Drift away in a musical dreamI strongly believe that good music can heal the soul. After a long week of work, broken promises, unwanted calls and headaches, I recently escaped to a countryside hideaway for some soothing sounds.
Just over an hour up the Jayuro, or “Freedom Road,” which connects Seoul with northern Gyeonggi province, I arrived at Heyri Art Village in Paju. I got my soul therapy at Camerata, a classical music listening room that is one of many galleries, shops and studios in this planned community of artists that was built on the ideals of spiritual exploration.
As I approached the building, a modernist concrete structure, the faint sounds of music was audible. Entering the small doorway, a voluminous three-story space opened up, exhaling Sibelius’ “Valse Triste”. Two enormous sets of speakers on the opposite wall were pouring out the poignant melody.
The music listening space is owned by Hwang In-yong, one of Korea’s most well known radio anchormen. Mr. Hwang opened the Camerata in September 2004 when he returned to his hometown of Paju. After reading a small newspaper advertisement about the Heyri Art Village project a few years ago, Mr. Hwang said he decided to return to his hometown to spend time with classical music.
Camerata, which means “a small room” in Italian, took three years to build. The name originated from Florentine Camerata, an important group of musical amateurs who met to discuss literature, science and the arts. The meetings began at the peak of the Renaissance in 1573 at Count Giovanni Bardi’s house. By modernizing the ancient Greek civilization and culture, the group contributed to the creation of Baroque operas.
In his Camerata, Mr. Hwang began by making coffee and selecting music for visitors, sharing his two favorite things with others.
Mr. Hwang said he became a classical music patron when he was a middle school student. Listenig to the radio one day, he heard Beethoven’s symphony No.5, “Fate,” for the first time. “My fate was shaken completely at the moment,” he recalled.
From then on, he became a devoted classic music fan. His collection of 10,000 LPs has become the core of Camerata, along with an audio system from the 1930s.
The Western Electric speaker system was once used in movie theaters in the 1930s. The speakers were grand enough to serve an 800-seat theater, but their sounds are delicate, Mr. Hwang said. He supplemented the system with BE Research’s 300 B amplifiers, presenting the perfect ensemble of old and new. The amplifiers use vacuum tubes, which play a critical role in reconstructing the characteristics of Western Electric’s sound system, often referred to as “refined aggressiveness,” he said.
The system also includes a set of Klangfilm Euronojunior speakers from Germany. The square-shaped speakers are mounted on the center of a thick concrete wall, making a clear statement that nothing but music dominates this space.
In exchange for the 10,000 won entrance fee, visitors receive a choice of drinks, ranging from espresso variations to Korean-style iced Omija tea. Bite-sized pieces of muffins, pound cake and pineaples are arranged at the coffee bar, and guests are welcomed to fill their small dishes as often as they want. Mr. Hwang, who has a professional Barista certificate, makes coffee for guests from time to time when he is not playing music inside the DJ’s room.
The listening room is furnished with comfy chairs, large tables stacked with books, and a piano. The aroma of coffee and natural light coming in from openings high on the walls make for a relaxing atmosphere. Guests are welcomed to submit requests, and Mr. Hwang plays them from his collection of 10,000 classical music LPs.
Mr. Hwang met the architect Cho Byoung-soo, who designed the space, by coincidence at an orientation meeting for participants of the Heyri village project. Three years later Camerata was born.
The project is actually modeled on a small classical music cafe that Mr. Hwang opened in Pyeongchang-dong, Seoul, in 1997. Also called Camerata, the original space felt almost like a private salon, where classical music fans and friends met to enjoy classical music over cups of tea. The Camerata in Heyri offers a space where time is stopped in the analogue era.
Five hours after I arrived, Mozart, Beethoven, Gabriel Faure and Gustav Mahler had percolated through my system, and I was feeling much better. Mr. Hwang also played Edith Piaf’s La Vie En Rose. As the French cabaret chanteuse sang, my life was becoming rosy.
Experimental artist community north of Seoul
Heyri Art Village was conceived in the mid-1990s as a community for a wide range of cultural endeavors. On 122 acres of land in Paju, northern Gyeonggi province, 370 writers, artists, filmmakers, architects and musicians have gathered to work and live together. They built homes, studios, museums, galleries, libraries, shops and cafes.
The master plan of the village is to preserve the natural landscape as its community grows to 300 facilities featuring different arts. The date of completion for the project is open-ended. As of March this year, 60 venues were opened in Heyri, and designs of another 100 have been finished, with construction finishing in the first half of 2006.
From downtown Seoul, the village is reachable by Bus 9707. From Ilsan, Bus 200 stops at Heyri.
Driving from Seoul using Jayuro toward Ilsan, Heyri Art Village is located at the exit of Seongdong Interchange. After making a right turn at the Heyri signboard, turn left at the first intersection to find Heyri Art Village’s gates.
Admission: No admission fee for entering the village, but each installation may open at different time and receive different admission fees.
by Ser Myo-ja