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The sounds of the Olympics — the world's greatest show

Jul 22, 2021
It seems like a lifetime since the 2016 Rio Olympics. And although we’ve only deferred Tokyo’s version of the world’s oldest, and most celebrated, sporting competition by one year – the sights and sounds this time around couldn’t be more different. Samba makes way for J-pop, percussion swaps out for strings and winds… and, as is often the case with an event of this magnitude, the soundtrack of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games promises to be one to remember.

bbc trailer - nation on display 
The BBC is on a hot streak at the minute, coming off the back of a Euros campaign that combined exceptional coverage with some of the best sounds at the tournament. Commentary teams and music choices created an unrivalled atmosphere – and if their official Tokyo Olympics trailer is anything to go by, they’ve got no intentions of slowing down. The lively and frenetic trailer, created alongside Nexus Studios and Factory Fifteen, offers a whistle-stop tour of Japanese culture with a distinctly sports-focused shift. Athletes face off against each other on the track in a Street Fighter homage, and at least 50 ‘Easter egg’ moments ensure repeat viewings never bore – but it’s the music that steals the show. Renowned anime composer Kenji Kawai, who’s worked on classics such as Ghost in the Shell and Patlabor, created the track – and when asked about it, he said “It was a great honour to write the music for the BBC’s coverage of the Olympic Games. I wanted to bring the excitement of Tokyo to the music using both traditional Japanese instruments and Minyo [singers], and modern ones like the virtual J-Pop singer Hatsune Miku”.

opening ceremony 
The opening ceremony of the Olympics is often more talked about than the games themselves. These true multi-sensory experiences don’t only do their literal job of beginning the proceedings, but tell the story of a nation and a culture, and bring the excitement to a boiling point before a big bang of sporting brilliance. It should go without saying, then, that we’re in for a treat this time round. Reports last year said video game icon Mario and flying cars could be part of the ceremony, with animated characters and new technology due to play prominent roles – and with a budget of around $165 million across all ceremonies, it’s safe to say that whatever happens, it’ll be an auditory experience none of us will forget in a hurry.

immersive sound

Of course, a sporting event like the Olympics demands some of the world’s finest engineering teams to pull off. Whether it’s filming, broadcasting, or sound design – it’s a monumental task. And this year, the absence of fans poses a bigger threat to the atmosphere at the Games than ever before. That’s why Japanese broadcaster NHK will roll out their Immersive Sound system, the culmination of decades of work that’s designed to translate the entire stadium experience to viewers at home. It’s a step up from the generic crowd noises we’ve heard at football games over the last year, and if it can help bring some of the excitement and energy of the Tokyo Olympics to our front rooms, we can’t wait to hear it.

This year’s Olympics will provide the full package when it comes to the sounds of a true sporting summer – all you have to do is tune in and listen up.