In the Loop

In the Loop: August 14, 2008 Archive

Of ghosted girls and phony phirework phootprints

Posted at 9:45 AM on August 14, 2008 by Jeff Horwich

By now you've probably run across the news that China pulled an Ashley Simpson during one of the key moments of the amazing opening ceremonies. Apparently Yang Peiyi (right) had a beautiful voice but wasn't precious enough to stand before the world. On the orders of some unknown Communist muckity-muck, little Peiyi's voice was recorded and little Lin Miayoke got the orders to play Milli Vanilli (are there any famous lip-synch references I'm forgetting to include here?)

According to the ceremonies' musical director, "The reason why little Yang was not chosen to appear was because we wanted to project the right image, we were thinking about what was best for the nation." The interview where he said that was later wiped from the web site

The Chinese say it was a valid choice, and they don't see any problem with keeping in secret. Peiyi's father, on the other hand, says he's glad the news is out.

Seems like little Peiyi is cute enough -- are we really judging seven-year-olds if their teeth aren't perfectly straight? It's one of those things I tend not to really notice in young children.

It wasn't until that story started floating around that I caught wind of the fireworks thing, though. One of the most amazing sequences -- one I recall I called my wife in from the kitchen to see -- was fake: Digital animation in the works for more than a year. The footprints, stamping out their way to the Bird's Nest, could not actually have been seen from above because of smog. It sounds like fireworks actually were set off in this sequence (just for the sake of intellectual honesty? I don't get it) but what TV viewers saw was a canned 3-D graphics sequence.

Matt Lauer and Bob Costas, "calling" the play-by-play, knew. And addressed it in this cagey fashion:

"You're looking at a cinematic device employed by Zhang Yimou here," Lauer said. "This is actually almost animation. A footstep a second, 29 in all, to signify the 29 Olympiads."

Costas responded, "We said earlier that aspects of this Opening Ceremony are almost like cinema in real time. Well this is quite literally cinematic."

Say what you mean, fellas: "By the way, this is a 3D-rendered animation sequence showing what Olympic organizers would have liked you to see if the air hadn't been so crappy we couldn't even put a helicopter in the air."

The Olympic Ceremonies were amazing. Almost too amazing--and in a way it's good to know they couldn't entirely pull it off. (Can't fake 2008 synchronized drummers though.)

Guess I'll reserve my thoughts on Costas as a newsman (which he has often been forced to play during these games) for another post.

Why am I watching so much Olympics, anyway, you ask? Wife's out of town, and I'm filling my lonely evenings with televised comfort.

I want a Hang drum

Posted at 2:59 PM on August 14, 2008 by Jeff Horwich

Erhu.jpgSome of you might know I'm an instrument junkie. The other day, our former editor Jim found one of these in a dumpster and brought it to me:

It's called an ehru, apparently -- Chinese two-stringed bowed instrument. Especially unusual because the hair of the bow actually threads between the two strings. Some guy was throwing it out, and Jim found it by the dumpster at his building.

I used to say I don't have "good instrument luck" -- never found a beautiful vintage accordion in my attic, for instance. But I can't say that any more. This thing is cool, even though at the moment I sound like a screeching cat on it.

Surfing around today brought me to another instrument I had never heard of, but which I now deeply covet: An instrument called a Hang drum, believe it or not invented in Switzerland of all places.

Check this thing out. He picks up the Hang drum mid-way through, after messing around with the little Indian book-like thing called a Shruti Box:

Beautiful. I'm in love.

August 2008
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