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After robot conductor, National Orchestra of Korea explores virtual reality

Nov. 13, 2023 - 17:24 By Hwang Dong-hee
Director Seo Hyun-suk helps a participant during a virtual reality demonstration for “The Origin of Orchestra.” (National Theater of Korea)

The National Orchestra of Korea, a traditional Korean music orchestra under the National Theater of Korea, is set to deploy a cutting-edge exhibition to help the audience to explore the roots of Korean music.

Titled “The Origin of Orchestra,” the exhibition featuring virtual reality technology is scheduled for Nov. 23-24, with a concert of the same title at the Haneul Round Theater on Nov. 26.

Building on the momentum initiated in the 2022 concert with media artist Lee Lee-nam's "Beyond the Sound" and the introduction of the robot conductor EveR 6 in "Disproof" in June, the NOK is exploring new perspectives on traditional music, going beyond conventional approaches.

(From left) Artistic director Yeo Mi-sun, director Seo Hyun-suk and music director Chun Jae-hyun attend a press conference for “The Origin of Orchestra,” in Jung-gu, Seoul, on Nov. 6. (National Theater of Korea)

“We are not afraid of new transformations. We are trying to broaden the ways in which we appreciate Korean traditional music and how we can align with contemporary (needs). Last time it was media art and a robot conductor. This time, it’s virtual reality,” said artistic director Yeo Mi-sun during a press conference held on Nov. 6.

The exhibition will bring audience members on a unique musical journey -- a rare chance to experience the 627-seat concert hall in solitude.

Every ten minutes, one person will enter the Haneul Theater, starting at the ticket booth and traversing to the stage through dressing rooms and the equipment loading entrance. In each designated area, attendees wear VR goggles to watch videos showcasing musical instruments and images inspired by the theme of "bardo."

“Bardo,” a concept in Buddhism, refers to the transitional state of existence between death and rebirth.

Entering the Haneul Round Theater, a 10-minute performance of NOK’s “Bardo,” composed by Hwang Ho-jun, unfolds through the immersive experience of virtual reality.

“You venture through the concert hall, and in the end, sit alone on an empty stage and enjoy the music for 10 minutes. In reality, it is empty, but when you wear VR goggles, it feels as if you are called from a space beyond,” said director Seo Hyun-suk, describing the exhibition.

“You will be crossing between reality and virtual reality, which we thought goes well with the overall theme (of ‘Bardo’)," Seo said.

The exhibition spans 40 minutes, and accommodates only 40 individuals per day, open from 1 p.m. to 9:40 p.m. in 10-minute intervals.

Meanwhile, the concert on Nov. 26 delves into the origins and flow of Korean traditional music, organized to offer a comprehensive view from solo-oriented pieces to ensemble compositions.

Kicking off with a piece inspired by the shamanistic ritualistic “gut,” the repertoire includes ceremonial music, court ritual music and folk songs.

“We wanted to vividly illustrate the differences between playing music alone, then with 15 musicians, and with a full ensemble of 60 people,” said music director Chun Jae-hyun.