During a late night YouTube session, brought on by a mix of insomnia and boredom, I stumbled across a video of this rather handsome man in the NY subway tapping away on an unfamiliar instrument known as the “Hang” instrument. The sound was ethereal. This led to an even later night session of googling, feeling like a 21st Christopher Columbus who’d stumbled across a new world. So what is ‘the Hang’ and why have you never heard of it but heard IT in music?
The Hang is a recent musical instrument created by Felix Rohner and Sabrina Schäre in Switzerland in 2000. Its origin lies in the 1970s the classic Trinidad steel drum, which sparked a new craze throughout Europe and caught the attention of Rohner who has been playing the steelpan for the last 20 years.
At some point, presumably to test the sound, he flipped his concave pan into a convex position. The sound that came from it was like nothing anyone had heard before: crystal clear, mesmerizing and almost transcendental. The Hang, composed of two half-shells of steel sheet glued together at the rim, uses some of the same principals as the steelpan, but has been modified so that it resonates, creating layers of different notes. It took the Swiss partners a few years to perfect their invention.
Where Can I Get One?
If you’re already browsing Amazon, picturing yourself with a herbal tea on a mat and getting in touch with your Chakras, think again. In a bid to keep the instrument rare and “mysterious” Rohner and Schäre founded PanArt which makes only a few thousand Hangs a year. The term “Hang” is now a registered trademark, and only applies to instruments created by PanArt and there are only a few handpan makers around the world.
People can wait up to several years to get their fingers on the nitrated steel. Potential customers would have to hand-write letters stating why they want to purchase the instrument. If you were to visit the PanArt workshop without a formal invitation from the founders, you’d just be turned away, no questions asked.
Although handpan drums are now available across the world due to other brands tapping into the market, a good drum can easily go for $3000. Making a handpan, whatever the brand, is still extraordinarily difficult and expensive in comparison to other instruments. This hasn’t stopped the instrument from becoming popular with street artists, notably in Barcelona, where buskers prefer it due to its ability to echo in halls and tunnels.
Fun Facts about the Hang
Founders Felix and Sabrina have gone through great lengths to preserve the instrument’s mystique, value, and elusiveness. But, let’s take away some of the mystery with these interesting Hang facts:
PANArt Hangbau AG, the company behind the Hang, was founded in 1993, during the height of the steel band movement in Germany. But, it was seven years later, in 2001, when the instrument was first introduced to the public.
The invention of the Hang was a result of 25 years of research on the steelpan’s acoustic and construction technology.
Physicists Uwe Hansen and Thomas Rossing assisted in the creation of the Hang. They taught the creators, Felix and Sabrina, about vibration and resonation.
The original version was released between 2001 and 2005. Since then, the instrument has been refined by the creators, and 4 other versions were released between 2005 and 2010. Each version of the Hang differed in acoustics and construction.
In 2002, PANArt cut ties with a US distributor after the latter referred to the Hang as a “hang drum.”
To preserve the instrument, the creators ceased its manufacture in 2013. As Felix explained, “The Hang is not something to put in a shop window. It belongs to the flow of the gift. This is the idea we would like to be communicated.” The duo then proceeded to work on the “Gubal,” an instrument similar to the Hang.
Throughout the years, various companies have released their own version of the Hang instrument. Some prominent brands include the Halo, Halo Cirrus, Halo Stratus, BELLArt Bells, Spacedrum, Caisa, and the Bali Steel.
Exploring the World of Hang
Certain actors and famous musicians are now tapping into the instrument (pun aside), like Golshifteh Farahani in this beautiful extract of My Sweet PepperLand or Australian singer Tasch Sultana, who told Deezer during an interview that she tours with one on her bus.
If you’re into ethereal sensations, and need to chill, we recommend you listen to a few handpan albums, it’s the best thing since sliced bread.
Or, if you’re more looking to having a giggle, check out this Festive Christmas version of ‘Carol Of The Bells’, snow and all.
Whatever your take on the handpan drum, it’s great to know that even in the 2000s, humans are still managing to find new ways to create music. Whoever said music was starting to sound like a broken record?
Oh and here’s a Game Of Throne’s version, just because…