minor third, and the lack of damping of sound), music written for other instruments needs to be arranged specifically for the carillon.

The combination of carillon and other instruments, while possible, is generally not a happy marriage. The carillon is generally far too loud to perform with most other concert instruments. The great exceptions to this are some late twentieth- and early twenty-first century compositions involving electronic media and carillon. In these compositions, sound amplification is able to match the extreme dynamic range of the carillon and, in the case of sensitive composers, even the most delicate effects are possible.

Recording the carillon is notoriously difficult. The extreme amount of sound waves that are generated and the layout of a carillon present problems not found in normal recording situations. PZM microphones
PZM (microphone)
PZM is an acronym for Pressure Zone Microphone; it generally refers to a "boundary microphone" in which a small omnidirectional condenser mic capsule faces a boundary a few thousandths of an inch away. PZM is a trademark of Crown International....

 can handle the enormous waves of sound, but it isn't possible to decide on the location of the microphones without experimentation.

Composers for carillon

  • George Crumb
    George Crumb
    George Crumb is an American composer of contemporary classical music. He is noted as an explorer of unusual timbres, alternative forms of notation, and extended instrumental and vocal techniques. Examples include seagull effect for the cello , metallic vibrato for the piano George Crumb (born...

  • Margriet Ehlen
    Margriet Ehlen
    Margriet Ehlen is a Dutch poet and a composer, conductor and educator of classical music.-Life and career:She has composed for a large variety of instruments, yet is particularly active in composition for voice. These works extend from solo vocalists to choir music. Many of her compositions for...

  • Hans Kockelmans
    Hans Kockelmans
    Hans Kockelmans is a Dutch composer, teacher, and performer of Early Classical and electronic music.He studied baroque lute with Mijndert Jape, as well as electronic music, and classical guitar at the Maastricht conservatory....

  • Vincent Persichetti
    Vincent Persichetti
    Vincent Ludwig Persichetti was an American composer, teacher, and pianist. An important musical educator and writer, Persichetti was a native of Philadelphia...

  • Olesya Rostovskaya
    Olesya Rostovskaya
    Olesya Rostovskaya is a Russian composer and organist, and a prominent performer and exponent of such rare instruments as carillon and thereminvox.-Biography:...

  • Roman Turovsky-Savchuk
    Roman Turovsky-Savchuk
    Roman Turovsky-Savchuk is an American painter and lutenist-composer born in Ukraine.-Biography:Turovsky was born in Kiev, Ukraine in 1961, when it was part of the Soviet Union. He studied art from an early age under his father, the painter Mikhail Turovsky and at the Shevchenko State Art School...

  • Merlijn Twaalfhoven
    Merlijn Twaalfhoven
    Merlijn Twaalfhoven is a Dutch composer and theatre maker. He graduated from the Conservatorium van Amsterdam in 2003. Twaalfhoven is internationally active in creating innovative projects and writing new music for orchestras, choirs and chamber music groups...

Notable musicians

  • Ronald Barnes (1927–97) – United States
  • Jeff Davis
    Jeff Davis
    - People :*Jeff B. Davis , American actor, comedian and singer*Jeff Davis , professional NFL football player, member of Clemson's 1981 national championship team...

     – The University of California at Berkeley
  • Jef Denyn
    Jef Denyn
    Jef Denyn was a carillon player from Mechelen, Belgium. In 1922, he founded the world's first and most renowned international higher institute of campanology, later named after him, the Royal Carillon School "Jef Denyn" in Mechelen.During the First World War, he, his wife Helene, son and four...

     (1862–1941) – Belgium
  • Jacob van Eyck
    Jacob van Eyck
    Jonkheer Jacob van Eyck was a Dutch nobleman and musician. He was one of the best-known musicians in The Netherlands in the seventeenth century as a carillon player, expert in bell casting and tuning, organist, recorder virtuoso, and composer.Van Eyck was born blind into a noble family in the...

     (1590–1657) – Netherlands
  • Robert Grogan (born 1944) – United States
  • Hans Uwe Hielscher
    Hans Uwe Hielscher
    Hans Uwe Hielscher is a German organist and composer.Hielscher studied church music at the Hochschule für Musik Detmold , and carillon in Utrecht. From 1969 - 1973 he was church musician in Juist and from 1973 - 1979 in Bielefeld. He has been the organist and carilloneur at the Marktkirche in...

     (born 1945) – Germany
  • Frank DellaPenna – United States
  • Frank Steijns (born 1970) – Netherlands
  • Rosemarie Seuntiëns (born 1970) – Netherlands
  • David Christensen – University of California, Riverside
    University of California, Riverside
    The University of California, Riverside, commonly known as UCR or UC Riverside, is a public research university and one of the ten general campuses of the University of California system. UCR is consistently ranked as one of the most ethnically and economically diverse universities in the United...

    , United States
  • Wendell Westcott
    Wendell J. Westcott
    Wendell J. Westcott was the University Carillonneur at Michigan State University from 1941–1987 and the creator and director of the Spartan Bell Ringers, a musical group composed of MSU students. Westcott was the author of Bells and Their Music, published in 1970.-References:**...

     (1911–2010) – Michigan State University
    Michigan State University
    Michigan State University is a public research university in East Lansing, Michigan, USA. Founded in 1855, it was the pioneer land-grant institution and served as a model for future land-grant colleges in the United States under the 1862 Morrill Act.MSU pioneered the studies of packaging,...

    , United States
  • Tin-Shi TamIowa State University
    Iowa State University
    Iowa State University of Science and Technology, more commonly known as Iowa State University , is a public land-grant and space-grant research university located in Ames, Iowa, United States. Iowa State has produced astronauts, scientists, and Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners, along with a host of...

    , United States
  • Olesya Rostovskaya
    Olesya Rostovskaya
    Olesya Rostovskaya is a Russian composer and organist, and a prominent performer and exponent of such rare instruments as carillon and thereminvox.-Biography:...

     – Russia
  • Margo HalstedUniversity of Michigan
    University of Michigan
    The University of Michigan is a public research university located in Ann Arbor, Michigan in the United States. It is the state's oldest university and the flagship campus of the University of Michigan...

    , United States
  • Dr. Steve KnightSamford University
    Samford University
    Samford University, founded as Howard College is a private, coeducational, Alabama Baptist Convention-affiliated university located in Homewood, a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama, United States. It includes the , Cumberland School of Law, McWhorter School of Pharmacy, Brock School of Business, Ida V....

    , United States

Instruments by country

Overview of highest concentrations of carillons (as defined by the World Carillon Federation) (data September 2006):
Region Surface area
Number of
per 1000 km²
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

41,526 182 4.383
Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...

30,528 89 2.915
Flemish Region
The Flemish Region is one of the three official regions of the Kingdom of Belgium—alongside the Walloon Region and the Brussels-Capital Region. Colloquially, it is usually simply referred to as Flanders, of which it is the institutional iteration within the context of the Belgian political system...

 and Brussels
Brussels , officially the Brussels Region or Brussels-Capital Region , is the capital of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union...

13,683 66 4.824
Wallonia 16,844 23 1.365
Nord, France 5,743 15 2.612
Côte d'Or
Côte-d'Or is a department in the eastern part of France.- History :Côte-d'Or is one of the original 83 departments created during the French Revolution on 4 March 1790. It was formed from part of the former province of Burgundy.- Geography :...

, France
8,763 5 0.571
Denmark is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. The countries of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Faroe Islands, constitute the Kingdom of Denmark . It is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. Denmark...

43,098 23 0.534
for comparison only:
USA 9,631,420 164 0.017
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

7,741,220 2 0.0002


Carillon schools include the Netherlands Carillon School in the Netherlands and the first international school, the Royal Carillon School "Jef Denyn" in Mechelen
Mechelen Footnote: Mechelen became known in English as 'Mechlin' from which the adjective 'Mechlinian' is derived...

, Belgium.

In North America, one can study the carillon at the University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Berkeley
The University of California, Berkeley , is a teaching and research university established in 1868 and located in Berkeley, California, USA...

, the University of Michigan
University of Michigan
The University of Michigan is a public research university located in Ann Arbor, Michigan in the United States. It is the state's oldest university and the flagship campus of the University of Michigan...

 in Ann Arbor
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Ann Arbor is a city in the U.S. state of Michigan and the county seat of Washtenaw County. The 2010 census places the population at 113,934, making it the sixth largest city in Michigan. The Ann Arbor Metropolitan Statistical Area had a population of 344,791 as of 2010...

 (which is home to two of only twenty-three grand carillons in the world), the University of Florida
University of Florida
The University of Florida is an American public land-grant, sea-grant, and space-grant research university located on a campus in Gainesville, Florida. The university traces its historical origins to 1853, and has operated continuously on its present Gainesville campus since September 1906...

, the University of Denver
University of Denver
The University of Denver is currently ranked 82nd among all public and private "National Universities" by U.S. News & World Report in the 2012 rankings....

's Lamont School of Music, Missouri State University
Missouri State University
Missouri State University is a public university located in Springfield, Missouri, United States and founded in 1905. It is the state's second largest university, with an official enrollment of 20,802 in fall 2011...

, and Berea College
Berea College
Berea College is a liberal arts work college in Berea, Kentucky , founded in 1855. Current full-time enrollment is 1,514 students...

, Berea, KY, all which offer complete courses of study. One can also take private lessons at many carillon locations, and there are universities that offer limited credit for carillon performance, such as Clemson University
Clemson University
Clemson University is an American public, coeducational, land-grant, sea-grant, research university located in Clemson, South Carolina, United States....

, University of Kansas
University of Kansas
The University of Kansas is a public research university and the largest university in the state of Kansas. KU campuses are located in Lawrence, Wichita, Overland Park, and Kansas City, Kansas with the main campus being located in Lawrence on Mount Oread, the highest point in Lawrence. The...

, Iowa State University
Iowa State University
Iowa State University of Science and Technology, more commonly known as Iowa State University , is a public land-grant and space-grant research university located in Ames, Iowa, United States. Iowa State has produced astronauts, scientists, and Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners, along with a host of...

, and Marquette University
Marquette University
Marquette University is a private, coeducational, Jesuit, Roman Catholic university located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Founded by the Society of Jesus in 1881, the school is one of 28 member institutions of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities...


The George Cadbury
George Cadbury
George Cadbury was the third son of John Cadbury, a Quaker who founded Cadbury's cocoa and chocolate company.-Background:...

 Carillon School was opened in 2006 and is the only carillon school in the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...


Another international carillon school, the Scandinavian Carillon School in Løgumkloster, Denmark, was established back in 1979. It serves mainly Scandinavians, but does also cooperate with other carillon schools on a University level with student exchanging.

A number of universities and undergraduate institutions also make use of carillons as part of their tradition. SUNY Geneseo’s carillon sounds traditional clock bell tones every hour, along with various songs, everything from classical to pop, being played throughout the day. Princeton University
Princeton University
Princeton University is a private research university located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. The school is one of the eight universities of the Ivy League, and is one of the nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution....

 houses a carillon of 67 bells which can be heard every Sunday afternoon and most Wednesday evenings with performances from Robin Austin, his students, and guest artists. Smith College in Northampton Massachusetts completed its carillon of 48 bells in 2009, ninety years after the first bells were hung in 1919.

Good illustrations of the tradition includes Denny Chimes at the University of Alabama, Sather Tower at Cal Berkeley, and the Rockefeller Carillon at the University of Chicago — the latter of which is the largest single musical instrument in the world. The newest addition to the list is the Bell Tower at the University of South Alabama which has a web cam of current construction.

See also

  • Mission Inn: Carrie Jacobs-Bond, "A Perfect Day"
  • Chime (bell instrument)
    Chime (bell instrument)
    A carillon-like instrument with fewer than 23 bells is called a chime.American chimes usually have one to one and a half diatonic octaves. Many chimes play an automated piece of music. Prior to 1900, chime bells typically lacked dynamic variation and the inner tuning required to permit the use of...

  • List of carillons

Further reading

  • Boogert, Loek, André Lehr, and Jacques Maassen. 45 Years of Dutch Carillons, 1945–1990. Asten, the Netherlands: Netherlands Carillon Society, 1992. ISBN 90-900345-0-1.
  • Huybens, Gilbert. Carillons et Tours de Belgique. Ghent, Belgium: Ludion Editions, 1994. ISBN 90-5544-019-1.
  • Keldermans, Karel, and Linda Keldermans. Carillon: The Evolution of a Concert Instrument in North America. Springfield, IL: Springfield Park District, 1996. ISBN 0-9652252-0-8.
  • Lehr, André. The Art of the Carillon in the Low Countries. Tielt, Belgium: Lannoo, 1991. ISBN 90-209-1917-2.
  • Swager, Brian. A history of the carillon: its origins, development, and evolution as a musical instrument. Document (D. Mus.). Indiana University, 1993.

External links

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