Art rock

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Art rock is a subgenre of rock music that generally reflects a challenging or avant-garde approach to rock, or which makes use of modernist, experimental, or unconventional elements. Art rock aspires to elevate rock from entertainment to an artistic statement, [8] opting for a more experimental and conceptual outlook on music. [3] Influences may be drawn from genres such as experimental rock, avant-garde music, classical music, and jazz. [1]

Rock music is a broad genre of popular music that originated as "rock and roll" in the United States in the early 1950s, and developed into a range of different styles in the 1960s and later, particularly in the United Kingdom and in the United States. It has its roots in 1940s and 1950s rock and roll, a style which drew heavily on the genres of blues, rhythm and blues, and from country music. Rock music also drew strongly on a number of other genres such as electric blues and folk, and incorporated influences from jazz, classical and other musical styles. Musically, rock has centered on the electric guitar, usually as part of a rock group with electric bass, drums, and one or more singers. Usually, rock is song-based music usually with a 4/4 time signature using a verse–chorus form, but the genre has become extremely diverse. Like pop music, lyrics often stress romantic love but also address a wide variety of other themes that are frequently social or political.

Avant-garde works that are experimental or innovative

The avant-garde are people or works that are experimental, radical, or unorthodox with respect to art, culture, or society. It may be characterized by nontraditional, aesthetic innovation and initial unacceptability, and it may offer a critique of the relationship between producer and consumer.

Experimental rock is a subgenre of rock music which pushes the boundaries of common composition and performance technique or which experiments with the basic elements of the genre. Artists aim to liberate and innovate, with some of the genre's distinguishing characteristics being improvisational performances, avant-garde influences, odd instrumentation, opaque lyrics, unorthodox structures and rhythms, and an underlying rejection of commercial aspirations.

Contents

Its music was created with the intention of listening and contemplation rather than for dancing, [3] and is often distinguished by the use of electronic effects and easy listening textures far removed from the propulsive rhythms of early rock. [8] The term may sometimes be used interchangeably with "progressive rock", though the latter is instead characterized in particular by its employment of classically trained instrumental technique and symphonic textures.

Dance music music composed specifically to facilitate or accompany dancing

Dance music is music composed specifically to facilitate or accompany dancing. It can be either a whole musical piece or part of a larger musical arrangement. In terms of performance, the major categories are live dance music and recorded dance music. While there exist attestations of the combination of dance and music in ancient times, the earliest Western dance music that we can still reproduce with a degree of certainty are the surviving medieval dances. In the Baroque period, the major dance styles were noble court dances. In the classical music era, the minuet was frequently used as a third movement, although in this context it would not accompany any dancing. The waltz also arose later in the classical era. Both remained part of the romantic music period, which also saw the rise of various other nationalistic dance forms like the barcarolle, mazurka, ecossaise, ballade and polonaise.

Easy listening is a popular music genre and radio format that was most popular during the 1950s to 1970s. It is related to middle-of-the-road (MOR) music and encompasses instrumental recordings of standards, hit songs and popular non-rock vocals. It mostly concentrates on music that pre-dates the rock n' roll era, mostly concentrating on music from the 1940s and before. It was differentiated from the mostly instrumental beautiful music format by its variety of styles, including a percentage of vocals, arrangements and tempos to fit various day parts during the broadcast day.

Progressive rock is a broad genre of rock music that developed in the United Kingdom and United States throughout the mid to late 1960s. Initially termed "progressive pop", the style was an outgrowth of psychedelic bands who abandoned standard pop traditions in favour of instrumentation and compositional techniques more frequently associated with jazz, folk, or classical music. Additional elements contributed to its "progressive" label: lyrics were more poetic, technology was harnessed for new sounds, music approached the condition of "art", and the studio, rather than the stage, became the focus of musical activity, which often involved creating music for listening, not dancing.

The genre's greatest level of popularity was in the early 1970s through British artists. The music, as well as the theatrical nature of performances associated with the genre, was able to appeal to artistically inclined adolescents and younger adults, especially due to its virtuosity and musical/lyrical complexity. [3] Art rock is most associated with a certain period of rock music, beginning in 1966–67 and ending with the arrival of punk in the mid 1970s. [9] After, the genre would be infused within later popular music genres of the 1970s–90s. [3]

Punk rock is a rock music genre that developed in the mid-1970s in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia. Rooted in 1960s garage rock and other forms of what is now known as "proto-punk" music, punk rock bands rejected perceived excesses of mainstream 1970s rock. They typically produced short, fast-paced songs with hard-edged melodies and singing styles, stripped-down instrumentation, and often political, anti-establishment lyrics. Punk embraces a DIY ethic; many bands self-produce recordings and distribute them through independent record labels and other informal channels.

Definitions

The Velvet Underground, 1968 Velvet Underground 1968 by Billy Name.png
The Velvet Underground, 1968

Critic John Rockwell says that art rock is one of rock's most wide-ranging and eclectic genres with its overt sense of creative detachment, classical music pretensions, and experimental, avant-garde proclivities. [10] In the rock music of the 1970s, the "art" descriptor was generally understood to mean "aggressively avant-garde" or "pretentiously progressive". [11] "Art rock" is often used synonymously with progressive rock. [12] [10] [1] [3] Historically, the term has been used to describe at least two related, but distinct, types of rock music. [13] The first is progressive rock, while the second usage refers to groups who rejected psychedelia and the hippie counterculture in favor of a modernist, avant-garde approach defined by the Velvet Underground. [13] Essayist Ellen Willis compared these two types:

John Rockwell American critic

John Sargent Rockwell is an American music critic, editor, arts administrator, and dance critic. He studied at Phillips Academy, Harvard, the University of Munich, and the University of California, Berkeley, earning a Ph.D. in German cultural history.

Classical music broad tradition of Western art music

Classical music is art music produced or rooted in the traditions of Western culture, including both liturgical (religious) and secular music. While a more precise term is also used to refer to the period from 1750 to 1820, this article is about the broad span of time from before the 6th century AD to the present day, which includes the Classical period and various other periods. The central norms of this tradition became codified between 1550 and 1900, which is known as the common-practice period. The major time divisions of Western art music are as follows:

Psychedelia Subculture of people who use psychedelic drugs

Psychedelia is the subculture, originating in the 1960s, of people who often use psychedelic drugs such as LSD, mescaline and psilocybin. The term is also used to describe a style of psychedelic artwork and psychedelic music. Psychedelic art and music typically try to recreate or reflect the experience of altered consciousness. Psychedelic art uses highly distorted and surreal visuals, bright colors and full spectrums and animation to evoke and convey to a viewer or listener the artist's experience while using such drugs, or to enhance the experience of a user of these drugs. Psychedelic music uses distorted electric guitar, Indian music elements such as the sitar, electronic effects, sound effects and reverberation, and elaborate studio effects, such as playing tapes backwards or panning the music from one side to another.

From the early sixties … there was a counter-tradition in rock and roll that had much more in common with high art—in particular avant-garde art—than the ballyhooed art-rock synthesis [progressive rock]; it involved more or less consciously using the basic formal canons of rock and roll as material (much as pop artists used mass art in general) and refining, elaborating, playing off that material to produce … rockand-roll art. While art rock was implicitly based on the claim that rock and roll was or could be as worthy as more established art forms, rock-and-roll art came out of an obsessive commitment to the language of rock and roll and an equally obsessive disdain for those who rejected that language or wanted it watered down, made easier … the new wave has inherited the counter-tradition. [14]

Pink Floyd performing their concept album The Dark Side of the Moon (1973) DarkSideOfTheMoon1973.jpg
Pink Floyd performing their concept album The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)

Art rock emphasizes Romantic and autonomous traditions, in distinction to the aesthetic of the everyday and the disposable embodied by art pop. [15] Larry Starr and Christopher Waterman's American Popular Music defines art rock as a "form of rock music that blended elements of rock and European classical music", citing the English rock bands King Crimson, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and Pink Floyd as examples. [16] Common characteristics include album-oriented music divided into compositions rather than songs, with usually complicated and long instrumental sections, symphonic orchestration. [3] Its music was traditionally used within the context of concept records, and its lyrical themes tended to be "imaginative" and politically oriented. [3]

Romantic music music of the Romantic period

Romantic music is a period of Western classical music that began in the late 18th or early 19th century. It is related to Romanticism, the Western artistic and literary movement that arose in the second half of the 18th century, and Romantic music in particular dominated the Romantic movement in Germany.

Art pop is a loosely defined style of pop music influenced by pop art's integration of high and low culture, and which emphasizes the manipulation of signs, style, and gesture over personal expression. Art pop artists may be inspired by postmodern approaches or art theories as well as other forms of art, such as fashion, fine art, cinema, and avant-garde literature. They may deviate from traditional pop audiences and rock music conventions, instead exploring ideas such as pop's status as commercial art, notions of artifice and the self, and questions of historical authenticity.

King Crimson British art rock band

King Crimson are an English progressive rock band formed in London in 1968. King Crimson have been influential both on the early 1970s progressive rock movement and numerous contemporary artists. The band has undergone numerous formations throughout its history, in the course of which 22 musicians have been members; since October 2017 it has consisted of Robert Fripp, Jakko Jakszyk, Tony Levin, Mel Collins, Pat Mastelotto, Gavin Harrison, Jeremy Stacey and Bill Rieflin. Fripp is the only consistent member of the group and is considered the band's leader and driving force. The band has earned a large cult following. They were ranked No. 87 on VH1's 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock. Although considered to be a seminal progressive rock band, they have often distanced themselves from the genre: as well as influencing several generations of progressive and psychedelic rock bands, they have also been an influence on subsequent alternative metal, hardcore and experimental/noise musicians.

Differences have been identified between art rock and progressive rock, with art rock emphasizing avant-garde or experimental influences and "novel sonic structure", while progressive rock has been characterized as putting a greater emphasis on classically trained instrumental technique, literary content, and symphonic features. [1] Compared to progressive rock, art rock is "more challenging, noisy and unconventional" and "less classically influenced", with more of an emphasis on avant-garde music. [1] Similarities are that they both describe a mostly British attempt to elevate rock music to new levels of artistic credibility, [1] and became the instrumental analog to concept albums and rock operas, which were typically more vocal oriented. [17]

Art rock can also refer to either classically driven rock, or to a progressive rock-folk fusion. [3] Bruce Eder's essay The Early History of Art-Rock/Prog Rock states that "'progressive rock,' also sometimes known as 'art rock,' or 'classical rock'" is music in which the "bands [are] playing suites, not songs; borrowing riffs from Bach, Beethoven, and Wagner instead of Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley; and using language closer to William Blake or T. S. Eliot than to Carl Perkins or Willie Dixon." [18]

History

1960s

Background

In the late sixties and early seventies, rock both co-opted and challenged the prevailing view of musical art, often at the same time. This is evident in a diverse body of music that includes the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds and the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper ; Frank Zappa's Freak Out ... the Who's rock opera Tommy ; Pink Floyd's technologically advanced concept album Dark Side of the Moon ; and Miles Davis's jazz/rock fusion.

—Michael Campbell, Popular Music in America, 2012 [12]

The boundaries between art and pop music became increasingly blurred throughout the second half of the 20th century. [19] The first usage of the term "art rock", according to Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, was in 1968. [4] As pop music's dominant format transitioned from singles to albums, [nb 1] many rock bands created works that aspired to make grand artistic statements, where art rock would flourish. [21] As it progressed in the late 1960s – in tandem with the development of progressive rock – art rock acquired notoriety alongside experimental rock. [22]

Proponents

Phil Spector (center) in the studio with folk rock band Modern Folk Quartet, 1966 MFQ with Phil Spector.jpg
Phil Spector (center) in the studio with folk rock band Modern Folk Quartet, 1966

The earliest figure of art rock has been assumed to be record producer and songwriter Phil Spector, who became known as an auteur for his Wall of Sound productions that aspired to a "classical grandiosity". [23] According to biographer Richard Williams: "[Spector] created a new concept: the producer as overall director of the creative process, from beginning to end. He took control of everything, he picked the artists, wrote or chose the material, supervised the arrangements, told the singers how to phrase, masterminded all phases of the recording process with the most painful attention to detail, and released the result on his own label." [24] Williams also says that Spector transformed rock music as a performing art into an art that could only exist in the recording studio, which "paved the way for art rock". [25]

Brian Wilson in the studio, 1976 Brian Wilson 1976 crop.jpg
Brian Wilson in the studio, 1976

The Beach Boys' leader Brian Wilson is also cited as one of the first examples of the auteur music producer. [26] [nb 2] Like Spector, Wilson was known as an eremitic studio obsessive who laboriously produced fantastical soundscapes through his mastery of recording technology. [28] Biographer Peter Ames Carlin wrote that Wilson was the forerunner of "a new kind of art-rock that would combine the transcendent possibilities of art with the mainstream accessibility of pop music". [29] Drawing from the influence of Wilson's work and the work of the Beatles' producer George Martin, music producers after the mid 1960s began to view the recording studio as a musical instrument used to aid the process of composition. [26] Critic Stephen Holden says that mid-1960s recordings by the Beatles, Spector and Wilson are often identified as marking the start of art pop, which preceded the "bombastic, classically inflected" art rock that started in the late 1960s. [21]

Many of the top British groups during the 1960s – including members of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, the Who, the Move, the Yardbirds and Pink Floyd – came to music via art school. [30] [31] This institution differed from its US counterpart in terms of having a less industry-applicable syllabus and in its focus on furthering eccentric talent. [32] By the mid-1960s, several of these acts espoused an approach based on art and originality, where previously they had been absorbed solely in authentic interpretation of US-derived musical styles, such as rock 'n' roll and R&B. [33]

According to journalist Richard Goldstein, many popular musicians from California (like Wilson) desired to be acknowledged as artists, and struggled with this aspiration. Goldstein explains that the line between violating musical conventions and making "truly popular music" caused those who didn't have "strong enough egos" (in contrast to Bob Dylan and the Beatles) to be "doomed to a respectful rejection, and a few albums with disappointing sales usually meant silence. ... They yearned for fame, as only needy people can, but they also wanted to make art, and when both of those impulses couldn’t be achieved they recoiled in a ball of frantic confusion." [34]

Author Matthew Bannister traces "the more self-conscious, camp aesthetic of art rock" to pop artist Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground, who emulated Warhol's art/pop synthesis. [35] Accordingly: "Warhol took Spector's combination of the disembodiment, 'distance' and refinement of high culture with the 'immediacy' of mass cultural forms like rock and roll several stages further ... But Warhol’s aesthetic was more thoroughly worked out than Spector's, which represented a transitional phase between old-fashioned auteurism and the thoroughly postmodern, detached tenets of pop art. ... Warhol's approach reverberates throughout art rock, most obviously in his stance of distance and disengagement." [36]

Influential albums

1965–66

The December 1965 release of the Beatles' Rubber Soul signified a watershed for the pop album, [37] transforming it in scope from a collection of singles with lesser-quality tracks to a distinct art form, filled with high-quality original compositions. [38] The album garnered recognition for the Beatles as artists from the American mainstream press, [39] anticipating rock music's cultural legitimization as an art form. [40] Writing in 1968, Gene Sculatti of Jazz & Pop recognized Rubber Soul as "the definitive 'rock as art' album" and "the necessary prototype" that major artists such as the Rolling Stones (with Aftermath ) and the Beach Boys had felt compelled to follow. [41]

The period when rock music became most closely aligned with art began in 1966 and continued until the mid 1970s. [42] Academic Michael Johnson associates "the first documented moments of ascension in rock music" to the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds and the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967). Released in May 1966, Pet Sounds came from Wilson's desire to make a "complete statement", as he believed the Beatles had previously done with Rubber Soul. [43] [nb 3] In 1978, biographer David Leaf wrote that the album heralded art rock, [45] while according to The New York Observer , "Pet Sounds proved that a pop group could make an album-length piece comparable with the greatest long-form works of Bernstein, Copland, Ives, and Rodgers and Hammerstein." [46] Pet Sounds is also noted as the first rock concept album. [47] [48] [nb 4] In 1971, Cue magazine described the Beach Boys as having been "among the vanguard" with regard to art rock, among many other aspects relating to the counterculture, over the period up to late 1967. [49]

Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, 1971 Frank Zappa Mothers of Invention 1971.JPG
Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, 1971

Jacqueline Edmondson's 2013 encyclopedia Music in American Life states that, although it was preceded by earlier examples, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention's debut album Freak Out! (June 1966) came to be seen as "the first successful incorporation of art music in a pop context". The writers note also that, with Los Angeles as his base since the early 1960s, Zappa was able to work in an environment where student radicalism was closely aligned with an active avant-garde scene, a setting that placed the city ahead of other countercultural centres at the time and would continue to inform his music. [19] Writer and pianist Michael Campbell comments that the album "contains a long noncategorical list of Zappa's influences, from classical avant-garde composers to obscure folk musicians". [12]

The Beatles' Revolver (August 1966) furthered the album-as-art perspective [50] and continued pop music's evolution. [51] Led by the art-rock single "Eleanor Rigby", [52] it expanded the genre's scope in terms of the range of musical styles, which included Indian, avant-garde and classical, and the lyrical content of the album, [53] and also in its departure from previous notions of melody and structure in pop songwriting. [54] According to Rolling Stone , "Revolver signaled that in popular music, anything – any theme, any musical idea – could now be realized." [55] As with Rubber Soul, the album inspired many of the progressive rock artists of the 1970s, [56] and each of its songs has been recognised as anticipating a new subgenre or style. [57]

1967

Clash Music names the Velvet Underground's debut March 1967 album The Velvet Underground & Nico "the original art-rock record". [58] [nb 5] Bannister writes of the Velvet Underground: "no other band exerted the same grip on the minds of 1970s/1980s art/alternative rock artists, writers and audiences." [60] Their influence would recur from the 1970s onwards to various worldwide indie scenes, [60] [nb 6] and in 2006, The Velvet Underground & Nico was inducted into the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry, who commented: "For decades [it] has cast a huge shadow over nearly every sub-variety of avant-garde rock, from 70s art-rock to no-wave, new-wave, and punk." [61] However, when the Velvet Underground first appeared in the mid 1960s, they faced rejection and were commonly dismissed as a "fag" band. [62] In 1982, musician Brian Eno famously stated that while The Velvet Underground & Nico initially sold just 30,000 copies, "everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band." [63]

The Beatles' Paul McCartney deemed Pet Sounds "the record of the time", and in June 1967, the band responded with their own album: Sgt. Pepper's, [64] [nb 7] which was also influenced by Freak Out! [65] AllMusic states that the first wave of art rock musicians were inspired by Sgt. Pepper's and believed that for rock music to grow artistically, they should incorporate elements of European and classical music to the genre. [1] [nb 8] Many British groups flowered in the album's wake; those who are listed in Music in American Life include the Moody Blues, the Strawbs, Genesis, and "most notably", Pink Floyd. [67] [nb 9] The band's Roger Waters later stated that both Sgt. Pepper and Pet Sounds "completely changed everything about records" for him. [69]

1970s–90s

David Bowie photographed in 1975 David Bowie 1975.jpg
David Bowie photographed in 1975

Art rock's greatest level of popularity was in the early 1970s through British artists like King Crimson and Queen. [3]

Enthusiasm for art rock explorations waned in the mid 1970s. [12] From then to the 1990s, art rock was infused within various popular music genres. [3] Encyclopædia Britannica states that its genre's tendencies were continued by some British and American hard rock and pop rock artists, and that Brian Eno's late 1970s and early 1980s collaborations with David Bowie and Talking Heads are exemplary of "the successful infusion of art rock tendencies into other popular music genres". [3] Bowie and Eno collaborated on a series of consecutive albums called the "Berlin Trilogy", characterized as an "art rock trifecta" by Consequence of Sound , who noted that at the time of their release, "The experimental records weren’t connecting with audiences on the scale Bowie was used to. ... New Wave had exploded, and a generation of Bowie descendants had taken the stage." [70]

In the 1980s, a new generation of English art rockers took the place of 1970s bands like Yes, Genesis, Jethro Tull and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Journalist Roy Trakin explains: "Of course, these stalwarts can still fill Madison Square Garden and sell a great many records, as they always have, but their days of adventurous risk-taking and musical innovation are long gone - replaced by the smug satisfaction of commercial success." [71] Trakin identifies XTC as one of the more "accessible" new groups. When the band's Colin Moulding was asked whether he felt the band was closer to art rock or new wave, he responded; "We've always had the art-rock appeal rather than street credibility. ... I'd like to think we're the Vasco de Gamas [ sic ] of popular music, exploring new grounds. This band has never really been fashionable at all." [71]

Notes

  1. The Beatles, the Beach Boys, Phil Spector, and Frank Zappa all indicated a direction that transformed long-playing records into a creative format while variously reciprocating each others' creative developments throughout the 1960s. [20]
  2. For an early example of the rock album format being used to make a cohesive artistic statement, author Scott Schinder refers to the album The Beach Boys Today! (1965) and its "suite-like structure", consisting of one side of uptempo songs and the other of ballads. [27]
  3. In March 1966, Wilson called Pet Sounds "a more conscious, arty production ... it's like I'm right in the golden age of what it's all about. ... The folk thing has been important. I think it has opened up a whole new intellectual bag for the kids. They're making "thinking" records now. That's really what it is." [44]
  4. Carys Wyn Jones observes that Pet Sounds, the Beatles' Revolver (1966) and Sgt. Pepper, and the Who's Tommy (1969) are variously cited as "the first concept album", usually for their "uniform excellence rather than some lyrical theme or underlying musical motif". [9]
  5. In late 1966, the Velvet Underground's principal songwriter Lou Reed praised Spector, crowning his "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" (1964) "the best record ever made". In addition, he wrote: "There is no God and Brian Wilson is his son." [59]
  6. Bannister adds that indie rock musicians would be significantly influenced by the "pop" offshoots of psychedelia that includes the later Beatles, the later Beach Boys, the Byrds, early Pink Floyd, and Love. [13]
  7. It is frequently cited for its Pet Sounds influence, as McCartney explains: "If records had a director within a band, I sort of directed Pepper ... and my influence was basically the Pet Sounds album." [64] The interplay between the Beach Boys and the Beatles' creative work thus inextricably links the two albums together. [64]
  8. In the Encyclopedia of Popular Music , Colin Larkin wrote of Sgt. Pepper: "[It] turned out to be no mere pop album but a cultural icon, embracing the constituent elements of the 60s' youth culture: pop art, garish fashion, drugs, instant mysticism and freedom from parental control." [66]
  9. Pink Floyd recorded their 1967 debut album Piper at the Gates of Dawn next door to the Sgt. Pepper's sessions at London's EMI Studios. Fans believe that the Piper track "Pow R. Toc H." would derive from Pepper's "Lovely Rita", whose sessions Pink Floyd were witness to. [68]

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In music production or composition, recording studios are sometimes referred to as an instrument forming a vital part of the music creation process. The approach, known as "playing the studio", is typically embodied by artists or producers who place less emphasis on simply capturing live performances in studio and instead favor the creative use of studio technology in completing finished works. Techniques include the incorporation of non-musical sounds, overdubbing, tape edits, sound synthesis, audio signal processing, and combining segmented performances (takes) into a unified whole.

<i>It Was Twenty Years Ago Today</i> (film) 1987 film

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today is a 1987 British-made television documentary film about the 1967 Summer of Love. It first aired on 1 June 1987, twenty years after the official release date of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album. The documentary takes the Beatles album as the central factor behind the events and scenes that led to the full emergence of the 1960s counterculture in 1967. It was directed by John Sheppard for Granada Television. In addition to archive footage, it features interviews with key figures from the period, including Derek Taylor, who also served as consultant on the production, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Allen Ginsberg, Abbie Hoffman and Timothy Leary. The documentary was accompanied by the book It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, written by Taylor. After its initial broadcast on the ITV network in the UK, the documentary was shown by PBS in the US on 11 November.

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Bibliography

Further reading