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Little North Korean girl playing guitar.
August 21, 2010 12:33 PM   Subscribe


 
Say what you will, but these pretty much beat the hell out of anything on "America's Got Talent".
posted by anarch at 12:39 PM on August 21, 2010


I can only imagine the sort of horrifying training regimen they must have undergone to achieve this level of precision.

From a USA Today article on a North Korean festival with child performers:

The Seoul-based Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights says the festival requires six months to a year of practice, during which child performers miss school and are sometimes treated abusively by organizers.

Some Arirang performers have developed bladder problems because "they were forbidden from going to the bathrooms during practice," network researcher Lee Kwang Baek wrote last month.

Author Fisher wonders how the North gets young children to perform like robots. "How are you going to get hundreds of kids to obey just like that?" he says. "The level of training they must have undergone — it must have been inhumane.

"Everybody had such robotic precision," he says. "The (North Korean) guide kept saying this showed the Koreans had one true heart, one true mind. What struck me was there was no room at all for any individuality or any freedom."

posted by BobbyVan at 12:50 PM on August 21, 2010 [6 favorites]


Say what you will, but these pretty much beat the hell out of anything on "America's Got Talent".

Meh, I think it's depressing, really.
posted by empath at 12:53 PM on August 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, "You better learn how to jam out on this guitar, or you and your whole family will be in a labor camp by this time next year" is a pretty powerful motivator, ya know?
posted by Relay at 12:55 PM on August 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


BobbyVan: "I can only imagine the sort of horrifying training regimen they must have undergone to achieve this level of precision..""

Look at the fret board wear on those guitars. I can only imagine how much they practice to get that good. Not sure how much of it is done at gunpoint but yes, a little depressing to say the least.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 1:02 PM on August 21, 2010


Needs more umbilical cord.
posted by phaedon at 1:09 PM on August 21, 2010


I love a good pileon on the DPRK as much as the next, but I doubt the children are forced to practice under direct threat. There's no doubt a lot of pressure (as there is with children in many East Asian countries), but the coercion probably involves more carrots than sticks. Or, in North Korea's case, carrot paste that is mostly dirt.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:17 PM on August 21, 2010


That was pretty creepy.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 1:19 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


What an amazing girl.

Vice Squad did an episode on North Korea, and they showed their visit to a school's music class, including guitar instruction. You can see that part here.
posted by Houstonian at 1:19 PM on August 21, 2010


The Youtube description on the first link says she's a kindergardener, which I doubt - she looks at least 8 or 9 years old. In the group video, sure, those are kindergardeners.
posted by beagle at 1:19 PM on August 21, 2010


Hmm. She looks about five or six to me, and I thought so before reading the description. Her talent is no less impressive either way.
posted by katillathehun at 1:21 PM on August 21, 2010


posted by Relay Yeah, "You better learn how to jam out on this guitar, or you and your whole family will be in a labor camp by this time next year" is a pretty powerful motivator, ya know?

That's nothing. "It's okay, you can just give grandmother nothing for her birthday" was enough motivation for me to own "When The Saints Go Marching In" on the ocarina.
posted by mattdidthat at 1:24 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Guys, guys. Let's focus on the real issue here.

The kid's high E is like a quarter-tone flat. Would it kill them to just swing by the local Guitar Center and get a strobe tuner, and while they're at it, maybe have the neck looked at for intonation? Jeez, North Korea, get it together.
posted by jake at 1:34 PM on August 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


So, should we do an analysis of these kids' lives and compare it to Damon James's? Well, they probably won't have their own web sites at eleven, nor will they ever make as much money, but for what is happening at the age of five or seven? Maybe not so different?
posted by Some1 at 1:37 PM on August 21, 2010


I don't think it's fair to call 'evil empire' on these kids... take any list of child prodigies - and for every one that makes such a list you know there are thousands more in most any country who have parents, teachers, whole towns and trainers right now driving them to be the next 'best' at something at great sacrifice.

If this represents some kind of human rights violation it is in no way unique to North Korea. Then again, I doubt CJ Dipper developed blatter problems practicing his art. Maybe the human rights violation is that we don't beat our child stars hard enough and have to suffer listening to what is merely 'cute' instead of good like what these North Korean kids produce.
posted by astrobiophysican at 1:38 PM on August 21, 2010


I love a good pileon on the DPRK as much as the next, but I doubt the children are forced to practice under direct threat. There's no doubt a lot of pressure (as there is with children in many East Asian countries), but the coercion probably involves more carrots than sticks.

I dunno about that. I've found that any person/group that performs with such precision as a child has almost always been pretty much "beaten" into submission. Take, for example, the Osmonds, the Cowsills and the Jackson 5ive. The patriarchs of each family was abusive (by today's standards, anyway) - beating the kids with belts and otherwise physically punishing them when they performed poorly or complained about having to rehearse instead of being allowed to play with their friends. The end result was "ooh, look at those talented kids, listen to those amazing harmonies" from amazed fans and members of the press, but little did they know that none of those young performers had anything resembling a normal childhood back at home. Likewise the young girl gymnasts of 1996's Olympic Mag Seven team; those especially that lived and trained with the Karolyis were watched like hawks constantly to make sure they didn't eat anything unauthorized (one girl later recalled being berated for eating a peach in between workouts) and trained with military precision a minimum of eight hours per day, seven days per week.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:39 PM on August 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wow, the technical proficiency in itself is impressive, but coupled with that Chuck E. Cheese choreography and her blank stage smile it seems to slide back down towards the uncanny valley with alarming speed. I could only watch so much.
posted by carsonb at 1:41 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't think this has anything to do with music, nevertheless I hope that all these kids find some joy in their accomplishment. In the second video at least there's a hint that they do.
posted by tigrefacile at 1:49 PM on August 21, 2010


Compare this post with the one before and then examine the concept of freedom for children.
posted by chairish at 1:57 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hmm. She looks about five or six to me, and I thought so before reading the description. Her talent is no less impressive either way.

The Youtube description on the first link says she's a kindergardener, which I doubt - she looks at least 8 or 9 years old.

I was under the impression that even children of NK's "lucky" classes/families often looked younger than their age due to inadequate diet. So...I guess I'd doubt whether her appearance can give us much reliable evidence as to her age either way.
posted by frobozz at 2:06 PM on August 21, 2010


If she plays, her family eats. If not, the Democratic People's Republic has no room for parasites, comrade! Bloody fingers are the price of the Proletarian Revolution!
posted by orthogonality at 2:20 PM on August 21, 2010


> I've found that any person/group that performs with such precision as a child has almost always been pretty much "beaten" into submission.

Right, well then I would say (guessing, of course) that comes from her parents and teachers, not directly from The State. Although, the case could be made that many in the DPRK are so brainwashed that making a distinction like that is irrelevant.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:37 PM on August 21, 2010


As a guitar player for 15 years, I was blown away by what she has accomplished in perhaps (at most) 5 years. But then I thought about the amount of practice I've put into what I play, and I can't help but think that either she's been highly pressured, or that this is the only song she can really play with this level of competency. I have to wonder if she could reasonably jam to any given key. I also have to wonder how her childhood is. When I was that age, I was practicing around (at most) an hour a day.

It's bittersweet, really.
posted by nickheer at 3:52 PM on August 21, 2010


I can only imagine the sort of horrifying training regimen they must have undergone to achieve this level of precision.

I've heard that North Korean spies require extensive training at walking with a slouch, or they give themselves away wherever they go.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:02 PM on August 21, 2010


for some added contrast, perhaps a video of a little american girl watching tv and eating cheetos would help
posted by kitchenrat at 4:07 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


for some added contrast, perhaps a video of a little american girl watching tv and eating cheetos would help

Wow, youtube really does have everything.
posted by delmoi at 4:27 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


astrobiophysican: “If this represents some kind of human rights violation it is in no way unique to North Korea. Then again, I doubt CJ Dipper developed blatter problems practicing his art. Maybe the human rights violation is that we don't beat our child stars hard enough and have to suffer listening to what is merely 'cute' instead of good like what these North Korean kids produce.”

Y'know, I'd almost call this comment offensive if it wasn't so weird. You just completely relativized the concept of human rights by apparently claiming that 'human rights' means 'getting to hear music played skillfully by young children,' while at the same time insisting that human rights doesn't mean 'children don't get beaten.' Are you being ironic? I hope so.

In the end, though, this whole debate doesn't really matter all that much. These kids are terrible musicians. They're somewhat technically skilled and all, but they're like robots; and I think we all understand that music isn't just supposed to be a display of technical skill. It's supposed to be something you listen to. Honestly, as a musician and as a person, I found these performances horrifying – not because I know any backstory about how the kids ended up where they are (I don't) but because the music itself is played so coldly, so lifelessly, so bleakly. Ugh. How can anyone enjoy watching that?
posted by koeselitz at 4:35 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


*writes koeselitz's name in little red book*
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:55 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


In the end, though, this whole debate doesn't really matter all that much. These kids are terrible musicians. They're somewhat technically skilled and all, but they're like robots; and I think we all understand that music isn't just supposed to be a display of technical skill. It's supposed to be something you listen to. Honestly, as a musician and as a person, I found these performances horrifying – not because I know any backstory about how the kids ended up where they are (I don't) but because the music itself is played so coldly, so lifelessly, so bleakly. Ugh. How can anyone enjoy watching that?

Tyrants both great and petty have always loved such performances. It probably appeals to their sense of control (or unsatisfied desire for control) over the masses.
posted by PsychoKick at 6:06 PM on August 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


She looks about five or six to me, and I thought so before reading the description. Her talent is no less impressive either way.

No way. There's a huge difference between a kindergardener playing an instrument and an 8/9 year-old. That's three or four years of education during the prime development period in a child's life. Pick just about anybody working in a professional orchestra these days and I'd bet nearly all of them were handed their first instrument around age 5. To become professional-caliber, that's just the way it is these days.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:26 PM on August 21, 2010


If you want a vision of the future image a North Korean child playing a guitar forever.
posted by basicchannel at 6:26 PM on August 21, 2010 [5 favorites]


Imagine, even.
posted by basicchannel at 6:27 PM on August 21, 2010


The first word that comes to mind is 'horrifying'.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:16 PM on August 21, 2010


This isn't the kid who beats the Devil on the guitar, this is the kid whom the Devil vomits up to play for his side.
posted by fleacircus at 11:55 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I dunno about that. I've found that any person/group that performs with such precision as a child has almost always been pretty much "beaten" into submission.

Rarely to the extent of the child pansori vocalist in the Korean film Soponjye though.

SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER

Whose pansori master father deliberately blinds her, so that she possesses the requisite amount of Han to deliver a convincing performance.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:01 AM on August 22, 2010


What was the Korean way to do things like before totalitarism ?
posted by nicolin at 7:57 AM on August 22, 2010


Pretty bleak.
posted by Houstonian at 8:06 AM on August 22, 2010


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