The new home of Korea’s Ansan Jeil Church was inspired by Noah’s Ark. Barney Jameson takes a voyage around its impressive main sanctuary.
April 8th 2012 was a landmark day for Ansan Jeil Presbyterian Church, located in the Gojan-dong district of Ansan City, in Gyunggi-do, Korea. Having steadily grown in size since its founding in December 1962, the 15,000 member church celebrated the inaugural service in its newly constructed house of worship on that day, marking the culmination of a very personal journey for Pastor Hoon Go and his congregation.
Originally planned in 2007, the building represents the fulfilment of personal sacrifices on the part of every member of the church, but for Hoon Go its completion is more special still. A decade prior to that first service, the pastor was suffering from stomach cancer, and his vision of what Ansan Jeil would ultimately become was part of the inspiration that helped him conquer his condition.
‘We prayed a lot for this building,’ explains the church’s head of broadcasting, SooIn Im. ‘One reason was that the pastor had stomach cancer and survived, around 10 years ago. All of this means a lot to him. He’s healthy now.’
He also now leads one of biggest and most impressive churches in Ansan, a city of some 700,000 people located to the south of Seoul, on the coast of the Yellow Sea. As such, the church’s mission is substantial – Ansan incorporates two distinct areas, one of which is currently booming with new residential and business developments, while the other houses more socially disadvantaged residents with lower incomes. Ansan Jeil welcomes and works to support all aspects of the city’s society, having long-established a not-for-profit social welfare programme named Ansan Jeil Welfare Corp, providing educational aid, accommodation and medical assistance for those who need it most.
Indeed, the inspiration behind the new building is itself a sign of the church’s broader mission in the city – the entire church has been modelled on Noah’s Ark, delivering a striking addition to the city’s architecture even as it seeks to help its citizens. Waiting inside, meanwhile, are more than 10 different worship spaces and auditoria of varying size and layout.
But while the inspiration behind the design is hard to miss when standing outside the imposing new church, it is within its main sanctuary that the effect is most impressive. A huge space capable of seating more than 5,000 worshippers, the room resembles the bow of an enormous ship, its curved white walls and acoustic panel-covered ceiling funnelling down over two levels towards the main stage, overlooked by a giant video screen and flanked by two hangs of JBL VerTec line arrays.
‘When we started this church we were mainly doing traditional services,’ explained SooIn Im. ‘But in the late 1990s some of the church leaders drew inspiration from the United States and learned a new way of worshipping. We started to adapt and the church has been changing gradually ever since.
‘Our membership was growing a lot so we decided to build a new church, which is this building, and we also decided to adopt a new sound system. We started that plan in 2007 and the construction started in 2011 completing in 2012. Now, for our weekend services, four of the services are usually more traditional while two are full-band performances for around 30 minutes before the actual service.
‘For the more traditional services we have a choir so we needed an audio system that could support that but at the same time we also have services for the younger generation and they have a full band playing so the sound had to be strong and powerful, yet delicate. We wanted a sound system that could cover both of these requirements – music in worship is a part of praying so it is very important in the service. We wanted a system that could bring together the band, the choir and the congregation, all of them. That’s what we were looking for.’
Helping to deliver the solution to the church’s requirements was Seoul-based Harman Professional distributor Sovico.
‘We participated in the project not only with the audio system but also by consulting for the acoustic treatment within the church,’ explains Sovico’s Jin K Lee. ‘That involved the selection of the interior materials and revamping a previous system design.’
At the time, that contract was among the most sought-after in the Korean audio sector, and it’s easy to see why. The audiovisual systems within Ansan Jeil Church are comprehensive – an army of JBL loudspeakers has been installed in the main sanctuary alone, while the equally impressive Cuture Hall boasts more besides. Elsewhere, a wealth of leading brands have contributed to fulfilling pastor Hoon Go’s vision.
However, Sovico’s involvement was by no means guaranteed. ‘It was all done by open bidding,’ recalls Mr Lee. ‘First we attended the bidding and then they picked the top 10 companies in the field before narrowing it down to five contenders after we had filed our proposals. After that we attended an open demonstration and eventually became a “priority negotiator”. There were around 50 people who evaluated the sound – everyone from normal members to the pastor, they all participated. After that we also began consulting for the church.’
Regarding the ultimate choice of JBL, he adds: ‘Ever since Harman launched the V5 preset for VerTec into the market, our potential with JBL at open demonstrations has been substantially increased’.
The result is described in glowing terms by audio manager SunYoung Kim: ‘We used to have a small room and we would use built-in, full range speakers for more traditional services,’ he says. ‘But the new sanctuary is huge so we needed an entirely new system. We now have a very rich sound, which is exciting for us.’
Providing the lion’s share of SPL within the main sanctuary are the two hangs of VerTec, suspended to the left and right of the main stage. Two flown VT4880A subwoofers per side top both of the hangs, followed by 10 VT4888 mid-high enclosures per side and two VT4886 elements per side for down-fill.
This is the point at which the two different sides of Sovico’s involvement in the project combine to one form one concept, as the lens-like shape of the auditorium carries the output of the FOH system throughout the widening space. ‘The ceiling, from the stage up, has been designed to channel the sound,’ explains Mr Lee.
Elsewhere a host of additional delays and fills serve to reinforce the main system. Included are JBL AC28 and AC18 enclosures serving as front-fills, with four speakers discreetly concealed in the lip of the stage behind custom-painted mesh to provide even coverage for the front row where the church elders are traditionally seated. A further two AC18 cabinets serve as choir fills.
Moving further back into the sanctuary, the room is served by a host of AM5212 cabinets. Included are 14 under-balcony AM5212/95 delays in two rows of eight, plus six AM5212/64 models covering the upper-balcony seats. Looking down on the stage from either side of the auditorium, meanwhile, are two balconies in which members of the choir are usually positioned, both of which are covered by a single AM5212/95 per side.
Back on stage the sanctuary’s three pulpit positions are supported by a variety of wedges and more including two left-right pairs of JBL VP7212MDP monitors and four K-Array KK52 column speakers providing not just extra fold-back but some brand diversification. A total of six JBL PRX615M and SRX712M enclosures provide choir monitoring, while additional models include a further three SRX712Ms, seven AC18s and eight Control 25AV mounted in the lobby area leading to the sanctuary.
Power for the entire room can be found in a large, air-conditioned rack-room housing two Crown IT 12000 HDs, 17 Crown IT 9000 HDs and an impressive 18 Crown CTS 1200 amps fitted with the manufacturer’s PIP-LITE module for networking via HiQnet and System Architect or TCP/IQ and IQwic. Within Ansan Jeil Church, HiQnet is the protocol of choice.
The sanctuary’s front of house position is located at the front of the balcony, offering engineers the ideal position from which to mix services on the church’s newly acquired DiGiCo SD10 console.
‘We decided to get DiGiCo after we visited the Koba show this year,’ explains SooIn Im. ‘Before that we were considering two competing brands but we decided to go with DiGiCo because it has 96 channels and sometimes we use all of them but still can’t cover the activities here. We were using an analogue console before. Now we have snapshots for each service so it’s much simpler.’ Another DiGiCo console, an SD8, resides in the building’s broadcast area and is used for sub-mixing services into the church’s many overspill rooms.
For the church band, eight Aviom A-16 II personal monitor mixers have also proven a welcome addition, tied to the SD10 via a single Cat-5 cable and a D-16C interface. ‘We don’t need monitor speakers anymore because the musicians can hear what they want,’ enthuses SooIn Im. ‘It’s a good tool.’
Five Shure UR4D wireless receivers cover the room alongside 10 of the US manufacturer’s UR2/BETA87 transmitters. ‘Shure wireless systems and Shure microphones can deliver a very specific sound which appeals to Korean tastes,’ reflects Mr Im. Other microphone brands include Sennheiser, Earthworks, Countryman, AKG and Audio-Technica for ambience microphones.
Considering the multinational population that calls the city of Ansan home, it is perhaps no surprise that Ansan Jeil’s technical requirement also extends to simultaneous translation for its membership. The church already caters for a number of different languages. ‘There are a lot of foreign workers here from South East Asia, and they come here for services,’ explains Mr Im, adding that to date the church supports ‘English, Chinese, Russian, Nepalese and we are preparing for Vietnamese’.
Translators are positioned behind four windows that overlook the stage from on high, while Korea’s own Hayaco brand – exclusively distributed throughout Asia by JS Corporation – was chosen for the job. Among the installed systems are four HDT-240G digital transmitters serving 500 HDR-240G digital receivers. Finally, comms within the church are handled via Clear-Com Tempest.
Beyond the main sanctuary is a sea of newly-supplied, high end audiovisual equipment, not least the church’s Culture Hall with its own JBL VerTec FOH system. Smaller than the solution found in the main sanctuary, it nevertheless comprises three VRX932LAP elements flown per-side of its wide stage, two VRX918SP subs for low-end, AC28 front-fills and AM5212/95 delays. A Soundcraft Vi1 digital mixer sits at the hall’s mix position. Likewise the church’s entire video infrastructure has been updated to HD.
Nevertheless, it is the main sanctuary that remains the crowning achievement of the church’s long-term vision. ‘Before all of this work we had a basic analogue system and we did not have a line array,’ recalls Mr Im. ‘Now we have a whole new digital sound system and we are very happy’.