A contribution to clarification
From Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer, Tuners
PANArt Hangbau AG, Bern, Switzerland
In Trinidad, they say:"I play pan." So this is clear: I play an instrument of the steel band. That can be a tenor pan, maybe a double second, a single guitar in the round-the-neck band, or a six bass ...
There are more than a dozen of them! They all belong to the steel panfamily.
The name steel drum established itself in the U.S.A.and Europe for the only new acoustic instrument of the 20thcentury. However, this word is based on a misunderstanding. It goes back to American tourists who visited Trinidad after World War II and enthusiastically reported about players drumming on barrels. The focus was on the barrels, hence the name steel drum. But this name was also used by exile Trinidadians in the U.S.A. and England to distinguish themselvesfrom the coarse grassroots and play a musical instrument to be taken seriously, not just an "imaginary stopgapsolution", as the musical instruments lexicon of the German Reclam publishing house still called the steel drums of the steel band in 1992.
The linguistically interesting phenomenon, which name will be able to assert itself, is still awaiting scientific investigation.
This phenomenon is especially evident in the Swiss steel band scene:
In the region around Zurich, one plays steel drums, bought from English manufacturers, mostly of Caribbean origin;but in the region around Bern, one plays steel pans, built by a handful of Bernese steel pan manufacturers. The Bernese steel bands were a little closer to Trinidad – the Mecca of steel bands – than the steel bands of northern Switzerland, which were more reminiscent of London's exiled Caribbean scene with its famous Nottinghill Carnival.
The journey to the Hang Sculpture
In the years following the foundation of PANArt Hangbau AG up to the appearance of the Hang Sculpture, PANArt devoted itself entirely to the design of new resonating bodies. In order to be able to build instruments with a better tuning posture, a high-strength material was developed, the composite PANG.
In order to better understand which parameters influence the sound of sheet metal resonance bodies,the tuners rebuilt traditional musical instruments.
The Pang instruments were created.
The driving force was the hope of the tuners that the connotation of the steel band with carnival, which confined the «art form»steel band, could be overcome and that one would enjoy the charming sounds every day! For this purpose, the tuners built a room of barrels in which their instruments were hung like bells and for a time (winter 1994) a kind of carillon sounded daily, not unlike today’s Hang Sculpture Play.
Work in progress
The deep immersion into the laws of physics, especially acoustics, bore all kinds of fruit. Not only the tuners were involved, but also musicians such as the Swiss percussionists Martin Hägler and Reto Weber, metal print artist Peter Schober, all kinds of fantasists and dreamers.
Looking back, it seems obvious that this had to lead to aconcentrationthat would cast a spell over people around the globe: it happened around the year 2000.
Looking back, it seems obvious that this had to lead to aconcentrationthat would cast a spell over people around the globe: it happened around the year 2000.
The original form
This spherical sculpture was made in November 1999 from two raw forms with a diameter of 60 cm. The percussionist Reto Weber, who picked up his freshly tuned steel drum, brought a Gatham with him at the request of the PANArt tuners. The sight of the rich sound worlds triggered the percussionist's wish to equip his Gatham with sounds. The tuners were able to fulfill this dream and put two shells together. One side had previously been tuned by Sabina Schärer with seven sound fields.
But this accidental first piece was an uncomfortable thing, simply unplayable.
Tettey Addy, djembé player from Ghana, the first test player, clamped the instrument between his legs and said dryly:
"Three notes are enough".
The first prototype
The first playable prototype, which was created by the tuners Sabina Schärer and Felix Rohner from the accidental debut, resembled today’s Hang Balu, but was discarded because playing with the cavity resonance was completely unsatisfactory. The dream of a pulsating bass had burst. The understanding of the function of the Helmholtz resonator was still sealed for the tuners.
The sound sculpture with the beguiling thing in the center thrilled percussionists from the very beginning, but with the increasing sound quality also individuals with the most diverse motifs.
Some of them were so enthusiastic that they developed an obsession and began to see themselves as influencers of PANArt, and their audience had assumed that they had been decisively involved in the development. This led to tensions with PANArt, who always saw the small miracle as the result of a constellation of different influences. The Hang sculpture, so wonderful were the sounds elicited from it, had an effect on people we would have to deal with in the future!
Hidden and open inspirations
A strange object accompanied us in the 90s! The prenatal Hang sculpture?
These pictures may illustrate the approaching breakthrough to the lenticule:
Wanted: a name
The first name for the lenticular thing, Ghatpang (from Ghatam and Pang composite), was discarded only a few weeks after its creation. The new being needed a stronger name, a name that would emerge from the obvious. The name Pan belonged to Trinidadian culture, as a declared national instrument somehow protected by copyright, defined by the Bureau of Standards of Trinidad, played on stands with sticks, built from a cylinder, a barrel.
One morning, beneath the door frame of a tuning room, the PANArt tuners suddenlyrealized: it should be called Hang! That was the new dimension, the hand on sheet metal.
For seven years the new instrument bore the name Hang.
But for commercial reasons the name Hangdrum appeared from the U.S.A. A major distributor in California ordered a series of C major Hangdrums. This put the PANArt tuners at a disadvantage and they cancelledtheir cooperation. Later we heard from Matt Venuti (U.S.A.), player of our Hang sculptures, that Hang, pronounced as in Berne, was a suggestive term from the lower drawer (meaning: a big sex organ) and had a certain understanding for the inhibition in the U.S.A. to use the term that way.But the reluctance to call the new instrument a drum remained. The Hang was more than a commercial product – it was a sculpture for us. The German artist Joseph Beuys inspired us with his vision of the art society and his concept of social sculpture. We had already seen the sculptural character in the instruments of the steel band. They spoke of areas and roads between the note fields, of the belly, of grooves, of the skirt: the instrument as a mirror of society, of the clan, of the neighborhood.
The Hang, on the other hand, with its initially very bright sounds, seemed to reflect the cosmos, therefore the thing was polished to a mirror-like shine so that the stars would reflect! The resonance hole was called Gu, the dark side and at the same time the big breath, whose resonance on the Low Hang of 2006 could be lowered even deeper with a wooden tube.
Around the world
The Hang traveled at lightning speed (Internet speed) all over the world and was euphorically received. In Germany it was called UFO, in Italy it became the Disco Armonico, in the U.S.A. the Hang Drum or Spacedrum, in Israel the Pantam. It seemed as if the instrument had fallen from the sky, simultaneously in different places!
PANArt let the new names stand except for those that contained theworddrum. The acousticians and musical instrument experts like Thomas Rossing (Standford University, U.S.A.) and Uwe Hansen (Terre-Haute University), with whom we worked, agreed that physically it was not a drum.
For us as tuners it was also clear that the extremely stiff lenticuleshould not be beaten, because beating leads to uncontrolled sound production, to screaming distortion. In the eyes of many percussionists,the Hang remained a drum, whereas the sound friends and almost all therapists agreed with us that there was more to it than drumming.
The year 2008 was decisive when the first copy, the Caisa, appeared. Bill Brown, a former associate of Eckhart Schulz from Dortmund, Germany (Blue Point Steelharp, Handpan), converted his steel drums into a kind of lenticular shape, the lower side of which consisted of a hanging bowl attached withacord – an acoustical nonsense because the cathedral effect was thereby weakened and the sounds losttheir“body”, due to the well-known cancelling effect.But Bill Brown's creations were successfully sold in stores in Germany as well as on the online market at high prices. Initially, Bill Brown called his copy Hang, which shocked the PANArt tuners: "Those were certainly notHang sculptures!
Now also the Americans started to build their Hangdrum: Pantheon Steel produced the halo, heavier and bigger, but with the same appearance. The mission was clear: the whole world should play Hang, resulting in mass production. In Spain, Luis Eguiguren (Bellart) appeared with the Bells, a precise copy of the Integral Hang sculpture. PANArt lost a lawsuit against his company for unfair advertising. Then it started: today there are about 300 copies worldwide. In addition to taking over the form, concepts such as Ding, Gu and Sound Sculpture, specific design elements of the Hang sculpture, were unscrupulously copied.
Hand pan serves as a specific designationfor these copies.After a long and detailed discussion on hangforum.org, the U.S. manufacturer Kyle Cox of Pantheon Steel got his way with the term hand pan. A smaller number of manufacturers of copies still refuse to have their replicas called hand pans and are trying to establish the name Pantam. The term Pantam, already introduced in 2004 by Ziv Yehezkel in Israel (distributor of PANArt) as a designation, might find it difficult to be accepted. One can anxiously await as to which name will prevail for the copies of the sound sculpture. The market, especially the online market, needs a technical term.
The Hang sculpture needs protection
By realizing a copyright for the name Hang® in May 2008, PANArt was able to prevent Hang® from becoming a term for all the copies that sprang up like mushrooms and were advertised on the Internet in a blatant manner.
From then on, the name Hang® was only to be used for works by PANArt. Fortunately, the copyright could also be extended to Class 41, which included courses, publications, etc. This put a stop to the misuse of the name Hang® for any Hang lessons on hand pans or Pantams.
The tuners of PANArt were always aware that the gift of Trinidad meant more than a charming sound of sheet metal objects. The highly ambivalent properties of the sheet metal instruments led us to a dynamic understanding:
We PANArt tuners are on our way in a "Work of Progress", every day we approach anew the challenge to meet our lifeblood.The name Hang stands for this challenge. Long live the hand! The essential work is done by hands, and we are convinced that machines will never be able to master this complex work.
The reader can well understand that the current development on the market, the promotion and sale of banal hand pans and Pantams at highest prices are cause forconcern. What ifTrinidad's gift to the world could be to open the senses and the mind of us consumers, to avoid dead movements, to be able to distinguish the soul from the soulless? Then our work would be an important one, a progressive one and would not lead into regression.
What is a hand pan?
By hand pans we mean copies of our Hang Sculpture. PANArt instruments are not hand pans. Hand pan manufacturers have taken over the lenticule with itsresonance hole, as well as the geometry of the playing surface and the technology to strengthen the material by a nitrating process. The integration of the vascular sound, the Helmholtz resonator, has fallen by the wayside, as well as the most important thing about the whole creation: the introduction of in-plane compressive stresses by means of stretching, peening and compressing through the hammer blows, the exciting design of a highly non-linear convex-concave landscape, understood as a holistic process, similar to a birth.Viewed in this way, each of our instruments is a unique piece ofwork.
Hand pans are lenticular musical instruments, one half of which is equipped with (often mechanically) embossed tone fields that have two partial tonesharmoniously tuned to the fundamental tone. At the center of the instrument lies a gong-liketone field. Many hand pans are visually difficult for laypeople to distinguish from a Hang Sculpture. Hand pan makers try to distinguish themselves from other makers by the number of tone fields and their arrangement to tone systems (scales). A standardization cannot be achieved, and it has also failed with the steel pans.
For us PANArt tuners this development means a banalization, a reduction to a musical instrument that can be produced in masses. Hand pan builders have converted the Hang sculpture into a simple musical instrument. The latest Chinese copies, available for a few hundred Euros, speak for themselves.
PANArt tuners are Pang sculptors: we build sound sculptures from PANG composite. We like the term sculpture, because the reflecting character of this sounding vessel has proven to be extremely strong. This can also be found in the title of PANArt's publication: Hang - sound sculpture. If you don't know the term sculpture yet, you might call it the classical, the old or the original Hang. We see theHang Sculpture as a transition: it has led totheHang Balu, to the collective. The driving element was not the mysterious high-frequency vibration, but the pulse that came out of the vessel and stimulated us, elevated us ....
Since 2014 PANArt has been developing new instruments under the brand HANG®:
Gubal, Gudu, Urgu, Gede, Bal, Godo and Balu.
These are all new instruments. They are played by hundreds worldwide and should establish themselves as technical terms. The correct phrase should be: "I play Balu of the brand Hang® from PANArt".
This insight into the 25-year history of PANArt may awakenanunderstanding for the concern of the PANArt tuners: Their tuning art is banalized into a musical instrument with a few bling-bling tones, which draw energy from the player instead of leading him to inner music. PANArt stands for more quality instead of quantity. More and more voicesare also critical of this development towards the trivial instrument. Many othershave simply experienced with theirownhands what dead instruments are and that they become boring after a short time.
To sum up, PANArt tuners create sound sculptures from Pang® material, which can be understood as a spring system and thus as an energy storage system. The design is therefore of utmost importance. It is based on the laws oftheshell theory.
Most hand pan makers produce instruments that are based on an understanding of the plate theory. Pressing plates into a spherical shell is a step backwards that leads nowhere.
Thomas Rossing, author of standard works on physics and an expert in the world of musical instruments, asked us in 2008: "What do you still want to measure? It is such a complex system that we can say: It's art."
What remains is the statement by Anthony Achong, the esteemed physicist from Trinidad, author of the 1200-page book The Secrets of the Steel Pan:
"To press-form a pan complete with notes...sure enough you end up with what looks like a fully formed pan face complete with notesbut the big question is, what is inside?"–
The tuner has to bring something into the material with his hammer. We willcontinue to build soulful sound sculptures.