Languor, absurdities…

Archive for November 2011

Seth’s response to Supernormal

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I particularly liked Seth’s response for the line ‘a horse ain’t a horse till the first bloodletting’. Without further ado…

Seth’s Response

Photo by Sarah BB

Photo by Sarah BB

I’m no stranger to sleep deprivation.

In my day job I take emergency calls for the police, so my shift potentially covers any hours, 24/7, 365 days a year. It’s a strange sound environment to be immersed in, all tinny compressed audio, overloaded microphones, crackles, static and lost signal from phone reception, intrusions from traffic, nightclub noise, alarms, heated altercations or full scale breakdowns of public order, punctuated by occasional malfunctioning phone line detritus, shrieks of noise or ethereal warm drones. A typical working day will see that peculiar sonic window open onto homes, bus stations, hospitals, care homes, streets or motorways, from people reporting domestic abuse, thefts, burglaries, sexual assaults and suspicious incidents. People call with all sorts, it’s our job to make sense of it and talk people through a situation until we can get a police officer on scene.

So you might be up at three am, slightly giddy in a vaguely altered state, looking at the coloured flags of incidents popping up and disappearing on your mapping system (which your NLP practitioner and religious background encourages you to think of as some kind of God’s Eye View), waiting for that sonic window to open onto the worst day of someone’s life, capturing a brief shared moment that might change the world… or at the very least, their world. Imagine Whitehouse collaborating with Peter Ackroyd on an infinite multi-channel sound installation with portable microphones in the pockets of almost every person across the UK, mapping the psychogeography of England. Or the whimsically unrealistic sonar map of Gotham created to catch the Joker in the third act of The Dark Knight, heightened by the perpetually jet-lagged state of timewarp that shift working engenders.

Still, no police employee – civilian or otherwise – would be expected to stay alert for thirty six hours straight. The Hákarl performance was always going to be a stretch. But in some small way this year’s Supernormal Festival felt like a collapsing of the barriers between my sound world at work and the sound world of improvisation that’s increasingly becoming the bedrock of how I approach music.

What had become normalised was restored to its extremes. That may be my best attempt at a summary of what the Hákarl 36 performance achieved. It certainly didn’t always produce music that I liked, or that I could defend in terms of quality.

Too many times, we allowed the performance area to be invaded as though it were an open mic or jam session. It would be an understatement to say that the contributions were variable. Unwanted poetry recitals, extended jazz flute soloing, banal strumalongs… at times, it felt as though any attempt at subtle interplay was thwarted by someone who thought we needed a little help to give things direction. At these times I could be a bloody-minded blowhard, obnoxiously farting out noise from my electronics to piss on people’s parades. The most memorably unwanted intrusion came at around 3am on Saturday morning from a nameless belligerent drunk with a galaxy-sized sense of her own entitlement, convinced that we were trampling on her creativity when were frantically trying to clear the pitch-dark performance space of people to avoid damage to instruments (“It’s only money,” she kept telling us. Yeah: our money). Tensions were running high at that point, so high that I thought I’d deploy a public domain recording of a child telling ambulance control about his mother who was having a seizure. Was it out of mischief? A well-meaning attempt to lance the boil? An intervention intended to enhance the atmosphere, or take it past breaking point? I’m still not sure, the compulsion seemed multi-faceted. Who was I to argue?

It wasn’t all bad. The eight year old who joined us on drums [Editor’s note – kid’s name was Dylan, according to Barn] – with no previous drumming experience – was a fantastic addition, audibly growing in confidence and ability throughout Saturday and nicely confusing any sense of cohesion. And the members of the A Band who joined us at several key junctures were predisposed to colour artlessly over the lines, giving us a boost when we really needed it. Sharen Sum proved particularly game, providing some superbly judged saxophone blurting throughout much of Saturday morning.

Too many times, we allowed ourselves our comforts and distractions. I assumed, before we began, that the six of us involved would be making continuous music with minimal breaks to eat and shit… which turned out not to be the case. Some of us slept in shifts. Clive and I closed our eyes when we were at breaking point; I caught about ten minutes at about 5am on Saturday and a further twenty minutes at the same time on Sunday. The event never quite became the endurance test that it probably should have been. We all took long breaks, timed so that there would always be someone making music. But I’m as guilty as any of thwarting the aim to keep playing past the point of no return.

I came close at two points. One of my reasons for wanting to be involved is an interest in ritual and altered states, which began playing drums in Charismatic church services and progressed through learning about shamanism. I’d never call myself a shaman, or what I do even remotely shamanic, but I’m still interested in using instruments and sound to make something other than music. I figured that given the time available it was likely that something long-form and repetitive would occur naturally, which it did at roughly five or six o’clock on Saturday evening. Jamie (on guitar) and Huw (drums) were playing an energetic rock oriented piece that sounded fairly rehearsed, matching each other for the changes. I was accompanying them on tar and continued the my fast, metronomic pulse after they drew to a conclusion. It’s hard to know how long I kept the pulse for, it was intended to be functionally ritualistic as opposed to purely musical. My eyes were tight shut, I was speaking in tongues, but I was aware of a few things happening around me. There seemed to be some push and pull regarding whether the others were going to come along for the ride or sit it out. It seemed to take a long time before any accompaniment was discernible, but perhaps that was down to my mind having wandered off on its own, somewhere entirely other than the marquee. As people joined in things seemed to build and ebb in waves. One of the drummers – I have no idea who – seemed to want to end the piece at several points, possibly after I’d continued well past the point that good taste would have suggested that I stop. It seemed to be an attempt at a classic strategy that NLP practitioners refer to as pacing, then leading. Starting at my tempo for a while, the drummer began to slow down and move to cymbals, as though he were ending the piece. Bloody minded and used to ritual drumming being polytempic (Ken Hyder’s term for multiple tempos coexisting within shamanic drumming) I ignored it each time. The effect of resisting the slowdown on my trance was electric: the contradictory tempos seemed to smash the musical accompaniment into luminous kaleidoscopic shards. I’m not one for experiencing music in terms of audio/visual synesthesia so it was a rare treat. As the visual shards scattered I felt as though I were hallucinating voices and harmonies, so I have no idea what any of it actually sounded like. I was aware that I was slipping through different rhythmic phrasing within the same pulse, but none of it was intentional. Anyway, it was a horribly self indulgent hijacking of the session, done almost entirely for my own benefit. Being in a trance is no excuse – I could have stopped at any time – and the retroactive justification of opening my eyes at the end to see a couple of people dancing won’t fool anyone. What I got out of it will remain my secret. Maybe the one lasting souvenir was the christening of my new tar, purchased a week earlier at the Early Music Store in Saltaire. While not wanting to come across like I’m singing some daft occultist’s version of Summer of ’69, a horse ain’t a horse until the first bloodletting.

The second moment at which things teetered on the edge of capability was being startled awake at around five am on Sunday morning, barely an hour from our finishing time, by one of the caterers crouching in front of me and inviting me to have a free coffee when her stall opened later that day. It was startling for two reasons. Firstly she was not only so strikingly good looking that my sleep deprived mind wondered whether she was really there at all, and on top of that she was telling me that I was her hero for playing for such an unreasonably long time. And secondly, I realised that I’d continued to play the tar while asleep. God knows what it sounded like, but I actually think I’d managed to keep the beat going.

Too many times, we were caught returning to hastily established default positions, whether as a result of inattentiveness, poor amplification, the limits of our repertoires for possible responses or the shoddiness of our equipment. A cobbled together drum kit, its snares stuck in the on-position, dampened beyond resonance, cymbals either cheap or broken, seemed to discard more possibilities than it offered. This stinker of an addition was offset by Barny’s hilariously unexpected provision of an upright piano, sadly inaudible from my side of the tent. Some of the fallback position frazzled freak outs sounded brilliantly energetic from where I was sitting; others were painfully dreary lowest common denominator jam sessions.

Most of the best music took place on Saturday. Clive’s explorations of his acoustic guitar were understated to the point of too-often unnoticed, but given space added some much needed attention to texture and detail. Where possible I tried to match his timbres with my voice-controlled Weevil, but elsewhere fell back on manipulating fortuitously congruent mp3s by Taku Sugimoto and Toshimaru Nakamura. There were some beautiful long-form feedback explorations that saw everyone almost forced to sing from the same hymn sheet, as their playing was picked up and processed through my stainless steel waste disposal sink, adding a metallic detuned sheen to the whole mix. The sink proved to be my most unexpectedly diverse instrument, sounding great whether played with sticks, mallets, bouncy balls on bamboo skewers or metal files.

Some of my happiest memories involve the A Band. Karl Waugh is always a pleasure to be around, he’s so relentlessly positive that he can make anything seem like a good idea. On the Saturday evening we did a relay so that some of us could be involved in the A Band’s main stage performance. I’ll never forget Clive’s amused/bemused expression as the two of us were dragged on stage, wielding sax and kitchen sink, to hammer out a racket with the rest of the costumed rabble. Kev and I shared a drum duo in the afternoon sun on Saturday, chatting about theology as we played (Supernormal brings that out in me; last year Simon Morris and I nattered away about cults and NLP for ages). Stewart Keith [of the A Band] helped give us a great send off at 6am on Sunday morning, having woken up especially to join us for the final half hour. The Supernormal organisers rounded up the after hours campfire crowd to see us off. We at least felt as though we’d finished, although where that left us is anyone’s guess.

Was the weekend a success? The danger of this kind of activity is that you can justify any result. Playing for thirty six hours is rewarding enough conceptually for the actual musical results to seem irrelevant. I don’t know whether I want to let us off the hook that easily. It’s hard to stake a claim for any kind of unqualified musical success when at one point I was so frustrated with default position autopilot playing that I threw my toys out of the pram and played Das Racist’s Return to Innocence in its entirety, as disruptively loud as I could. And certainly my shit stank as much or more than that of anyone else. Thirty six hours will bring all but the most creative musicians up against their limits, and I’m nowhere near the most creative. One of the most curmudgeonly, maybe.

What had become normalised was restored to its extremes. I started writing this last night, when that phrase sounded big and clever. It seemed to justify thirty six hours of inconvenient, inconsistent improvisation as some kind of reactionary stance against how easily accessible music has become – accessible in terms of overfamiliarity, the way we consume it, how we think we understand it and how much of it is documented. Twenty four hours later it sounds trite. A thirty six hour duration will lend that kind of conceptual weight to pretty much anything.

I’m a big fan of long form, semi-open sessions, in which things are more relaxed than a concert but not as relaxed as an aimless jam. The A Band’s anniversary show in Nottingham was like that. Some of the church events I used to play as a nipper were like that. It’s where I feel most at home, where the music feels totally free to develop at its own pace, where an extreme duration starts to feel natural. I’ve been threatening to start something like that in Leeds, and maybe next year I’ll even get round to doing it.

Would I do the full thirty six hours again? Beggars can’t be choosers, I’m slutty enough to grab any chance to play. Thanks to this show and its eight-hour warm up, plus the smattering of other shows I’ve been able to land, I’ve played in excess of fifty five hours worth of gigs this year. That’s almost as much as some proper musicians. So of course I’ll do it again, if only to feel better about something that occasionally feels dangerously close to being a ‘hobby.’


Written by Hákarl

November 13, 2011 at 9:00 pm

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Barn’s reflection on Supernormal

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Barn’s responses

These are verbatim. Barn writes like this. Mmm.

Credit to Sarah BB

Photo by Sarah BB

yo tried to write something, wrote this series of floating notes
instead. didn’t really get to ay sort of crux of anything.
couple of paragraphs about hákarl’s communion –
the communion was at the end of one of my longest periods without respite.
2,000 mile round trip to somewhere near Ystad, by way of Brugge,
Bremmen, Kolding, Othense, Malmo, Copenhagen, Bremmen again, Hamburg,
Amsterdam, and Antwerp.
longest period of driving during this event was 8 hours (many
services bratwurst).
next day, gardened intensely
tuned a piano
raised some cash.
packed to brimming small van belonging to Ben Pollock
all of my stuff.
my girlfriend couldn’t fit in and had to get the train. that makes me
sound like an asshole, right?
had big ideas about the 36 hours
wished i used the time more productively
experiments i wanted to try. for eg,
even brought scanner and printer;
small piano, with the idea to tune it (i’ve never got time to tune my
own piano, so i thought, well, 36 hours?) and turn into an infinite
sustain instrument using feedback resonance (or try to);
improv dance music pieces (for a laff);
large cardboard boxes, lots of gaffa, some speakers and a couple of
baseball bats (don’t ask);
and these are just the most shit examples.
after 4 maybe 6 hours, all of this went out the window. figuratively.
most lamed out regretful time: the rest of the communion are
responding to me as conductor, spontaneously. the million conduction
experiments i’ve had in my head for years dry up, and i manage a ‘low,
high’ about twice.
my brain, i blame my brain, and its terminal tiredness at the time.
brain-tired from doing. brain tiredness restricting creative impulses
and memory, but results are protentially interesting nontheless.
endurance/performance. i made an effort to engage whenever i was
playing. i am not a twelve-tonal artist. i enjoy the sound, but am not
notionally spectral in the same way. i prefer manipulating commoner
knowns. where a person predicts where it might go. then, you have
something to play with.
playing drums mainly; playing guitar; feedingback fx pedals and pd
example patches; a little bit of singing; piano; oh yeah, that
infernal bass.
playing a fair amount of what i’d potentially call ‘good stuff’,
having detached myself from my own likes and dislikes; played a very
small amount of what i’d call ‘good stuff’ if i were myself lots; and
playing one hell of a lot of what i’d probably just shrug at. the
pluralism of our selves reigned in my playing style comparitively?
drums: played lots more groove than i’d anticipated. reached some cool
places internally (narf)
fully enjoyed playing with the other communion members. what a boring
and flat statement.
could not hear everyone all that well, although this is normal.
strange mix of instruments, almost untried mix of styles?
i felt that note-manipulators could approach noise a little more, and
those with more timbral concerns could stretch a hand back, meeting in
the middle. perhpas there was alcak of common ground amongst us.
honestly: its really difficult to write about: in trying to remember
the music, i can only come up wth criticisms.
i like cultural one-offs. i’m listening to an album i was given by a
danish conspiracy theorist and former student of shrila bhakitivedanta
narayan maharaj: the school of braja, a collection of indian
devotional music performed by the californian students of a school run
by Krishna devotees. i’m interested in the squeak of a gate because
it’s the result of a specific history, for christ’s sake! so of course
i’m interested in the specifics of sound resulting from 6 strange
young men.
were there many (specifics of sound)? i’d also like to ask the others:
do you reckon you ‘got somewhere’ musically (whatever that means)?
getting to play drums that much was, at the end of the day, awesome.
the difficulty of playing music improvisationally with people one
either does not know or have never played with before, or both
incomplete recall: friday night, suggestions of a crowd listening,
enoying itself, night, projectors shining directly into my eye,
wasted, that fast-slow feeling from exertion, enjoying playing the
drums in a big way, working out, working on searching for a style that
i’m always trying to find, but feeling like i was nailing it a bit
more, classic cat-n-mouse with kev and jamie, jazz influence i guess, some
audience member coming up to read poetry, out of kev’s book i believe,
using him as an opportuity to try and do something cheesy in an
authentic (not cheesy) way (the original way?), nearly losing it
randomly feedingback pd for a bassline, random kid dylan who played
the drums all day saturday layin’ down uselessly fluid beats, some
woman sat near enough to hear is accepting us as acceptable background
music to her coffee and paper, i show the kid how to use the computer,
he says we’re losing our crowd, i need to get back on the beats, they
love the beats
not going to go on about this, but well done kev, and sorry, re: crazy
people. crazy people: we don’t care about you, get over it.
my first bout of childish frustration, smacking shit out of the kit
shouting ‘you’re not doing anything i want to play along with!!!’,
friday night, not sure if anyone noticed anyway
no structure
went to bed early – half 4 sunday morning? – because was stropping
about not being allowed to play the drums
in general, pleased with it as an event that happened within my life.
didn’t really know what to expect, and nothing i expected happened. i
want to hear it now.

Written by Hákarl

November 13, 2011 at 8:15 pm

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Clive’s thoughts on Supernormal

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Clive Henry






Thoughts on Hákarl communion:


Interestingly, for a few weekends after Supernormal i had one hours sleep on the friday nights. This destroyed me, making my body and brain so sluggish that the
saturdays were very difficult for me. Yet i had no comparable reaction during the Hákarl performance.
On top of this, during the 36 hours, i ate no hot food; or indeed anything substantial – merely snacking on sugary things and cereal bars/flapjacks. I didn’t pass any solid matter, and urinated three, maybe four, times.
Admittedly, for Supernormal i was sat down for the bulk of the duration, whilst in the weekends after i was at work; but the fact remains that as painful as Hakarl Communion was, with hindsight my body and brain coped surprisingly well.
Quite simply because i think my body and brain were prepared for it. Although the true ridiculousness of the venture didn’t really hit me until a few days before, the fact remains that i had an idea of what i might experience and prepared myself accordingly. In essence, this just means that my expectations of the weekend were realistic and respectful. I prepared myself for the prospect of a long, tiring weekend of “clinging on” and being tested. If i had turned up for a 36 minute improvisation, and then been told it had been changed at the last minute into a 36 HOUR improvisation, i wouldn’t have had these expectations and assessments to support, guide and prepare me.
Of course, in the reality of things, this didn’t help too much – it was exhausting; shattering. I was never particularly aware of being hungry or thirsty, but certainly during the last hours i was constantly eating boiling sweets. I brought a large five litre container of water, and as the hours progressed, lifting this weight became harder and harder. There was a stage, early into saturday morning, where i became very cold in my bones, more due to the stresses and strains on my body than the temperature itself. During the very last hours, i found myself falling asleep for a few seconds and dropping my plectrum into the body of the guitar. I did finally succumb to a nap in the early hours of saturday morning – i slept on the floor next to my gear for an unknown time. By saturday midday, it was just a case of clinging on till nightfall, and then gritting my teeth for the final few hours.
I felt that i paced myself quite well.


I didn’t imagine for a second that we would create 36 hours of beautiful improvisation, but i was surprised at how quickly we came to use rock forms and structures. A few of our beloved “guests” certainly took great joy in funking things up… My recollection is that the first 6 hours or so were quite alive with energy and ideas; and after that things varied wildly. After a certain point, personally, i was no longer performing musical acts in the conventional sense; i was more just interacting with a physical object, resulting in sound. To summarise and simplify: i spent the bulk of the duration producing a low level of textural sound, with a few ventures into more extravagant gestures – often resulting from a change from guitar to saxophone or trombone. At the time, this “low level of textural sound” felt (shamefully) like a cheap get-out clause, or the least painful way of playing for such a long time. But, looking back, its actually an incredibly interesting way to play and improvise; and certainly something i’m interested in pursuing further.
Someone else has remarked that there was a cellular aspect to the performance and i think that’s true. Part of this was simple volume issues – I was at the opposite end of the tent to the piano, and I could barely hear it. But there were also two clear pairings in the tent (jamie/huw, seth/myself) who were more used to playing together, which may have been a factor – certainly there was a section where jamie/huw appeared to be playing composed pieces.
We were “lucky” enough to be graced by several guest musicians, culminating in an argument on the first night between Mr Hákarl and some delicate/wasted types who had decided he was “stifling their creativity”. What a shame. Yawn. Looking back, it should have been obvious that the Hákarl tent would be a beacon for people looking to part-ay through the night; but it really didn’t figure in my thinking till the day itself. Due to the festival programme, there was some ambiguity over the role of “audience” participation; and thus we had a mixed bag: people who “got it” and made excellent contributions; people who didn’t really get it, but nevertheless played sympathetically and in the spirit of the thing; and people who were only there for the purposes of their ego and vanity. So, on the downside we had jazz flute; on the upside we had an eight year old boy playing drums with us for most of saturday, having the time of his life.
I think we all conducted ourselves well enough in these dealings; the intrusions from unwanted parties were dealt with stealthily, tactfully or firmly and fairly. Kev should have particular praise here for his handling of the “painful hipster” incident; but i also saw Seth and Barney being excellent diplomats for Hakarl Communion, chatting to interested onlookers or participants.

concluding thoughts

At the time, it DID feel like a fruitless venture; but looking back i feel i learnt a fair bit. Most importantly, it confirmed to me that my strengths lie in more “textural” playing – or rather, i’m not a natural melodic player. This has given me a greater sense of my abilities and also flagged up areas in which i need to practice.
If repeated, I think that a shorter duration, as well as a stricter adherence to some notion of non-idiomatic improvisation, would make the performance more beneficial. Perhaps also some clear delineation of the performance area – even to the extent of “trapping” or “caging” the participants.
On a final note, it was somewhat hilarious to finally finish and then have a ludicrously coherent conversation with Seth and Kev about  the recent riots, state policy and fascism!

Written by Hákarl

November 13, 2011 at 7:54 pm

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Huw’s response to Supernormal

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This is what Huw wrote. Good luck.

[NB to readers – I did format it so it looked slightly more readable; then I tried something else, and thought it looked better like that. So I kept it. Feel free to message me if you want the full text. Winkyface]

Huw Webb

Huw (photo by Sarah BB)

Playing Supernormal reminded me of those zombie survival games where you spend the day building defences and stockpiling weapons and then at night a horde of brainless lumbering creatures comes an tears down all the stuff you’ve been working on while you try an pick off the most dangerous and keep building new things. You don’t win these games, you just get a score. We got 2 days, maybe 14000 points, mostly for recruiting survivors.

We played for 36 hours and were still over shadowed by a kid in wellies

Written by Hákarl

November 13, 2011 at 7:25 pm

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Jamie’s response to Supernormal…

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So I (Kev/ Hákarl) asked everyone to give me some responses to Supernormal. It’s taken a while to get these together. Apologies for that. Anyway. First up is Jamie, who’s not much of a one for writing (saves his skills for the music, man). So this is a transcript of a brief interview I did with him.

Jamie Glew-Osborne

Credits and love to Sarah BB (Best. Photographer. Ever)

In your personal practise, the things that you want to perfect – making certain lines more proficient, or having more articulate harmonic ideas – can be ignored because you’re in a situation where you can walk away from your instrument. Over 36 hours you feel like you’re being suffocated by your instrument and others around you. As soon as you’ve used up your avenues of ideas, the only thing to do is to perfect them, working through and interacting with others. So I felt like I could really perfect certain problems in my own playing as I came face-to-face with them, and with no-where to go. I could only extend upon them. I felt very vulnerable with the other musicians around – I didn’t know 3 of the people playing, and I’d not had any relationship with them before. Towards the end this pushed us further apart – which could’ve been an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on the listen. But at the end of the performance, it was nice to have a handshake and a quick talk with those people because you’d been through a lot with them…

On being pushed apart – I felt further away from those guys because I was playing with a shadow of how they would be able to play in their own context, fully healthy, on form. I felt the same. By the time they stopped listening to themselves, and listening to the ensemble more – when pushing to keep playing was difficult – the end result was a shadow of what happened before.

I think there was a moment where… a moment of anger, playing around with feedback/ effect (which I never do) I ended up shaking the guitar and ended up with a sound I’ve never made before, which I tried to carry on making. While also feeling vulnerable, and pissed off at the same time…

I really liked listening to Clive a lot of the time – Clive and I kept laughing with each other across the stage. It was nice to have a happy face there, someone saying ‘we can do this’. I liked what Clive was doing. Whenever I heard his prepared feedback from this guitar… after what I played, there was never any deadpan silence.

The participation from the audience members was… strange. I don’t think I would ever join in to a bunch of musicians playing incoherent music and just ignore them, or just start playing whatever… ignoring everyone around you, like you’re trying out an instrument in a music shop. There was very little genuine joining in from the audience. But there was lots of selfish joining in for their own reasons. Also, because I was so tired, we as a group sometimes ended up following those people,  rather than playing ourselves. I remember following someone for 20 minutes and then going ‘oh, that’s bollocks’ and trying to get back to us (which is doubly difficult when you’ve not slept…). It wasn’t all bad though – Will of ViV was particularly good…

Written by Hákarl

November 13, 2011 at 6:59 pm

Posted in Uncategorized