Geeky Bob

Just a short, simple blog for Bob to share his thoughts.

Be sure to check out my technical blog at www.microsoftbob.com.

MonthList

My Top Ten Favorite Rock Songs

Lists of favorites artists and favorite songs are a dime a dozen, but still - I thought that it might be a worthwhile endeavor to jot down a list of rock songs that were significantly important to me over the years. These are the songs that I would pull my car off the road to listen to over the radio, or I struggled to learn on the guitar when I was first starting out as a musician, or they had an indelible affect on my playing.

Trying to compile a list such as this was difficult for me, because some of the artists - like Rush - have dozens of songs that I would consider among my list of favorites, so I had to limit myself to just one song per artist. In addition, a few of these songs are not necessarily what I would consider to be the best songs by their respective artists, but they were the songs that made me initially fall in love with that artist's music.

Presented in alphabetic order (as opposed to order of precedence):

There are some artists - like Queen, Triumph, Journey, Styx, and Genesis - who are conspicuously missing from this list, even though I saw many of those artists in concert and several of their songs might be on my top 100 list of favorites. There are two reasons for their omission: 1) I eventually ran out of room on this list, and 2) there was no single song by those artists that I would consider as a milestone in my musical upbringing.


Note: One song in the above list - Dust in the Wind - probably needs a bit of explanation, since it might seem a little out-of-place in a collection that is otherwise dominated by straight-ahead rock pieces.

To be honest, I didn't like Dust in the Wind when I first heard it; I thought it was interminably boring. But as I continued to learn the guitar, I forced myself to learn the song, and I quickly came to appreciate its educational value when learning Travis Picking (and fingerpicking in general). I eventually taught that song to nearly all of my guitar students in order to help get them started.

Posted: Nov 12 2018, 14:44 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Guitar Shopping in Nashville

My wife and I had an opportunity to travel to Nashville, and since Nashville has long-been hailed as the “Music City,” I decided that I should take advantage of the situation to check out some of the local guitar shops while I was in town. As a brief bit of background, I have a good friend, Harold, whom I have known from my earliest days at Microsoft. Harold lives in Nashville now, but when the two of us lived in Seattle, we used to hit all of the guitar shops in that area from time to time. With that in mind, I pinged Harold prior to my arrival and suggested that we should plan to visit a couple of guitar stores while I was in town. (Because the algebraic formula for how many guitars a guy should own is G = N + 1, where “G” is the optimal number of guitars that you should own, and “N” is equal to the number of guitars that you currently own.)

Having said all of that, Harold and I spent a great afternoon visiting two stores, and here’s the lowdown on them.

Store #1 - Carter Vintage Guitars

The first store we visited was Carter Vintage Guitars (www.cartervintage.com), which has thousands of vintage guitars, amps, and pedals…

carter-vintage-1_2_3_Painterly 5

On a personal note, it was a little disconcerting to see an original tape-based EchoPlex selling for $1250, since I sold mine for $50 way back in the 1980s. (At that time in my life I was a poor 20-something and I needed the cash.)

I tried out dozens of amazing guitars, all original and vintage, and most of them selling for a hefty price. (Hey – they are vintage guitars, after all.)

I didn’t buy anything, but they had a beautiful 1974 Gibson EDS-1275 that I would have loved to bring home with me – if only I had the $7,500 to spend on it. [Deep Sigh.]

Store #2 - Gruhn Guitars

The next store that Harold and I visited was one that I had on my list before I arrived: Gruhn Guitars (www.guitars.com), which is a Nashville institution. They have two floors of guitars: the first floor had hundreds of guitars – many of the newer models are what you might expect in your typical guitar store are on that floor, although there were dozens of special gems scattered around, too…

gruhn-guitars-1_2_3_Painterly 5

The second floor has an amazing collection of vintage guitars, (although you need to talk to a salesperson to access that floor)…

gruhn-guitars-2nd-floor-1_2_3_Painterly 5

I found a pristine 1918 Gibson Harp guitar on the second floor that would have found a nice home in my studio, but once again – the $7,500 price tag was more than I could muster.

There were several guitars nestled among the vintage collection that were even more valuable based on their previous owner; for example – one of the acoustic guitars had belonged to John Denver, and the following Flying V used to belong to the great Albert King

albert-king-flying-v

As Harold and I were perusing the various vintage guitars on the second floor, we bumped into George Gruhn, the founder and owner of Gruhn Guitars. George is something of a legend in the Music City, and he’s also the nicest guy you could ever meet.

George invited Harold and me into his office to see his amazing collection of – pythons. Yes, you read that correctly – George has a dozen or so pythons and other snakes in his office. The three of us talked about his collection of reptiles, and then George brought out a couple of his snakes for us to hold. Harold held a tiny but friendly pale-colored python, whereas I held a species of serpent that resembled a coral snake a little too close for comfort. He was a full-sized and quite curious fellow; he kept trying to inspect what I had in my pockets, and I had to keep shifting him from arm to arm in order to prevent him from falling. After ten or so minutes of reptilian admiration, we returned the snakes and resumed our discussion of guitars.

George had an amazing resonator guitar in his office, and the three of us took turns playing it; I played a little jazz piece on it, Harold played excerpts from a classical etude, and George played some amazing vintage improvisational fingerstyle (with hints of Celtic influence). This particular resonator had an amazing sound, but the price tag was a bit out of my range. (Although Harold was seriously contemplating adding it to his collection.)

As we discussed the various guitars we each owned, George shared a bit of his guitar wisdom with Harold and me. For example, he said that there are three primary reasons why someone buys a guitar:

  1. They don’t have a guitar
  2. They want a better guitar
  3. They collect guitars (which all three of us obviously do)

We all laughed about George’s observation, but George pointed out that many collectors do not seem to actually care about the quality; some of the collectors he meets are simply trying to fill a generic void in their collection. I responded that I buy different guitars for specific purposes; each of mine is unique and purchased for an individual sound or purpose.

George also produced a Martin that I played briefly, and when I commented that I much preferred the neck on my Taylor for playing fingerstyle, George produced a trio of Taylor prototypes that had not yet been assigned a specific model number. (One of the prototypes was personally signed by Bob Taylor and addressed to George.) I liked the Taylors much better; their necks were more like what I was accustomed to playing. After a few minutes George needed to head back to work, so Harold and I headed downstairs, where Harold continued to put the resonator from George’s office through its paces while I browsed through the wide-ranging collection of acoustic guitars.

About ten minutes later George found me; he said that he had a 1946 Epiphone upstairs that he wanted to show me, so the two of us headed back upstairs to check it out. I own an 1965 Epiphone 12-string, and George’s 1946 6-string was somewhat reminiscent of my guitar, (albeit in better shape than mine). I swapped out the Epiphone for one of the Taylor protoypes, then George picked up a 5-string banjo and started to play various melody lines in Old Americana, Celtic, and Klezmer/Yiddish styles as I tried to keep up with the rapid chord changes on the guitar. It was a fun, impromptu jam session between guitar geeks, and I had a blast.

Eventually Harold joined us on the second floor, and it was time for us to go. I had to meet my wife downtown for a previous engagement, so Harold and I bid George adieu and headed off into the proverbial Tennessee sunset.

Posted: Sep 18 2018, 19:49 by Bob | Comments (0)
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My Thoughts About Rush's Studio Albums

A long time ago Rush ceased making albums where everything was good on it. It used to be that you could put on a Rush album and every track was going to be great, but that time has long since passed.

At the risk of too much information, here is my completely biased assessment on the "listenability" for each of the Rush studio albums:

  • RUSH, FLY BY NIGHT, and CARESS OF STEEL: There are good tracks, there are bad tracks, and there are weird tracks on each album. I seldom listened to any of these albums in their entirety.
  • 2112: "Lessons" and "Tears" weren't amazing songs, but the rest of the tracks more than made up for them, and I could listen to this entire album over and over.
  • A FAREWELL TO KINGS: I would call "Cinderella Man" this album's weakest track, but still... I could listen to this entire album repeatedly, and often did.
  • HEMISPHERES: There aren't any weak tracks. Period. I listened to this entire album repeatedly.
  • PERMANENT WAVES: Rush was firing on all cylinders now, so there are no clunkers on this album, and I listened to it more times than I can remember.
  • MOVING PICTURES: Rush had evolved into prog rock masters. This album is a masterpiece. Every song is a winner. I played this album more than any other album in my lifetime.
  • SIGNALS: There really aren't any exceedingly weak tracks on this album, either. But this marks the beginning of the synth takeover... still, I could listen to the whole album in one sitting.
  • GRACE UNDER PRESSURE: I will admit, this album had a couple songs that I liked less than others; for example: Red Lenses was fun to play in a band just to see if we could pull it off, but it wasn't that great to listen to. (Way too much synth.) Nevertheless, I could listen to this entire album, just not as often as others.
  • POWER WINDOWS: Several bright moments, but waaaaaaay too much synth. And the lyrics were nowhere near Neil's best. If MP3s had existed, I probably would have created playlists that left off a song or two.
  • HOLD YOUR FIRE: Wow - which band is this? Is this even Rush? The synths have completely taken over. As with POWER WINDOWS, I didn't want to hear every song, and by this point I had a CD player that allowed me to pick and choose what songs to play and what songs to skip.
  • PRESTO: High points and low points... and Rush continues to sound like a totally different band than a decade earlier. I continued to pick and choose which songs to play. Lyrically pretty weak at times, like Neil was trying too hard to be good or trying too hard to be funny.
  • ROLL THE BONES: Strong points and weak points. (Are you seeing a trend yet?) Plus - RAP??? SERIOUSLY??? (Okay - the video of the skeleton is funny in concert, but still...)
  • COUNTERPARTS: This album had a few bright moments, but truth be told - I despised this album so badly that I packed up all my Rush albums and gave them to my brother. (Seriously... all my picture discs, all my bootlegs, all my collectibles... everything went.)
  • TEST FOR ECHO: I was done with Rush, so I never listened to this album. The only way that I heard tracks from this album is when I went to see Rush in concert in later years, and I was happy to see that there were a couple good songs on it.
  • VAPOR TRAILS: As with TEST FOR ECHO, I didn't listen to VAPOR TRAILS, so the first time I heard tracks from this album was when I saw Rush in concert.
  • FEEDBACK: A friend let me listen to this album, but let's be honest - it's all cover songs, so it's not really Rush, is it?
  • SNAKES & ARROWS: I heard this album when it came out, although I will admit that I didn't actually buy it. Nevertheless, it was a strong album with very little hint of synths. I was hooked from the first few notes of "Far Cry," which hearkened back to the old Rush we used to love. Still, though - there were several weak points, too.
  • CLOCKWORK ANGELS: Wanna know a secret? I still haven't heard this album in its entirety. I heard "Caravan" and "BU2B" when they were released as singles, and I heard a couple more songs when Rush played them in concert, but... for some reason this album just didn't pique my interest, so I still haven't sat down and listened to it.

And there you have it: my completely biased view of the studio albums that were released throughout Rush's career. Please note that the views expressed were entirely my own and are not intended to infer any lack of awesomeness for the Trio from Toronto.

That being said, Clockwork Angels was not the best swan song for a band this awesome. I know that Rush has said that they will never tour again, but hopefully they'll put out another studio album that will make up for Clockwork Angels.

Posted: Aug 19 2018, 09:39 by Bob | Comments (0)
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I Love Levy's Guitar Straps

I have played guitar for over 40 years, and I have to say - without a doubt - that Levy's makes the best guitar straps. I know that this is probably going to sound like a paid advertisement, but I have used their straps for the past 25 years or so, and I have never had one fail on me. (And trust me, I have abused the heck out of them.)

With that in mind, I thought that it was pretty cool that I stumbled across the following short video which shows how their straps are made:

FYI - I currently own a dozen different straps from Levy's, and I use them together with Schaller Strap Locks. That combination is, in my opinion, the best setup for any guitar player.

Posted: Jul 02 2018, 17:46 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Transcribing It's the Right Time by Mitch Malloy and Van Halen

Every month or two I decide to transcribe a song; it's a weird hobby, but it's a lot more challenging than Sudoku. Anyway, today's song was "It's the Right Time," which is the only song by Van Halen with Mitch Malloy on vocals. (See https://youtu.be/NBXjQ8FASug for the original song.)

My transcription is pretty faithful to the original - the only artistic license that I took was to add an ending since the original recording fades out.

While I have usually liked EVH's grooves, this song had some particularly interesting parts to it: the main hook for the verses is a four-measure progression, wherein EVH hits the opening chord for each of the first two measures an eighth note before the beat, and he hits the opening chord for the third and fourth measures on the downbeat; this creates a cool groove with a heightened tension, because your ear usually wants to hear the chords hit on the downbeat. When EVH gets to the bridge, he changes accents all over the place; so sometimes he sounds on the beat, while at other times he sounds like he's playing in a different time signature. As a whole, all of EVH's inventiveness on this song results in a really fun piece to listen to; it sometimes sounds like it's not quite right, but in the best possible way.


Note: Mitch Malloy was probably Van Halen's shortest-term vocalist; Van Halen hired him right before the Gary Cherone debacle, although Mitch eventually declined the gig due to a mix-up regarding David Lee Roth. (See https://youtu.be/dxF4WRORQ9s for Mitch's story.)

Nevertheless, back in the 1990s, it seemed like Van Halen was going through a different vocalist every other month. It became kind of a running joke, so Eddie and Alex Van Halen posed for the following milk advertisement:

Van Halen Milk Ad

The text in the advertisement reads:

"Of all the lead singers we've had, most never got enough calcium. Typical. But not for Alex and me. Because every time we change singers, we have an extra glass of milk. That way we're sure to get more than the recommended three glasses a day. As you can see, sometimes all at once."

Open-mouthed smile

Posted: Jun 11 2018, 23:14 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Brian Culbertson Makes Me Want To Hurl

A good friend of mine shared the following video of Brian Culbertson and his band playing a medley of jazz pieces, Back in the Day and So Good; my friend introduced the video as an example of "a band hitting on all cylinders."

I really like jazz, so despite never having heard of Brian Culbertson before, I watched with anticipation. However, I was sorely disappointed, and I responded that I totally loved the band, but I thought that Culbertson was overly tiresome. I really wished that Culbertson hadn't shown up to the gig, which is a really bad thing since it's his band and his gig... and I closed out my comment by stating that this was just my $.02 on the subject.

Someone else accused my observations of being overly jaded, to which I replied that my critique wasn't meant to be a jaded response; I sincerely watched the video 'cause I love jazz, but just as sincerely I felt robbed. The video starts out with Culbertson jumping around his band members like a Jack Russell Terrier, then Culbertson starts acting like he's calling the shots for a band that is obviously so well-rehearsed that they could play their parts in their sleep. (I haven't seen that level of self-aggrandizing pomposity since Yanni fell from grace.)

When Culbertson's piano melody finally comes in around 0:30, it's actually kind of a let-down; it's a poppy, pseudo-jazz hook, but Culbertson's faux attachment to his own amazingness during the first 2:30 of the video literally made me laugh out loud. When the band changes piece to "So Good," Culbertson's piano melody steps it up a notch; it's a much better hook, but Culbertson continues his useless, Yanni-style directing motions. I laughed out loud a second time when Culbertson pulled off his pouty stance and walked away from the piano around 4:15. (Seriously? What purpose did that serve?)

Around 4:25 we finally get to Culbertson's piano solo, which for an entire minute is nothing but smacking the black keys of the piano, which is an old trick used by less-talented pianists; play a song in Db and stick to the black keys and you'll be playing a Db pentatonic scale, which means that you'll never hit a wrong note or a sour note. Seriously - anyone could have played the first minute of his solo; regardless of whether they can actually play keyboards. At around 5:30 Culbertson finally wanders off the black keys, but that's only for a descending line during the last few seconds of his solo, after which he assumes his "menacing look" and struts over to the bass player, where he acts like he's getting in the bass player's face - for no @#$% discernible reason other than being a schmuck. (The bass player has some cool, funky chops, though.)

Around 6:35 I was surprised to see Culbertson switch to the trombone, and as one of my friends pointed out - Culbertson pulls off a pretty good solo for about a minute. However, by this point I was already so annoyed by the previous 6½ minutes of Culbertson's frenetic prancing about that it overshadowed his single-best moment to shine. After Culbertson's solo, the sax player does a great job of eclipsing Culbertson's preceding solo, but that doesn't stop Culbertson from raining on his parade by uselessly gesticulating in the sax player's face for a half-minute or so. After that useless escapade, Culbertson switches back to the trombone for the remainder of the song.

I made a comparison to Yanni earlier, and there are several reasons why Culbertson really reminds me of him; Yanni was one of the most self-absorbed SOBs on the planet, but he managed to surround himself with awesome musicians who made him look and sound great. Yanni's orchestra over-rehearsed everything; there was no improvisation when playing live - every 'solo' was purposefully-written and memorized, yet Yanni still felt the need to gesture like he was some sort of gifted conductor, even though his orchestra could have played with blindfolds. Or as one concert reviewer stated, "Yanni's orchestra was amazing; the only thing that could have made them better would have been for Yanni not to have shown up." In many ways, Culbertson seems like a Yanni reincarnation in a different genre; his band is amazingly-skilled, and they're incredibly tight, but Culbertson's arm-waving, prancing, faux-conducting, strutting, and posturing ruined it for me.


FYI - for an example of my Yanni comparison, watch the following video; you'll see a lot of the reasons why Culbertson's mannerisms reminded me of Yanni, except that Yanni doesn't play any solos to save himself from looking like a useless appendage.

By the way, the great irony of Yanni's flowery statements in the above video about how his musicians "bring great beauty, strength and color to his music" and how they "breathe life to his notes," is that the piece they play in the video isn't even Yanni's!!! It's actually a traditional American fiddle piece called The Old Grey Cat; one of Yanni's musicians introduced it to the orchestra, so Yanni slapped a different name on it, (World Dance), and started claiming that it was his. What a tool.

Posted: May 30 2018, 13:34 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Happy Pi Day!!!

In honor of "Pi Day" (3/14), here are the first 256 digits of Pi set to music... (which was achieved by taking the numbers in Pi and overlaying them on a C major scale).

At first I thought about overlaying the digits on a pentatonic scale to create a little more harmony, but it turns out that it wasn't necessary. (Of course, the bass line and drum parts add a lot, too.)

I also thought about doing something with a pentatonic scale, but as I said earlier it didn't appear to need it. I also thought using about some sort of timing extraction from the numbers in Pi instead of using 8th notes, but most of my experiments started to sound far too random and chaotic.

FWIW - I also did a version in 7/8 time, just 'cause... you know... RUSH.

Posted: Mar 14 2018, 07:15 by Bob | Comments (0)
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When Pianists Talk While Playing

Here is my truthful rendition of what piano players think they sound like when they attempt to talk while playing the piano, versus what they actually sound like to everyone else around them. Winking smile

Note that the preceding video is by-product of the author's sarcastic nature and created for entertainment purposes only. Time signatures, tempos, keys, chords and embellishments are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a facetious manner. Any resemblance to pianists, living, dead, or undead, or actual music is purely coincidental.

Open-mouthed smile

Posted: Feb 20 2018, 17:26 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Richard Wayne Mullins - 1955 to 1997

It was on this day 20 years ago that Rich Mullins was killed in a car accident on his way to a benefit concert in Kansas. At the time of his death, Rich was only moderately popular and had never won any awards - not even for his internationally-famous worship songs which are still sung in churches throughout the world.

i-still-miss-rich-mullins

The exact cause of the crash which took Rich's life is still unknown, although you can read the details about the crash online. That being said, I will never forget how I learned about Rich's untimely death. My daughter and I were driving through the empty deserts of west Texas on our way home to Dallas after attending a youth conference in Tucson, AZ. I had been channel surfing on the radio and trying to find something to listen to, which was rather difficult since we were out in the middle of nowhere. I discovered a radio station which was playing a song by Rich Mullins, whom I had always admired, and I remarked to my daughter that we needed to see Rich in concert whenever he came through Dallas.

After the song had ended, an announcer came on the radio and delivered the news that Rich Mullins had just been killed in a car accident. My daughter and I were both stunned, and for some reason I found myself crying a lot over the next several hours as we continued our drive home to Dallas. (This has always been a mystery about myself for which I have yet to find an acceptable answer: why was I so upset about someone whom I had never met? It has been 20 years, and I think that part of my emotional makeup will remain unsolved, but to be honest - I'm not too worried about it.)

Nevertheless, I often wonder where Rich's career might have gone if he had not passed away at the young age of 41. He tended to be openly blunt about sin and judgmentalism within the church, which is one reason why he was largely overlooked and often ostracized by the "Contemporary Christian Music" industry until after his death, (when the establishment was suddenly forced to deal with the reality of their hypocrisy). With that in mind, if Rich were alive today, he would probably still be living in veritable obscurity in a hogan on the Navajo reservation in northern New Mexico, where Rich was working as a music teacher in self-imposed destitution after taking a voluntary vow of poverty.

If nothing else, Rich Mullins was certainly unique; I still miss him and his music.

Posted: Sep 19 2017, 03:00 by bob | Comments (0)
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Is Syndicated Christian Music the World's Most Boring Genre?

I used to live in the Dallas Forth Worth area, which helps form the lower band of the Bible Belt. While we were there, my wife and I were fortunate to have a wealth of local Christian radio stations and concerts to choose from. It didn't matter which subgenre you preferred: pop, rock, gospel, praise, etc.; there was always a radio station for you to listen to.

However, after moving away from that region, we have been forced to suffer through the following syndicated options:

All three of these syndicated radio stations continually spew never-ending streams of utterly forgettable music. The playlists for these stations often consist of unimaginative and trite originals, or generic attempts at copying secular music genres (yet falling several years behind what is current).

One of the most-common problems the Christian music genres face is endemic to Christian music in general, and this is the constant insistence that "the lyrics are more important than musicianship." This mindset is, of course, a ridiculous proposal. Not only does it completely ignore Psalm 33:3, but it means that the bulk of Christian music cannot be taken seriously; because if the people who are creating Christian music cannot take their craft seriously, then no one else will.

That being said, the Christian music industry is just that - an industry. And like it's secular counterparts, the Christian music industry attempts to crank out hit after hit in an effort to prolong their revenue stream. Let me be clear: I am a capitalist at heart, and I have no problems in principle with anyone who chooses to make their living by sustaining a successful product line. However, those responsible for producing Christian music fail to realize that by turning out an endless torrent of pedestrian drivel, they are putting themselves out of business. I guarantee that fewer and fewer people are buying Christian music because - to put it bluntly - most of it is crap.

While the Christian music industry is afflicted with serious problems with regard to a general lack of musical inspiration, a willing accomplice to Christian music's crimes against itself are the syndicated radio stations who continue to cycle through hideously short playlists of repetitive melodies and prosaic, middle-school rhymes. I ask anyone who listens to Christian music to answer these questions honestly:

  • How many times per hour does someone really need to hear Chris Tomlin?
  • Couldn't the lyrics to "Good, Good Father" have been written a heck of a lot better? (Yes they could, yes they could, yes they could.)

In closing, there are thousands of wonderful Christian musicians around the globe, but chances are good that you'll probably never hear them. The people at the helm for charting the course of the Christian music industry are not interested in talented musicians; they are far too preoccupied with trying to produce next year's crop of bland and predictable "hit makers." In a like manner, if you tune into any of the syndicated radio stations that I listed above, then you'll have to endure hours of songs from Chris Tomlin, Matthew West, tobyMac, and something from MercyMe or Casting Crowns, (who are secretly the same band anyway... yes they are, yes they are, yes they are).


UPDATE: The following comedy video from John Crist perfectly illustrates a lot of what's wrong with contemporary Christian music these days:

HOW IT'S MADE: Christian Music
https://youtu.be/bwwhkKPEieE

Posted: Sep 10 2017, 10:27 by Bob | Comments (0)
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