The home of Seoul’s Yewon Church is proof that for Korea’s houses of worship, even a short term solution has to be perfect. Barney Jameson reports.
It is a testament to the magnitude of the house of worship community within South Korea that Yewon Church, located in South West of Seoul, is considered to be large only in its local area.
No matter its 10,000-strong membership, its meticulously designed and acoustically treated 1,200-seat sanctuary, its many floors of overspill-rooms or the fact that its influence spreads abroad not only throughout Asia but beyond, even to the United States. In many countries it would be considered to be among the most impressive of mega-churches. In Seoul, it is one of many.
‘In this south-western part of Seoul, Yewon Church is one of the biggest,’ clarifies Chanwoo Kang of regional distributor Soundus, whose Funktion One front of house system is part of the reason for Worship AVL Asia‘s visit. ‘But it is only one of the biggest in the South West, because there are so many big churches in Seoul.’
Indeed, Worship AVL Asia has written before about the breadth and scope of the worship community within the South Korean capital, and of the striking experience of looking out over the cityscape where blooms of tall neon crucifixes stand proud between the skyscrapers.
Yet for all the enormous churches that this magazine has visited in the city so far, Yewon Church is perhaps the most striking example yet of the willingness of the Korean faithful to invest heavily in technology to help spread the message. The audiovisual infrastructure within the church’s building is ambitious and uncompromising, but in a handful of years much of it will be left behind.
‘This building was originally built as a cultural centre, not a church,’ explains Yewon’s main audio engineer Sun Young Hong. ‘We are currently rebuilding our church so we are using this building temporarily.’
Originally completed in May 2011 and named the Remnant Cultural Center, the building is set to remain the home of Yewon Church for only a little while. Construction of the new church will begin in 2013, and it is expected to take a further two years to complete. At that point, Yewon will move on and Remnant Cultural Center will instead play host to concerts and plays.
But when it does so it will inherit much of the expertise that has gone into creating Yewon’s own audio installation. The front of house system will remain in place, as will, of course, the carefully tuned acoustic treatment that has gone into making Yewon’s current main sanctuary an engineer’s delight, regardless of how temporary it is.
‘Many churches make the mistake of not considering the acoustic properties of their interiors,’ reasons Mr Hong. ‘Here we consulted with Soundus before the building was even constructed.’
The decision was, he continues, a reflection of a growing awareness of the importance of acoustics. ‘Nowadays, especially in big churches in Korea, people are realising the importance of consulting on acoustics before construction begins. The trend is changing in that area. I have worked for other churches and sometimes they are not very professional when it comes to audio. It is better that they ask for help and consult professional sound system companies.’
For Soundus, being consulted early in the project made for a far more impressive end result, particularly given the arc-like shape of the main sanctuary. Its large stage is overlooked by a wide balcony that dominates the room with four banks of tiered seating. Further seating areas are located below, stretching from the lip of the stage back towards the rear of the ground floor. The stage itself, meanwhile, is flanked to the left by seating for a choir, and to the right by a musician’s area.
Throughout the space there is a noticeable absence of reflective materials and it is obvious that the acoustic performance of the room has been crafted to be sympathetic to reinforced sound. Nevertheless the sanctuary’s irregular shape called for a specific reinforcement solution.
‘We persuaded the church that line arrays are not suitable for this venue – they are suited for longer distances than this,’ explains Chanwoo Kang. ‘We explained that it would be better with a point source system.’
As a result, the main front of house reinforcement is delivered via a centrally suspended cluster of three Funktion One AX88E enclosures, powered by two MC2 T-1500 amplifiers. Additional low-end is delivered via a pair of left and right firing F118-Mk2 subwoofers, powered by a single T-3500.
‘The enclosures’ speech characteristics are very clear and they have a long throw,’ continues Mr Kang. ‘So we decided to cover the balcony with the AX88Es. But down on the floor we have not put any main speakers because the under-balcony is too deep so firing the main system down there would be a waste of energy. Instead we have installed four F101 speakers as front-fills.’ Positioned on the lip of the stage, the F101 fills are powered by an MC2 T4-250, but they are by no means alone.
A further eight F101 enclosures have also been installed as under-balcony fills, again driven by T4-250 amps, while another pair have been positioned above the balcony itself, covering the highest seats and powered by a single T-500. Elsewhere, two more of the speakers provide monitors for the choir, driven by a T-500.
The choice of Funktion One was something of a leap of faith for the church, with Mr Hong never having mixed on the brand before. However, some advice from another Funktion One equipped Seoul church helped in the decision. ‘I asked advice from Oryun Church because we have similar aims,’ the engineer explains. ‘In Oryun Church they invest much of their budget into things like live music.’
The choice demonstrates the increasingly modern nature of worship services within the city, though it is important for churches such as Yewon to strike a balance between music and tradition. ‘On the Friday night services, Saturday services and on Sunday nights young people gather together to worship, and for those services the music is very important, taking up a large percentage of the service,’ the engineer continues. ‘But for services on Sunday morning it’s mostly speech and much more traditional.’
The need to please all members of the church’s congregation in turn led to a necessary compromise in the system itself, he adds: ‘I am content with the system for speech and music, but there is one disadvantage which is that there are no subwoofers covering the first floor, so the bass is a little bit weak. But it is hard to put a subwoofer on the first floor because some members of the church, especially older people, come and find it difficult to sit there if it is too loud.’
The front of house mix position is located at the lip of the main balcony, and within it sits a DiGiCo SD8 digital console. As is the case in many houses of worship, the desk plays a vital role in simplifying the technicalities of delivering a service. ‘Including Mr Hong there are four full time engineers for audio and video – they are one team working across audio, video, subtitles and editing the sermons,’ explains Mr Kang. ‘But on Sundays there are also additional volunteers.’
Mr Hong continues: ‘Because the SD8 has snapshot functions, they use those. Everything is set-up so there are only several things that they need to control like faders and mutes. It means that mixing isn’t a problem for the volunteers. We have made several different session files for different kinds of services.’
Unlike the majority of the audio equipment that has been installed into the sanctuary and beyond, the SD8 is destined to move with the church when it goes to its new home. ‘The SD8 is the second digital desk that I have used,’ stresses Mr Hong, adding: ‘I am very satisfied and I would buy DiGiCo again.’
As impressive as the Sanctuary is, it quickly becomes apparent that there is far more to Yewon Church’s temporary home – seven floors more, in fact.
The main overspill room – named Paul’s Hall – is a vivid demonstration of how strong the church is, occupying a wide space that comfortably seats 300 worshippers. It boasts an FOH system comprising four Funktion One RM18 enclosures flown two per side, again powered by MC2, plus two SLS 112RM-PXO enclosures for front-fill and onstage monitoring by One Systems 112UM wedges, both driven by Crown CDI-1000 and CDI-2000 amps. An Avid Venue SC48 – already owned by the church and reused here – is located at front of house. The room also boasts a Symetrix Jupiter 8 signal processor.
So it continues – successive floors of the Remnant Cultural Center have been filled with a rich array of audio solutions each tailored towards the specific requirements of the space in which they are located.
The most impressive are the classrooms which gradually grow in size the further up the tower you venture. Thus the humble sixth floor elementary school room is served by two 106IM/W enclosures and four 103IM speakers from One Systems (powered by Crown CDi-1000s) plus a Soundcraft FX16II for mixing. Awaiting high school students on the tenth floor, however, is a Soundcraft GB8-24 console plus reinforcement by four One Systems 208CIM vertical arrays and onstage sound delivered by two One Systems 112UM enclosures.
It will be some years before Yewon Church is ready to move on from its temporary home, but when it does much of the equipment that it has installed within the cultural center will remain. What will definitely stay behind, however, is the hard work and dedication that has gone into creating not the biggest church in Seoul, but certainly one of the most impressive.