Article (print & digital) for The Korea Times

INTERVIEW WITH PARK KYUNG-HO, AN INSTRUMENT MANUFACTURER

During the day when the sun blazes down, Park Kyung-ho cultivates the land just like any other farmer. As the sun sets, Park retreats to his workshop, where he begins his real work of the day — designing and cutting wood to make string instruments.

Park Kyung-ho, who manufactures string instruments, held the opening of his first individual exhibition on Oct. 20 at the Seoul Forest Community Center, which runs through Oct. 28. Titled "Melody Carved into a Tree," the exhibit features over 20 handmade instruments including the violin, viola and cello.

On opening day, Park sat down with The Korea Times for an interview.

Park was born in the Buan County of the North Jeolla Province in 1970. In 1999, he went to Italy to study fashion. While visiting an instrument manufacturing school in Gubbio, he fell in love with the scent and sight of woodcutting that he altered his career path and set his mind on becoming a string instrument manufacturer.

"A lot of people ask if I play any instrument. I don't. I'm not a musician. You make instruments by pounding and knocking on different surfaces, not by playing the instrument. You don't need a background in music."

Park spoke with a soft confidence, which seemed to stem from a deep passion for his work. He noted that while a lot of people in the business repair old instruments to make a living, he wanted to create new instruments from scratch, even though doing so will place him in financial deprivation.

He was adamant in his philosophy of creating new and unique sounds that have never existed before. He commented, "While instruments come in certain shapes and forms, I'm someone who believes that each instrument carries a unique sound. I don't try to imitate sounds that have already been produced, but I try to discover new sounds. I want to break away from the original model of instruments."

On display at the exhibit were various string instruments, each with a special name and feature. One violin, painted bright red, was titled "Mother's Heart" and another violin in the shape of a star was titled "A Star that Lights Up My Heart." Each instrument bore different stories and emotions, personal to the manufacturer.

Through this process of constantly experimenting with and discovering new sounds, Park was positive that a new instrument could be created. Just as a violin came from a viola, a new harmony of sounds can potentially create a new instrument.

"There will be more failures than successes, but I do it with the desire to create new sounds. Just like how everyone has a different voice, when different sounds create different harmonies, something beautiful can be formed."

However, pursuing his passion did not come easy. He remarked, "If I just manufactured, I would have no living expenses. I work in the day so that I can manufacture and do what I really want." His hands were worn-out from the excessive labor and woodcutting. Yet, the tranquility and silence of the night motivated him to seek new sounds.

While his goal was not to sell the instruments, Park expressed some concern at the lack of musicians willing to try new things. "Musicians here are afraid of new instruments. They want sounds that already exist, that are already familiar to them. But with a new instrument, you have the flexibility to make your own sounds that have never existed before." He repeated that it was the musician, not the manufacturer, who created sounds.

Park lives in solitude in Buan, whereas his wife and son reside in Seoul. When asked what kept him going, he simply responded, "I like cutting trees. I like the smell of trees."