…Absolutely guaranteed anonymity – Former Musician’s Union officer

…The one voice of reason in a sea of insanity – Nashville ‘first call’
scoring musician
…Allows us to speak our minds without fear of reprisal – L.A. Symphonic musician

…Reporting issues the Musicians Union doesn’t dare to mention – National touring musician



Robert Matsuda is a violinist who has contributed to film
and television scores since 1996, including the feature
film The Horse Whisperer (1998) and the blockbuster
television series Lost (2004–10)

A member of the Union of Professional Musicians, Local 47, in
Los Angeles, Robert recalls the heyday of motion picture
musicians and describes the ways in which producers have moved
much of the work overseas or resorted to licensed pop songs or
computer-generated music.

QUESTION:How did you get your start with orchestral soundtracks?
Your first film was The Horse Whisperer, correct?

I did a film before that in which my friend put together the musicians
for a Pauly Shore movie called Bio-Dome (1996)
Interestingly enough, the residuals for Bio-Dome went on, and on,
and on. At the back end, it actually paid better than The Horse
Whisperer. I’m probably still getting checks for Bio-Dome. It was
officially my first movie project.

QUESTION: How did you get your foot in the door?

When I was a teenager studying the violin, I had a teacher, who
was part of the Fox orchestra back in its heyday. You can see
him in the Marilyn Monroe movie How to Marry a Millionaire
He would tell me about playing for the movies while I was at
my lessons. It sounded like a really great thing! You’d be playing
your instrument, and it would allow you to make what I assumed
would be a comfortable middle-class living. I knew that was what
I wanted to do when I grew up.

Bio-Dome came out in 1996, and I got that job after about ten
years of going around playing for concertmasters and contractors
and trying to get my foot in the door. When people ask, “How
do you get started?” I have to disabuse them of the notion that
there’s a clear-cut way of getting into this kind of work, at least
what’s left of it. And it’s different for everybody, because it’s
not like applying for a job at an insurance company.

I got the Bio-Dome job because I was a friend of the contractor
who got the job because he was a friend of the composer. They
both attended the same high school when they were younger.

QUESTION: That got you started. What kept your career going?

I had a good stretch of work after Bio-Dome, until 2006. I got
my position on The Horse Whisperer through a connection
with the composer’s family. I had been working with volunteers
for about ten years at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
(LACMA), and the word got around that I was a violinist.

One of the volunteers was related to the composer for
The Horse Whisperer and she put in a good word for me.
I owe that job to her. Then, once I was playing for him, I started
getting hired to play on his other films and things expanded
from there. It’s critical for instrumentalists to end up on a
contractor’s list. They are responsible for hiring people to
play in the orchestra.

QUESTION: How do you get on a contractor’s list?

It’s a nebulous process. There are so many ways! You play
for people, like the lead violinist, who is called the concertmaster.

Of course, those people have an inflated sense of their own power.
People have to play for them; they’re the gatekeepers who make
recommendations to the contractor. My entrée was through a family
-work connection. The composer then told the contractor to contact
me. And of course people know each other from school, “Oh, I went
to Juilliard with so and so.” They recommend you to the contractor.
People even say there’s a casting couch.

When composers are young and they’re trying to make it, they need
a reel. They need projects to work on, and they often seek out student
filmmakers at film schools. The composers don’t make much money,
which means they can’t pay the musicians much, if anything at all.

Oftentimes they will ask musicians to volunteer: “I don’t have a lot
of money, but I’ll buy you pizza. Can you help me score the short
film I’m working on?” Musicians will agree to do the work in the
hope that the composer’s profile in the industry will rise and that
they’ll take you along for the ride. But that doesn’t always work.
In fact, a major beef with my colleagues is that they’ll play for
free! Worst of all, when people you play for become more successful,
they tend to forget that you once did them a favor. Of course, I
imagine that if there’s a lot of money on the line and if the young
composer has a choice between working and not working, they’ll
say to the contractor: “Okay, fine, just take care of it. I’m sorry I
have to leave Robert and his friends behind, but, this is my chance.”

So, it’s a complex process. By the way, the same can be said about
contractors. They might use you once—if it is helpful to them—and
never hire you again. So the contractor is a central gatekeeper.

They’re like Saint Peter, they are so powerful. In fact, there are one
or two who are enormously powerful and influential. For a long time
during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, there was one woman named
Sandy DeCrescent who controlled access to 90 percent of the work.

She retired, and one of her assistants, Peter Rotter, took over. Then
he controlled 90 percent of the work. At some point after the transition,
Sandy and Peter got into an argument over some business or personal
matter. Now she’s back in the game, and they’re mortal enemies! I’ve
never seen them. To me, they’re like the Wizards of Oz. I’m not in the
90 percent world. I’m in the 10 percent world. And for a good stretch
of time, 10 percent was pretty good. But now, that amount of work
is so much smaller that it breaks down to almost nothing.

QUESTION: Do contractors tend to hire the same people? Do orchestras
stick together from film to film?

Contractors put together an orchestra for each film. And there are
contractors who attach themselves to certain composers. So this
creates a degree of expectation: if you played on one composer’s
film, you will likely play for all of their films.

Composers like to work with people they know and trust; so do contractors.
But there are no guarantees.

QUESTION: When contractors reach out to people, are they asking for
an audition?

No, they know you already. They know they want you. It’s more of a
conversation about money, time, and availability.

QUESTION: When you were working consistently, how often were
you working?

Before I did The Horse Whisperer, I was working at LACMA, so I
didn’t live on my music work. I would do community orchestras,
weddings, and any kind of live music work that I could get.
Even after The Horse Whisperer I still wasn’t getting
enough work to quit the museum, but by that time I had accumulated
so many sick days, vacation days, and free days that LACMA wanted
me to take days off. That was great because I would get a paid day
off and be able to do a movie.

I met my mentor, Harris Goldman, on The Horse Whisperer.

I was very fortunate to meet him; he had great relationships with
many different composers and orchestrators. Orchestrators are
important because they often write the music for a film based on
the composer’s ideas. Orchestrators possess the technical know-
how to translate those ideas into sheet music. Connections to
composers and orchestrators are helpful—obviously they’re both
powerful, and they can make recommendations to the contractors.

Harris introduced me to Graeme Revell, who has since retired. He
also introduced me to a young composer named Michael Giacchino,
who is huge now. I think I did his first non-video-game project,
which was the TV series Alias (2001–6)
Alias led to Lost.

For a while, Lost and Alias were on at the same time, and then he
started doing movies—Pixar movies like
The Incredibles (2004), Ratatouille (2007), and others.

So, right there, I had access to Thomas Newman on some good
films. I was doing Pixar movies and any other movie that Michael
Giacchino was doing, and dur ing a brief period, I was doing both
Alias and Lost.

One week I’d go in and do Alias and the next week I’d do Lost.
And then Alias went off the air, but I still had Lost.

QUESTION: Can you describe a typical day?

For episodic television, it’s a short day. An episode of TV for an
hour-long show like Alias or Lost, which is called a single,
usually requires three hours: typically from ten in the morning
to one in the afternoon, with a ten-minute break at the top of each
hour. For a motion picture, there’s more footage that needs to be
scored, so depending on the nature of the film, it could be one day,
known as a double session. That could mean about six hours with
a lunch break, or it could mean a whole week.

QUESTION: Do studio musicians need a second income?

I would say the most successful people have a regular flow of
studio work across film and television. But they also teach and
play in other orchestras, like the opera or the Los Angeles
Chamber Orchestra. However, they always have studio work
at the core of their career.

QUESTION: How much can you make in a recording session?

If it is a standard budget, a rank-and-file musician can make
about $80 an hour. That’s not bad, and you get money on the
back end as well. There is also low-budget, and now something
called low-low-budget, which pays considerably less.

QUESTION: What is the back end?

Some office in Encino tallies it up, and it’s predicated on things
like video sales, DVD sales, and what happens overseas. They
tally all of the projects that you have worked on and your
percentage of royalties, and then you get a check in the
summertime. You get one check for film and television, and a
smaller check the next month for any kind of phonograph work
you’ve done. (They still say “phonograph” even though it’s an
incredibly outdated term.) It refers to work you’ve done on
commercial music, like albums or singles.

With your check, you get a long itemized statement, and it
behooves you to look at it closely to see if they missed anything.
It happens. But it’s also really interesting to see the different
trends across the film and television you’ve done. Like
I said, I’m still getting money from old projects like Bio-Dome.
It’s maybe $10, but it’s money! Other films have a huge drop off.
For instance, Star Trek (2009) made some good money at first,
and then the next year it went down a little, and then
down, down, down, down very quickly. It was a rapid drop.

Both Lost and Alias made a lot of money in international and
ancillary markets.

QUESTION: Over the course of time, how much money could
you expect in residuals?

It was pretty good money. It wasn’t astronomical like it is with
some movies, but it was always a nice check. I don’t recall
exact amounts, but the back end on those shows could pay your
rent for the month. It’s always surprising what pays well on the
back end. Some projects that you think wouldn’t do well end
up paying you the most.

For example, I have a friend who did a sidelining job on the movie
I Love You, Man (2009). He was playing in a quartet at the
wedding at the end. Sidelining means you appear on camera,
almost as an actor. Usually you’re miming to prerecorded music;
you’re just there as a visual. And nobody wanted to take the job!
You had to go up to Malibu every day and be there really early,
and it just didn’t seem like a terribly good job, but because there
was no other scored music— every other song on the soundtrack
was a pop song—they got this large sum of money! Divided among
the four of them, they got really, really good money on the back end.

Another friend, a bass player, had an appearance on a Chili’s commercial.
He was playing the bass with a jazz singer. When he first heard about
the job, he wasn’t going to audition for it, but we convinced him. I think
when everything wrapped up he probably made $10,000 for that, which
is excellent for essentially one day’s work.

QUESTION: When you look at the itemized list of residuals, what have
been some of your biggest surprises, other than Bio-Dome?

A movie that paid very well was The Incredibles. We knew that it was
going to make some good money because it was very successful. But
it was worth thousands of dollars for me! Everybody was asking about it:
“Did you get your check for that?” Because, you know, not everybody
is in that top echelon of musicians, where they’re working for everyone
all the time.

A lot of the musicians in Los Angeles are just like me, waiting for that
elusive studio call, which has become more and more rare.

QUESTION: What happened? You said you started to notice a change
around 2006 or 2007.

What happened was just an acceleration of trends that were already in
place. Costs all come out of the producers’ pockets. I only make scale,
but other people in the orchestra, say a section leader, get double scale.
And if a contractor hires someone we call a doubler—someone who is
hired to play more than one instrument—scale pay is automatically higher.
Plus, the contractor could be making double or triple scale. So it all starts
to add up before you even calculate the back end, which also increases
depending on your scale pay. I think producers began to say, “This is
an unnecessary expense. Let’s go overseas. Let’s go to London.”

They have nationalized health care so there are no benefit costs for
producers. They don’t pay any residuals. There is no union. The musicians
just get paid their hourly rate for their time in the studio.

George Lucas has all of his films done in London. He has always been
virulently antiunion. On the other hand, Thomas Newman has always
been committed to scoring his films in L.A. He comes from a film
music dynasty, so I think he has a strong sense of loyalty to keeping
business in the city. He is loyal to musicians here. His father was
Alfred Newman, his uncle was Lionel Newman, his cousin is Randy
Newman, and his brother is David Newman.

Nevertheless, he got the 007 franchise, and that does not leave England,
so now he has to go over there and use their musicians.

Of course London has a lot of incredibly talented musicians. But if you’re
already in the London Symphony Orchestra, you have that work, so film
jobs are just extra cash. Even if you’re not in the London Symphony
Orchestra, or the four or five other orchestras there, there are lots of

From what I understand, Abbey Road and Air Studios are open night
and day, seven days a week. It’s incredibly busy. Freelance musicians
are scoring films or video game soundtracks. Video games are a huge
market now! Some of them have better production values than motion
pictures. I did some of that ten years ago. I started working on Call of
Duty and Medal of Honor. We basically created motion picture
soundtracks, using a big orchestra. But the video game companies have
become even more tightfisted about residuals and in negotiating with
the unions. They’re basically saying, “We don’t need to do this anymore.”

Whatever pugnacious tactics the unions had unfortunately weren’t
enough to prevent studios from going either overseas or out of state
to find musicians who would accept their terms. I think Seattle was
the first city to break away from the national union.

QUESTION: How pugnacious was the union when this trend started?

I think it was mainly verbal. I don’t think there was a lot of punch
behind it, compared to the other [motion picture] unions. The
musicians’ union doesn’t have as much power. When writers
go on strike, you have no content, so things grind to a halt.
But when musicians go on strike, they say, “Well, we’ll just go
out of town.”

QUESTION: Why is it so easy to go out of town? Don’t directors
and producers want to be closer to the action when they’re in
postproduction, to oversee the development of the soundtrack?

You would think, but then you have to consider the money, and
that’s all the producers and studios are worried about right now.
A studio is just a distribution channel owned by a much larger
global entity. And because they’re multinational corporations,
they have to answer to the bottom line.

The executives who run these multinational corporations likely
have no interest in film music or where it is done. They just
have to answer to shareholders. Accountants have much more
power than they used to. Can you save money by going to
London, or the Czech  Republic, or Macedonia, or Seattle?
If so, we’ll do it!

QUESTION: Where do they go? We know about London and

The Czech Republic is very big.

QUESTION: Why the Czech Republic?

It’s an incredibly musical place. Mozart in his time was
more popular in Prague than in his native Austria. The
country has a rich tradition of symphonic music that includes
Antonin Dvořák and other Czech composers. And the cost
of living is lower there, so wages are lower, and producers
don’t have to pay into health care.

They don’t have to pay the back end. You just have to pay
the musicians for their time in the studio.

QUESTION: What other places?

Well, that’s enough to sink the ship. But London is the biggest,
by far. Dreamworks Animation is 100 percent London. Until
the latest Star Wars, George Lucas did his recording in London.

The new one was done here in L.A., but I don’t know why.

QUESTION: Besides the battle over payments, what else is
making jobs disappear? I think our tastes in music have changed.
When you turn on the radio now and listen to Selena Gomez or
Katy Perry, oftentimes you’re not even hearing real instruments.
Those songs are purely electronic productions done by producers.
People don’t expect strings or real instruments backing up the artist.

Recorded music also has good sampling. A very good producer or
somebody with a suitable keyboard can get what passes for a good
string sound, and the samples are getting better and better. People
don’t expect to hear a natural, acoustic-sounding backdrop when
they hear popular music these days. Those jobs used to be important
sources of money when you weren’t doing film or television work.
Now you only expect to see violins or symphonic instruments,
as a visual. If Michael Bublé is doing something on PBS, you may
see actual instruments and musicians like me. Or if they’re doing
a studio session, I might get a call. But when it comes time to do
it live, they don’t want to see me. Directors will probably try
to get a pretty, willowy, young, white, blond woman to put on the
set. Somebody’s getting the work, at least, but it’s not me.

We had no idea this transition has been afoot. It’s startling,
especially when you consider the significant role that music
plays in most Hollywood films.

Oh, there’s no reason to apologize. Musicians are invisible,
so things can happen to the musicians and the general public
doesn’t know. That’s why I’m so eager and willing to go on
record, or talk to people about changes in our business.

I don’t want to be in politics or anything, but I do want to tell
people that musicians do exist, and I want to emphasize that
when you hear music in a motion picture, it’s played by real
people. Sometimes the music is done so incredibly well,
like with Thomas Newman, that it becomes part of the
narrative. The music is essential for propelling the narrative
of the film.

I think the whole transition has been manipulated in very
clever ways, even through union negotiations. Like I said,
unions don’t have a ton of power, so when they capitulate,
they often turn around to frame it as a benefit. They’ll say,
“We have this new agreement with the studios where a
certain amount of work has to be done in town.” On the
surface that sounds great! But the studios still determine
what work stays and what work goes. So they’ll do a bunch
of films Attack of the Killer Tomatoes: Part VIII in L.A., and
take prestige projects elsewhere. There’s a very tangible
difference for musicians between working on a low-budget
feature versus a big-budget prestige project.

QUESTION: In another interview, you were quoted as saying
that access to job opportunities is now extremely political.
Can you elaborate?

We had various watering holes in our business. I had my
watering hole with a few other animals. Other animals
were at different watering holes. I was at the Thomas Newman
–Michael Giacchino watering hole. It turned out to be a good
watering hole to have, but now these other watering holes,
which provided a lot of work, have dried up and those animals
are coming over to my watering hole, and the more politically
and powerfully connected musicians have the ability to push me
aside, if they want.

QUESTION: What kind of scoring work is still done in L.A.?

Luckily for me, two of the composers who still score here are
Thomas Newman and Michael Giacchino, and there is some
pop music that needs strings. If you Google my name you’ll
see some of the sound—not soundtrack but phonograph—work
I’ve done. I’ll do work for artists like Beck. Beck’s father,
David Campbell, is an orchestrator. So, right there, Beck has
an in-house person to do string arranging for his records. But
that type of work is increasingly rare. Today it’s mostly when a
producer wants some strings to make something more romantic.
They call it sweetening. If a popular artist like Katy Perry does a
ballad, that’s good for us because we might get the call for that,
but again, that doesn’t happen all that often. It’s just not the
predominant sound in popular music. They needed strings more
often during the disco era. My god, you listen to a disco album
that was recorded in the mid- to late 1970s and everything has

A lot of the work that made for a middle-class living was not
particularly prestigious. It was just work, and there was a lot of it.
For instance making commercial jingles for Safeway, and things
like that. Back then they used real musicians for jingles. The only
time you’ll hear an orchestra on television now is when you watch
The Simpsons (1989–ongoing), Family Guy (1999–ongoing), and
maybe one or two other animated things. Animation seems to require
real musicians.

Desperate Housewives (2004–12) used an orchestra when it was on
the air, but since the demise of Aliasand Lost, I don’t think there’s
been a lot of orchestra work for non-animated TV.

It’s just not looking good for musicians. People are taking early
retirement and taking their pensions. All it requires is that the
musician not accept any work for a year, and then he or she can
start getting pension payments. If work does come in
after that, you can take it, but that means we are essentially
bankrupting our pension fund. My royalty check is being taxed
at 1 percent, which then contributes to the retirement fund, which
is currently in the red. Hopefully the union can rebuild the coffers,
but right now we don’t know if there will be any money left when
my peers and I are ready to retire. I just assume I’m going to
somehow continue working when I’m ninety years old.

Let’s hope I’m able to!

QUESTION: What are you doing today?

I’m lucky that a couple of my friends made a financial intervention.
They took me out to lunch and reminded me that I inherited my
parents’ house after they both died in 2011. Since then, I had
been living in their house and slowly going broke.

They said, “You live in a great house. You have a swimming pool,
a view of the city, and you’re in Los Feliz. Fix up the house and rent
it.” Even though I was still grief stricken, I said, “Okay, I’ll do it.”
I got a loan, fixed up the house, and got a realtor. There were a couple
of offers that fell through and then somebody I had heard about and
liked from the entertainment industry came and loved the house. He
was a novelist for many years prior to becoming a showrunner.
One of his stories got made into a TV show and that totally changed
his life. Now he was working on another show, so he decided to
move to L.A., and he rented my house. I’m not out of the woods,
but at least I’m able to pay for an apartment down the hill from
my house and start paying off my debts. I hope he stays there
forever; he’s a great guy.

So the pressure has eased somewhat. Now I view myself more
as a landlord than a musician sometimes. Some musicians say
you have to do things like that, and a couple of players I know
became real estate agents, but that profession is also subject to
the market’s whims. Some older players have also invested in
property, so I have this little thing with the house and hopefully
there’ll be a point where I’m no longer paying off the debt. I’m
getting money from whatever is left from my movie, television,
and phonograph work. I’m sorry I can’t paint a brighter picture.




are now at Culver City Elks the first 
Friday of 
every month.
11160 Washington Pl.
Culver City, 90232
Every 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month at
Viva Cantina
900 Riverside Drive, 

Free parking across the street at Pickwick Bowl.
Come hear your favorite charts played the way

We are in the back room called
the Trailside Room. 

Come on down.

Guaranteed to swing.



Info about upcoming programs through AUGUST 2017
at the Free Admission Glendale Noon Concerts series
(concerts every first & third Wednesday at 12:10-12:40 pm)
are listed at
Thank you for your support in publicizing the Glendale Noon Concerts!

Jacqueline Suzuki
Curator, GNC
818 249 -5108

On Wednesday  June 21, 2017 at 12:10-12:40 pm
the Free Admission Glendale Noon Concerts will feature
violinist Jacqueline Suzuki  and pianist Frank Basile performing
works by Ravel, Mozart and Debussy at the Sanctuary of Glendale City Church,
610 E. California Ave. (at Isabel St), Glendale, CA 91206.
For more information, email [email protected]
or call (818) 244- 7241.

JUNE 21, 2017 Program:

MAURICE RAVEL Violin Sonata No.1 in a minor, “Posthumous” 
W.A. MOZART Sonata for piano and violin in e minor, K.304
CLAUDE DEBUSSY La plus que lente for violin and piano

JACQUELINE SUZUKI, violin, is a longtime member of the Long Beach and Santa Barbara Symphonies. A native of San Francisco, she began her earliest chamber music studies on scholarship at the San Francisco Conservatory. She has performance degrees from the Mannes College of Music (BM), where she studied with William Kroll, and the California Institute of the Arts (MFA).
As a Los Angeles freelancer, she has performed with many ensembles and in many genres, from rock, jazz, Latin and Arabic, to playing in the pit for the Bolshoi Ballet and onstage with the Three Tenors. She has recorded with diverse artists: Snoop Dogg, Neil Sedaka, Leonard Cohen, Whitney Houston, Bocelli, Lalo Schifrin, McCoy Tyner, Placido Domingo and many others, and appears on recordings by the Long Beach, Santa Barbara and Pacific Symphonies. She has spent summers at the Peter Britt, Oregon Coast, Carmel Bach and Cabrillo Festivals and has performed in a string quartet “in residence” on a raft trip down the Green River in Utah. Tours have taken her many times to Japan, Taiwan, Mexico, Canada, Europe, the Middle East and throughout the US. She initiated and curates the Free Admission Glendale Noon Concerts and also the Edendale Up Close Concerts:

Frank Basile is a harpsichordist, pianist, organist, conductor, musical director, accompanist, singer, church musician, composer, arranger, orchestrator, and teacher. His career has brought him to Los Angeles recording studios, the choir lofts of churches throughout the United States and Europe, any number of theaters in Los Angeles, and the stages of Walt Disney Concert Hall and Carnegie Hall. Versatility has been the hallmark of his work, which has included teaching at USC, Loyola Marymount University, Santa Monica College, and Campbell Hall High School. He is a staff accompanist at Santa Monica College and Loyola Marymount University, an adjunct lecturer in Music at LMU, and director of music at St. Bede’s Episcopal Church in Los Angeles. He studied at Yale University, Northwestern University, and the University of Southern California.



Song of the Angels Flute Orchestra
Saturday, June 24th at 4 p.m. at
La Crescenta Presbyterian church.
with guest arranger conductor Shaul Ben-Meir
and guest soloists
David Shostac and
Gary Woodward

Concert is free!
Donations are encouraged.

Shaul will be conducting his arrangements of:
Faure Pavane
DeFalla Suite,
Mendelssohn Ruy Blas Overature,
Night on Bald Mountain
Radetsky March.

David Shostac and Gary Woodward will be
bringing their musical flute colors to perform
Saint Saens –  Benedictus
Bach Violin Double (1st movement).

We will also be opening the concert with
John Williams Fantasy Medley and
Basin Street blues arranged and conducted
by our own esteemed
Charles Fernandez….

Whew – This concert will be awesome!!!



Dear Doctor Wu Fans,

We will be appearing at the Santa Monica Summer SOULstice Festival
on Sunday, June 25th 2017 from 4:30 to 6:30 PM, where we will play
two sets of your favorite Steely Dan tunes.  Please bring your friends
along and enjoy a great time with us!

Edgemar Courtyard
2440 Main Street
Santa Monica, CA 90405
4:30 – 6:30 PM

We hope to see you there!

The Doctor Wu Band




The LA Jazz Society is proud to partner with Kim Richmond
and Kimberly Ford in presenting the Santa Barbara Jazz
Workshop, July 11-14, from Tuesday afternoon to Friday night.

A faculty of Jazz professionals teach instrumental/vocal master
classes, improvisation, Jazz Listening (How to listen, and who to
listen to.), modern Jazz combo and Big Band playing with concerts
each late afternoon (open to the public) where advanced students sit in

For more information, visit

Presented by Kim Richmond and Kimberly Ford
at the Marjorie Luke Theater and SOHO Jazz Club.

You can read all previous offerings at:



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