Each of us has a congenital room. Like a human skull.
The skull is a private concert hall. A round, cold void (do not think about your brain for a minute) that seemed small but also extraordinarily expansive. Even though you did not invite yourself, you are already a regular. You are the composer, the musician, and the audience.
I am talking about you. Anyone who listens to their inner sound. Someone who needs to be alone. There is a dark place in the head where the unforgettable songs endlessly play, circulating with yet unsung melodies. A hidden architecture filled with broken lyrics, foggy dance moves, and the limitlessness of time. But mine is sometimes assimilated to a norae-bang.
Norae-bang is a Korean adaptation of Japanese karaoke. In the 1970s, the Japanese cultural overflow into Korean society introduced a concept of a singing room where you can sing but also drink alcohol. The karaoke culture was soon adopted but adapted dissimilarly throughout history. Account to the then government’s strict regime on disregarding deviations in leisure places, the karaokes settled in Korea gradually departed from the originality of integrating singing and drinking but gave way to a new idea of space where no alcohol was allowed. In that context, the birth of norae-bang is a socio-culturally critical boon from which Korean people welcomed the inclusivity for everyone. Norae-bang, which means singing room in Korean, navigated its own way out to provide the Korean people the sensational joy of getting intoxicated by the sheer action of singing. In that context, it is not surprising that visiting norae-bang carries a significant role in people’s lives in Korean society today. Compared to singing alone in your room or humming with your lips closed, entering into a secluded area where the only purpose is to sing a song explicitly elicits the aggregating effect of having a private activity with a public spatial memory. Everyone knows what you are doing, but no one understands the personal meaning precisely. Just like when you see the artifacts of the time capsule from one hundred years ago, you recognize what they are. But you do not know the contrived value behind the selections.
Imagine you go to norae-bang somewhere underground. The room is tiny like someone’s head. Grimy wallpapers. Old TV screen with the lyrics on glaring at you, buzzing. You close the door and crash on the squeaky fake-leathered sofa. I hated you. You read an unconvincing echo written on the wall. You pick the remote control and press the enchanting numbers. The music starts. The noises from the rooms beside yours overlapped into cacophony, and the soundproof room numbed the eardrums. The underworld, where no one can find you, is not peaceful. You do not think but feel that the room needs you. Because it is an obsolete space when there is no song. Emptied, abandoned, and paused. You sing there. It does not matter who you are, your worries, or how unspeakably wild your dreams will be. Rhythms became your stage, and the lyrics revitalized as spectators.
We are making new rooms. Now the conventional norae-bang is trumped by the coin norae-bang. Now you can sing a song without paying the basic fee for an hour. Besides its efficiency-chained operation system, the experience at coin norae-bangs is much more private as it often offers a room that accommodates only one or two people. People need more and more places outdoors that provide private experiences. The extremity of searching polarized space and constructing ‘the room’ is now equating an entire city to another room. Our distinctive memories are interlinked with the social memories of the public. Therefore, this overwhelmingly repeated historical appropriation finally earns a personal value.
We need more rooms. It does not need to be always physical, but a space you can dominate. Where you can be vocal about your existence. Celebrate your moments. Your body is your room. The intimate relationship you had or having is your room. Your memory is your room. However, without you who creates the meaning out of anything, it is just a matter. Only when you sing a song, the room becomes yours.
The time you paid for at the room is now over. The mirror ball on the ceiling stops. You open the door, again leaving the sounds you made behind. Unrecorded feelings, covert failures, and abstract longing for something you have never seen or touched. Coming back to reality.
Written by Juyeoung