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Midi -- has it been good or bad for music-making?


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Boy, this is a tough one. I found these comments about why someone says midi instruments are bad. - turns pianos and synthesizers into player pianos - replaces musicians with automated string sections and rhythm and bass parts - they have no demonstrable advantage as training devices - everything is better done with real audio, that you can't mess with - Chick Corea became the world' finest jazz pianist without one, and Gould, Horowitz, Rubenstein, Hancock, et al - they all managed to learn quite well on old fashioned pianos - the only advantage of a keyboard is its cost and lightness and the headsets. any gadgetry is worthless. midi is a disaster to music making - what happens when you hear violins sounds that you know are being made by fingers on a piano, so that you don't know how to participate with the instrument and the violin is a fake, so all reduces to fingers, and not bowing arms - the synthesizer reduces the orchestra to ten fingers; that's not fair to the rest of the wonderful music making body: to the lips, tongue, arms, shoulders, etc. ===end quote=== I am really confused on this issue. Because there is no doubt, I like LIVE MUSIC. BUT... I just like music, period. I enjoy full, rich sounds. If someone is using instruments or samples or whatever, I enjoy the sound. BUT... I admit that something about this whole thing bugs me. Because last night, I saw Don Henley in concert. Great show, by the way! I'm just using him as an example. And hey, he hauls around a GRAND PIANO, so cheers to him! I saw Alan Jackson and Bob Dylan also in the past month, so I could just as easily name them. But as I listen to the music, there isn't any way to know what's real and what's not real. I've seen many concerts in the past few years that were just entertaining as hell. But I know they were not totally live. Moody Blues, man, I enjoyed heck out of that show. I'll bet they use a lot of wizardry. Beach Boys, same thing, for sure. Sure enjoyed that show, though. But... it does kinda bugs me. It's like it doesn't reward the musicians who really DO still have the chops or the voice. I have a friend who bugs heck out of me in that he often sings flat. Drives me nuts. With autotune or whatever it's called, I guess he could be in perfect pitch. Is that good? I dunno. If I work hard to sing on pitch, naturally, it kinda doesn't sit right, this digital stuff. And totally converse to the above, here I am considering putting all kinds of digital wizardry into my own act... I dunno what to do. I don't know if I'm gonna be totally okay with that in my own mind anytime soon. Something else that I thought of... don't know if it's kosher... but I thought maybe it's more "okay" for me to use wizardry in a solo act because of the extreme limitations of being solo (and trying to play snappy, danceable tunes... ballads, no problem, solo, totally live is fine). But that if I go to hear a top performer, I'd prefer them totally live. Because they're up there on the pedestal. They're supposed to be among the world's best. I dunno... Without the portability of keyboards, for example, the live music scene wouldn't be what it is today. On the other hand, the live music scene seems to be dying! But you could take the position that a portable electronic piano is fine but a midi-instrument is bad. But... has midi been good for music?

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MIDI-it's just another tool. It can be used tastfully or it can be crap, just like any other music tool. Remember when the Grand Ole Opry wouldn't allow ANY electric instruments or DRUMS? To every thing there is a season, a time to midi, a time to unplug. medford ;)
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Well, you probably already knew what my answer would be, but just in case you didn't, NO I don't think MIDI has been good for music, and I agree with the points you quoted. And there will never be a question whether anything I do on stage (or even in the studio) is "real" and "live" because IT IS, period. I don't enjoy the sound of sequenced stuff, personally. Maybe it's because I've seen people perform with real orchestras and there is NO substitute. It's sad to me that most pop and rock and country audiences these days would never have experienced a full orchestra unless they go to a symphony, which is a whole other thing. You can say all you want that MIDI is "just another tool" but the fact is that everything is dictated by economics. It's much cheaper to use synths and sequencers, therefore when they can be used instead of an orchestra for things like soundtracks and backing up live performers, they ARE used. Therefore the number of studios that can record an orchestra and the number of venues that can host one, have diminished greatly, etc. etc. Now most of us can't afford to take an orchestra on the road but I would expect somebody like Don Henley to. I saw Jimmy Page and Robert Plant with an orchestra and it was one of the most amazing shows I've ever seen. And I would much rather see one person solo with an acoustic guitar and voice than that same person accompanied by a bunch of fake "music". I don't know when people started to get the idea that music is just the "sound" and that it is somehow separate from the physical and temporal aspect of the performance, but IMO, that philosophy sucks. Music is an event in time and space, and in the physical body, and to separate this from the "sounds" as if they are interchangable is just sad and creepy to me. But many disagree, obviously. :D --Lee
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I don't believe midi has done much either. I've not heard much that doesn't sound like a cheap imitation of what it's suppose to represent. That being said, I'm not talking about using midi for a synth sound, only about trying to use midi to represent real instruments.

 

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I'm not totally against midi, it does work well for certain applications. Having said that I do think some folks take it where I wouldn't, as in using loops made out of preset patterns....and then saying "I wrote this song....". Not a huge fan of sampling phrases either. Using sampling to trigger a specific tone, that you initiate in a traditional musical sense......ie YOU PLAY IT, is cool with me. I seriously doubt I'll ever use it, but I have played around with it when I was experiementing with space music. But again, I was playing it, though the tones were sampled.
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MIDI is a communication protocol, nothing more, so to associate it with any particular sound or style of music is foolish. Has MIDI been good for music? Give me a break, of course it has. Has it always been used in a way that resulted in good music? That is an entirely different question.
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[quote]Originally posted by aeon: [b]MIDI is a communication protocol, nothing more, so to associate it with any particular sound or style of music is foolish. [/b][/quote]uh...yeah. Musical Instrument Data Interface.....sure. Guess we should get specific. But I don't think thats a totally correct statement, because I know I've never heard it in bluegrass.....so YEAH, it does get associated with particular genres. :)
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I'm new to this site, and have enjoyed following these discussions. I play guitar and have a Roland GR-30 guitar synth. It allows me to enter notation into a program such as Finale using my primary instrument, the one with which I have the greatest facility & technique. This allows me to compose & arrange in a more "real-time" manner, with cut & paste capability, etc. like a word-processor, as opposed to jotting it down with paper & pencil. In this sense, IMO MIDI is a great tool.
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when i'm listening to music, i don't care how it was produced. if it sounds good, i like it. on the other hand, i don't care how bad music was performed, either. a singer/songwriter is as likely to suck as a synthesist (i'm sure no one here sucks, though). -------------------------- "I like stuff that's cool." - Beavis
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[quote]Originally posted by Lee Flier: [b]You can say all you want that MIDI is "just another tool" but the fact is that everything is dictated by economics. It's much cheaper to use synths and sequencers, therefore when they can be used instead of an orchestra for things like soundtracks and backing up live performers, they ARE used. Therefore the number of studios that can record an orchestra and the number of venues that can host one, have diminished greatly, etc. etc. [/b][/quote]Yes, it's often economics, HOWEVER in my case, economics are the realistic guidlines I have to operate within. I use MIDI heavily when recording songs, on SOME things that I don't have the economic where-with-all to achieve on my budget, yet it will add what I am looking for. So yes, MIDI has REALLY enabled me to brings my own songs to life that have otherwise only been in my head. And the truth is, the end listner (if done well), will never know the difference. If it gets my song across well, mission accomplished. I agree, it's just another tool, just like the invention of multi-track recording - giving people the option to re-do and re-do parts until it's right, and not even need to play a whole song all the way through. It's along the same lines. It achieves an end goal, which is to make music. If we enjoy the music it produces, the rest is semantics and grudges of us, the musicians. SH

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I'd be lost without MIDI. It allows me to realise whats in my head so I can hear it. I can play keys a little, and guitar better, but I'm really a drummer. I don't have time or desire to sit down and become a proficient keyboard player so I can write a 'real' song. The song is in my head, I just need a way to get it out. Does that mean that my song is less valid than a pianist's? I sure hope not. Music is a very personal thing. If your thing is to go all acoustic, more power to you. I love acoustic music. But don't knock MIDI just because it's not your thing. There is bad acoustic music, and bad MIDI music. Don't kill the messenger just because to don't like the message.

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In case you hadn't noticed, lots of people are making bad music with guitars and drums, too. MIDI is no different than any other instrument. You can master it, or you can dabble in it. If you dabble in it, you're not going to be able to use it as convincingly as someone who's mastered it. Most of the negative comments that I've read here and elsewhere are the result of MIDI abuse, not MIDI use. There are lots of examples of bad application of music technology. I always diliked the song that Springsteen sang for the movie "Philadelphia," because it's based on a repetitive drum beat that never varies. Compare that to the Linn drum programming in a song like Peter Gabriel's "Red Rain." Don't blame the technology for the way that people abuse it. Just because I'm a hack on the piano doesn't mean that the piano is a bad instrument. I'd like to keep the piano technology around so that gifted players like Billy and Elton can work their magic. MIDI does not work equally well in all genres, but then neither does the violin, the saxophone, or the electric guitar. Everything's better in audio? Bullshit! I don't care how much time-stretching, formant-shifting horsepower you have. The result is never as clean as what MIDI can do. MIDI consumes very little disk space or CPU horsepower, and edits like this are instantaneous. Economics? Give me a break? Should I be forced to pay tens of thousands of dollars to record a demo of an orchestral composition to satisfy the reactionary views of traditionalists? As a composer, do I have an obligation to pay live musicians at my own expense? If and when I DO have some of my works recorded by live players, the end product will benefit from the fact that I was able to sketch out the piece on a computer and make adjustments to the arrangement as needed. The computer even prints the score for the live players. As far as "reducing and orchestra to ten fingers," this is not going happen in the hands of a composer who understands orchestration. I'm glad that Jimmy Page made good use of an orchestra at his concert. I've seen Yanni's music performed by an orchestra, too, and it totally sucked. Live players can't rescue crap and more than computers can hinder inspiration. If you choose not to use computers for your music, that's up to you. MIDI is not for everybody. But for those who take the time to master it, MIDI opens up vast possibilities. The bottom line is that MIDI allows music to be produced that could not have been produced without it. That makes it a viable and useful technology, in my opinion. MIDI is no more of a detriment than PA systems or multi-track recording. You can make music without these tools, but with them you have more possibilities and opportunities.

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[quote]Originally posted by Dan South: [b]In case you hadn't noticed, lots of people are making bad music with guitars and drums, too.[/b][/quote]Of course, but that has nothing at all to do with my point. I suppose I should have said "Given that the song and musicians are equally good in the first place, I would rather hear live performances with real instruments, however minimal, than someone performing with sequenced music." [quote][b] There are lots of examples of bad application of music technology. I always diliked the song that Springsteen sang for the movie "Philadelphia," because it's based on a repetitive drum beat that never varies.[/b][/quote]Yep. It sucks. [quote][b] Compare that to the Linn drum programming in a song like Peter Gabriel's "Red Rain."[/b][/quote]Sorry. I think that sucks too. [quote][b]Don't blame the technology for the way that people abuse it. Just because I'm a hack on the piano doesn't mean that the piano is a bad instrument.[/b][/quote]Not an accurate analogy. MIDI is not an "instrument", it's a protocol. And it is mainly used to automate performances that would otherwise be done by human beings. That, to me, makes it inherently problematic in most cases. It has little to do with how well someone does or doesn't use it. Given a choice, and an equally good orchestral composition, would you rather hear a real orchestra perform it or a sequencer? Due to the economics that have come into play since the advent of MIDI, you rarely have a choice anymore. [quote][b] Economics? Give me a break? Should I be forced to pay tens of thousands of dollars to record a demo of an orchestral composition to satisfy the reactionary views of traditionalists? As a composer, do I have an obligation to pay live musicians at my own expense?[/b][/quote]No, and I think composition is a legitimate use of MIDI. Livemusic's question applied to live performances, if you read the original post in this thread. --Lee
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[quote]Originally posted by Lee Flier: [b]MIDI is not an "instrument", it's a protocol. And it is mainly used to automate performances that would otherwise be done by human beings. That, to me, makes it inherently problematic in most cases. [/b][/quote]Lee, how do you make the jump from the manner in which something is used to it being an inherent quality of the thing used? If that is not a major [i]non sequitur,[/i] I don’t know what is. [quote]Originally posted by Lee Flier: [b]Livemusic's question applied to live performances, if you read the original post in this thread.[/b][/quote]I just went back and reread what he said to be sure, and while he commented about his thoughts and feelings regarding the use of MIDI in a live performance scenario, I saw that as but a single aspect of the context in which he asked it.
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[quote]Originally posted by wager47: [b]when i'm listening to music, i don't care how it was produced. if it sounds good, i like it.[/b][/quote]Me too, but that's what kills me, I don't know how anybody doesn't get the willies listening to sequenced music. I almost never think it sounds good BECAUSE of the way it was produced. I once visited a tree farm where every tree was a tissue-cultured clone of the same original tree. They all looked exactly the same. It didn't matter how cool the original tree was, I still got the creeps walking through that stand of trees. And I get the same feeling listening to sequenced or sampled music. A lot of people didn't get the creeps walking through the stand of trees because they aren't attuned at all to all the infinite subtle variations that occur in a natural forest. Like Ronald Reagan, they think "if you've seen one tree, you've seen 'em all." So they don't notice the difference when they're in a forest of clones. That chills me. --Lee
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[quote]Originally posted by Dan South: [b]I've seen Yanni's music performed by an orchestra, too, and it totally sucked.[/b][/quote]I'm [b][i]so[/b][/i] sorry to hear that, Dan. I hear they have 12-step groups for people who've suffered through Yanni shows :D .
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[quote]Originally posted by Lee Flier: [b]Me too, but that's what kills me, I don't know how anybody doesn't get the willies listening to sequenced music. I almost never think it sounds good BECAUSE of the way it was produced.[/b][/quote]If you decide that something doesn’t sound good “BECAUSE of the way it was produced,” then I wonder if your focus is on the end experience of listening to the music as opposed to how that music was made.
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[b]Not an accurate analogy. MIDI is not an "instrument", it's a protocol. And it is mainly used to automate performances that would otherwise be done by human beings. That, to me, makes it inherently problematic in most cases.[/b] This argument falls flat on its face. Most of us on this board are involved with the recording of music. Recording is an unnatural substitute for a live performance. It would be preferable to hear live music at all times. However, this is impossible for many reasons - cost, space, time of day, weather conditions, the amount of available talent, etc. We have embraced recording and broadcasts as surrogates for having access to live music all the time. These surrogates "automate performances that would otherwise be done by human beings." I don't hear anyone complaining that musicians are starving because people can listen to a CD instead of being compelled to go to a live performance every evening. Why is a recorded substitute for a live performance acceptable and a MIDI recording unacceptable? [b]Given a choice, and an equally good orchestral composition, would you rather hear a real orchestra perform it or a sequencer?[/b] For classical music, I would choose the orchestra every time IF ECONOMICS WERE NOT AN ISSUE. However, for other forms of music, I would prefer to hear a version made by a computer. Does anyone here actually believe that a BT song is going to sound better played by the London Philharmonic? How about an Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields version of Herbie Hancock's "Rockit"? Purists, be my guest. I'll pass. [b]Due to the economics that have come into play since the advent of MIDI, you rarely have a choice anymore.[/b] False. There are more classical recordings being produced today than ever before. Orchestras are involved in the vast majority of film scores, also. Most country, blues, bluegrass, jazz, metal, etc. recordings use live players exclusively. Other styles, like hip hop and techno use sequenced tracks (or samples) for the bulk of their arrangements. Rock and pop are somewhere in the middle. What's the problem?

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[quote]Originally posted by aeon: [b]If you decide that something doesn't sound good "BECAUSE of the way it was produced," then I wonder if your focus is on the end experience of listening to the music as opposed to how that music was made.[/b][/quote]But that's my whole point - I AM totally focused on the end result. My reaction to sequenced music is totally a gut reaction that usually hits me the minute I start listening to it. I wouldn't say that I disliked a record that used sequenced music simply because I knew there were sequencers on it, if that's what you mean. It's just that I can count on one hand the number of times I've simply listened to a piece of sequenced music and liked the end result, which means that I'm apparently very aware of the inherent qualities that sequencing lends to music. --Lee
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What are some examples of "sequenced music"? Can you list some titles? It's entirely possible to create music with a sequencer that NO ONE could tell was sequenced. Have Ray Charles play a MIDI keyboard (one of those Yamaha MIDI controlled pianos, for example) into Logic or DP and play it back. Have him play another version of the same song direct into a recorder. No one will EVER be able to tell the difference. The problem is not MIDI, it's the way it's used. People repeat the same stupid drum beat measure after measure, for instance. Garbage in, garbage out.

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[quote]Originally posted by Lee Flier: [b]It's just that I can count on one hand the number of times I've simply listened to a piece of sequenced music and liked the end result, which means that I'm apparently very aware of the inherent qualities that sequencing lends to music.[/b][/quote]Would you tell us what the inherent qualities of sequenced music are? I am not aware of any, but I am always open to learning something new.
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[quote]Originally posted by Dan South: [b][b] This argument falls flat on its face. Most of us on this board are involved with the recording of music. Recording is an unnatural substitute for a live performance. It would be preferable to hear live music at all times. However, this is impossible for many reasons - cost, space, time of day, weather conditions, the amount of available talent, etc. We have embraced recording and broadcasts as surrogates for having access to live music all the time. These surrogates "automate performances that would otherwise be done by human beings."[/b][/quote]Not really, because at some point in time, a human being DID play a recorded performance. There is a big difference between an automated performance and a recorded one. [quote][b]I don't hear anyone complaining that musicians are starving because people can listen to a CD instead of being compelled to go to a live performance every evening. Why is a recorded substitute for a live performance acceptable and a MIDI recording unacceptable?[/b][/quote]I never said anything about starving musicians. And I would NOT want to substitute a recorded performance for a live performance either, if a live performance is what I'm paying to see. If I went to a concert expecting to hear a live performance and what I heard was somebody singing to prerecorded tapes, I'd be pissed off. But a huge percentage of people do this to some degree nowadays, as Livemusic mentioned - only it's supposed to be OK because the music is being performed "live" by sequencers instead of playing a tape. That's bunk. [quote][b]False. There are more classical recordings being produced today than ever before. Orchestras are involved in the vast majority of film scores, also. Most country, blues, bluegrass, jazz, metal, etc. recordings use live players exclusively. Other styles, like hip hop and techno use sequenced tracks (or samples) for the bulk of their arrangements. Rock and pop are somewhere in the middle.[/b][/quote]I disagree, I've seen sequenced music encroaching on just about everything lately. Genre doesn't seem to matter, with a few exceptions. Yes, orchestras are usually still involved in soundtracks but it's usually in combination with sequenced music or there are whole passages of nothing but sequenced music. TV soundtracks too. Country, pop, rock, modern jazz - forget it, most of the major acts bring sequencers on stage now. And I feel like it's an incremental process and it's only a matter of time before orchestras are phased out of the non-classical environment for economic reasons and because "the audience won't know the difference anyway." Things have been headed that way for the last 25 years more and more. --Lee
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[b]Not really, because at some point in time, a human being DID play a recorded performance. There is a big difference between an automated performance and a recorded one.[/b] Lee, I agree that an automated performance is different than a recorded (but manually played one). But a recorded performance is also different than a live one. I still don't see why one difference is acceptable and another is not. Furthermore, just because something has been recorded into a sequencer doesn't mean that it's "automated" any more than a recording is. If Stewart Copeland recorded a groove on a MIDI drum kit, the playback would still have all of the feel of his original performance. It's important not to equate MIDI with automated performance. A guitarist playing into a tape loop is an example of the latter. [b]And I would NOT want to substitute a recorded performance for a live performance either, if a live performance is what I'm paying to see.[/b] I agree wholeheartedly. The exception would be a Tangerine Dream-style techno group. But for anyone else, if it's not played live, I would be disappointed. [b]But a huge percentage of people do this to some degree nowadays, as Livemusic mentioned - only it's supposed to be OK because the music is being performed "live" by sequencers instead of playing a tape. That's bunk.[/b] Agreed. [b]I disagree, I've seen sequenced music encroaching on just about everything lately. ... Country, pop, rock, modern jazz - forget it, most of the major acts bring sequencers on stage now. And I feel like it's an incremental process and it's only a matter of time before orchestras are phased out of the non-classical environment for economic reasons and because "the audience won't know the difference anyway." Things have been headed that way for the last 25 years more and more. [/b] I don't know who's doing this. No one that I would ever pay to see. The teen chicks and boy bands, perhaps? There was a time when a recording was a way to capture a live performance. Those days are all but gone. Does that make recording a bad thing? Regardless of the technology, some people will use it with taste and others will use it to mass produce trash. I agree with KHAN. MIDI doesn't kill music, people do.

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[quote]Originally posted by Lee Flier: [b] I once visited a tree farm where every tree was a tissue-cultured clone of the same original tree. They all looked exactly the same. It didn't matter how cool the original tree was, I still got the creeps walking through that stand of trees. And I get the same feeling listening to sequenced or sampled music...[/b][/quote]whoa, you often have great analogies Lee, but i don't get this one at all. you don't believe in tree farms? there are two new maples in my brother's parking strip, from a local tree farm. they didn't grow there naturally, maybe they didn't grow "naturally" at all. they're still great trees, and they'll be even more appreciated over time. at one point, they were sitting in a parking lot next to 25 more just like it. those other trees are in other peoples' yards, all around town. do the new owners' like their not-grown-wild-in-the-forest trees? i bet they do. i'm not sure how to tie this back in to midi, so i'll just say, trees don't kill trees, [i]termites[/i] kill trees.
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[quote]Originally posted by Dan South: [b]It's entirely possible to create music with a sequencer that NO ONE could tell was sequenced. Have Ray Charles play a MIDI keyboard (one of those Yamaha MIDI controlled pianos, for example) into Logic or DP and play it back. Have him play another version of the same song direct into a recorder. No one will EVER be able to tell the difference. [/b][/quote]True - but would either one sound as good as Ray banging it out on my $100 honky tonk piano that wouldn't know a MIDI controller from a hole in the ground? I sincerely doubt it! --Lee
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[quote]Originally posted by wager47: [b]whoa, you often have great analogies Lee, but i don't get this one at all. you don't believe in tree farms? [/b][/quote]Tree farms can be all right - but this tree farm was different because every tree was an exact CLONE of the same tree. Not just the same species of tree, but exactly the same DNA. Imagine walking into a stadium full of people where everyone was like identical twins, except there were thousands of them. That's what this was like. Now imagine that you walked into that same stadium with a friend, and that friend didn't notice anything strange about the people in there. Wouldn't you find that a bit disturbing, to understate the case? :) --Lee
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