Statement by Felix Rohner, 10.2.2021
Category: Eintrag Author: PANArt 10th February 2021
Translation made with DeepL
The world is in need: Corona. Vaccine developers are under pressure to give up their patent rights and help alleviate the great need. Shareholders are being asked to settle for fewer dividends.
This demand is legitimate. The free market will know how to fight back! Does anyone still want to invest money or do research if there are no laurels to be won? I eagerly await the outcome of this dispute.
We are in the middle of the topic:
Should the sculptural sound object of PANArt from 2000 be socialised? This is the question I want to pursue. From a distance I hear my sons and Sabina hammering, incessantly, the house is full of music. Building a Hang sculpture is music. So these lines are written in a musical ambiance.
To be clear: The two cases can only be compared in terms of socialisation. Patents protect technical novelties, copyright protects the creator of an intellectual achievement. They should not be able to be exploited.
Now it sounds something like this from many sides: Your work is a good idea, give it to the world. The world will do good or bad with it, nobody can control that, it will be grateful to you and reward you with creativity.
Is the sculptural sound object Hang an idea?
Just as a musical composition is built on a leitmotif or core theme, I can say my leitmotif is playing with sheet metal, first with the oil drum, then with my own material, the Pang composite. I have been doing this for 45 years now. But what now emerges from the hammerman's hands is a very personal achievement. Its shape is imbued with my experiences, wishes and hopes.
It is not a puzzle where individual pieces are put together. It is condensation.
I am glad that this work is protected and perhaps can be protected in Switzerland, because the vultures of the market fall upon everything that exudes life and smells of death. With the use of the machine in the domain where the hand should rule, even the idea of the game freezes, it threatens to degenerate into a robot game.
The gift of Trinidad could be to resist your own laziness. Take your life in your own hands, pull yourself out of the swamp. The tin is stupid. Shape it and it becomes strong.
Well, Pantheon gave a patent for making Halo Handpans to the world a few years ago---after it turned out to be useless....Colin Foulke (USA and HCU member) has had a hydroforming machine developed. Greatly he explains (see videos) that he is sharing it with the world (the well known sharing message).Meanwhile dozens of handpan builders who bought the machine are deep drawing the same shells(PANArt shells) with water pressure. Monoculture prevails. Mr Foulke has not looked to Trinidad, the mecca of steel bands, where this method was used decades ago and vehemently rejected by the tuners' society after trials....
Where do we stand?
PANArt owns rights: patent rights, trademark rights, design protection and also copyrights. PANArt is a small business, a community of artists in the sense of a community business. Famous tuners from Trinidad and England have come and gone here, thousands of steelpans have been built here, steelbands from Trinidad, France, England and Germany have stayed here. There is no need to rehash the whole 45 years of history here.
The decades of work with the art form of steelband have shaped Sabina Schärer and me. From our perspective, the work of the tuner is more than the production of a musical instrument that is given into some hands and for which one advertises and proudly proclaims to hit more notes than the other tuner.
We are talking about sculptures or sculptural sound objects that we build for ourselves. We play them, have always played all the instruments ourselves. We built steel bands, talked about Pankultur and studied Joseph Beuys' expanded concept of art.
We come from the experience of collective playing. And today we are back with the Hang Balu Ensemble.
The path to becoming a sculptural sound object like Hang Sculpture has been a long one.
To step out of the collective and look naked in the mirror required the solitary hammering of the individual. The free tuner puts something very personal into his work, he burns himself out in this work, he tunes himself in, fights for a tuning until the last beat, he builds a sculpture, a wholeness that seeks a place. He doesn't give his work to just anyone, he demands respect. I'm talking about the free tuner who doesn't turn his ear to customers, neighbours or waving laurels, who may build a 432 hertz lens for a seeker, tune a healing scale into a therapist's UFO, build another hole into the GU side of a percussionist's percussion instrument, but who draws his consequences from the result as hard as nails. The sheet metal is relentless. If the result of the experiment is not on track, it is discarded, left lying around, who knows if it will blossom again later!
I am talking about the tuner, who leads his dance with the material he develops in solitude-in the case of PANArt, fortunately, in togetherness.
Sabina and I have gained insight into the science and technology of steelpan in Trinidad. We also got a glimpse into the lives of some tuners. We listened to them, they let us watch them tune, they exchanged hammers with ours. They were men in a collective, yet proud of their own methods, tricks and gimmicks. They knew how to tell the story of how things went wrong when the Trinidadian government imported them brand new barrels from the USA: the same sheet of metal to every tuner, fresh and soft, that was no motivation. That was not the challenge the tuner needs. He needs the challenge to fight-to fight peacefully!
How the steel bands in Port-of-Spain challenged each other! Each quarter had its own sound, its own raw material, its hammers, even its own tuning and timbre. Each quarter had its own instruments with its own arrangement of tone fields: spiral, thirds order, fifths order, different plexus holders (skirts). There was a spirit of competition, innovations came before a jury every year and were rewarded with large sums of money.
The message of the tuners, as I have heard it, I will summarise like this: It's up to you what you put in, give up your selfishness, give a contribution to the story. Anthony Achong physicist and author of the book "Secrets of the Steel Pan", says it even more succinctly: It's inside.
On the question of the quality of sound
I remember Eckhard Schulz, the German steel drum builder from Dortmund. In an interview in our steel band magazine PANYARD with Sabina, he was talking about the dispute over harmonics. At that time we called the uncontrollable vibrations of the clamped sound fields of the steelpan "dirt in the sound", referring to the special charm of the "Ring of Steel", to which he replied that we were Trinidadians and that he had tuned more than 12 harmonic overtones into his steel drum. The Pythagorean spoke.
Who says what qualitatively good sounds or noises from sheet metal sculptures are? Who is competent to speak about it? Everything indicates that these questions are futile. We are dealing here with perceptual issues, with synaesthesia, with expanding our perspective of seeing and hearing.
My grandfather was a tinsmith. I was often sent to him on holiday and had to work energetically. He formed strong shapes out of soft sheet metal: Rainwater pipes, canisters, watering cans. What used to wobble, had no shape, sounded like a sheet of thunder, became stable, stood, held, became useful.
PANArt changed the semi-finished product sheet metal and offered it for licensing. Neither shell sellers like Shellopan or Ayasa made use of it. Their preference was for soft sheet metal. Pang Composite took us to the border where sheet metal instruments become interesting: There, where hammering leads to stress, to high stress, there we can store energy, build springs, realise the "attack", seek the modulation, the touching sound, compress intensely penetrating.
The beautiful tones with many so-called overtones is an idea I cannot share. To realise a string sound with correct Pythagorean masses from the pang seed does not interest me. I have tried! But experience has taught me:
It's about something else, the sheet metal is not there to simulate the string. It's supposed to give us power and flexability-so power and flexability have to come in.
Do they hinder creativity? On the contrary!
PANArt has no intention of preventing anyone from playing plagiarism. We cannot understand the excitement in handpan player circles. Nor does PANArt have any interest in making it impossible for handpan players to do their work. It is certainly not a question of eliminating competition.
PANArt has created a sculpture whose outer form is taken over by a market that wants to satisfy customer wishes, i.e. wants to earn money. Who would want to prevent someone from rebuilding the Hang sculpture so that he or she would have an instrument in his or her hands?
But where start-ups emerge that copy our form one to one, take over the language, even parrot the philosophical garlands of thought around it, advertise their quick constructions as hang sculptures, that's where I say: make your own form that you want to sell, the hang sculpture is not common property.
I understand our work as constant listening, listening to where things are going. Building an musical instrument? As if there weren't enough of them! Listening into the hammering and understanding what John Agard, the poet, means when he writes: Hammerblows are actsoflove.
Is hang sculpture a musical instrument? Who defines a musical instrument? What does a hang sculpture sound like? Can you hear a hang sound from memory? Store it? Let's not talk about sound! Either it touches or it doesn't. In any case, it has a pitch. Every bending of a tinny structure is the birth of a sound. That is to hear a pitch, more or less clear and fluctuating. What it needs is the shape, the plexus, the network of worked bumps and the holder of the plexus so that no chaos is created: the plexus holder.
From this freedom, the Hang sculpture has been condensed with Gu and Ding. How many hours have we played, experimented, discussed, philosophised! A centre must be found! A planetary system mirrored, the breath into the music! And then the whole thing driven into a life energy form! Sound and form united, conceived by humans.
This was not handicraft that anyone can do, as HCU (Handpan Community United) tries to make the judges believe.
If you need tones, scales, a musical instrument to learn, you build something like a metallophone, a xylophone, or even a tin vessel. Creative minds realise that an infinite number of forms are possible, which can be so different from the Hang sculpture that there can be no confusion. The banalised, cribbed shape puts us in a light that does not correspond to us. We value the authentic, the memorised, the content. I am interested in the Secret of the Steelpan. Anthony Achong has given me a lot in this regard. Shortly before his death in mid-2019, he wrote an expert opinion for PANArt in which he confirmed the tuner's freedom of design. He spent his whole life studying the secrets of the steelpan and he would certainly understand the following sentence:
The process of sculpting a sound sculpture is driven by the desire to overcome the resistance of the material in a dancing way.
In the best case, the reward is a coherent sound sculpture that you enjoy playing on.
Release of the Hang Sculpture ?
There has been a pernicious distortion of the facts in the circles of handpan makers and their customers. It is not that the handpan existed first and that the Hang Sculpture is a handpan! This is what is being said by the HCU under the leadership of Mr. van der Bor (Ayasa). It is alarming that such a view is propagated, especially when crowdfunding is used to collect money from companies such as World of Handpan, Ayasa and Jatao for a good cause.
To put it plainly, the Hang Sculpture existed for 8 years. Then the first imitation appeared with the Caisa. The burgeoning internet with its YouTube films subsequently spread the good news of the UFO from all corners of the (tourist) world. It is not surprising that a small company immediately reaches its limits when, for example, Lark in the Morning, a large music distributor in the USA, sends a list saying they would like 20 C major instruments! Due to the sale of shells (taken over in detail from PANArt), the production of plagiarisms has risen parabolically in recent years: People stepped too close to us. Even the neighbour put his first self-made plagiarisms for 2000 CHF in a Bernese esoteric shop. "That's a Hang from the Engehalde," said the shop owner after my anonymous enquiry....
You don't build any more
Hang creations were not stopped, but developed further in the hope that people would join in the "work of progress"...Of course, now and then Hang sculptures were sold under the table for people in need, but the call of the iron drove us towards collective play. We also found that we were dealing with obsession, fixation and even banishment. We simply had to save ourselves.
The supposedly positive energies that the "Hang" is supposed to spread were increasingly overshadowed by negative developments. I don't want to go into details about that: One goes on EBAY and looks at the offers!
We are glad that we have moved on, because somewhere it is about liberation, about an expanded concept of music: who plays, how where what with whom... music as a multimedia event.
Now there are people who are disappointed with PANArt. They never thought we would move in this direction. Well, we already looked for lawyers in 2008, when the first plagiarisms appeared, who helped us to take action against unfair advertising. The detailed copy of Bellart bothered us, it was pure copying, the sound was weak because the material was soft and thin. There was confusion, people were confused. That was not inspiration! There was no contribution to history.
The plagiarists were hiding, obsessed with our Hang sculpture, selling their works more expensively than the PANArt. They dazzled the greedy prospective buyers with harmonic sounds that turned out to be feeble sounds. Everything sounds-after Berendt-and that is where we are now challenged. Every bottom of a can sounds harmonious, pressed-in oval plates already give a fifth interval. Take a tin can and excite the bottom, press the mantle together and you will create a harmonic sound!
As copyright law at that time (2008) did not have the same importance as today, when theft is the order of the day, we lost the legal dispute in Spanish court.
The steelpan is the national instrument of Trinidad. Building steelpans meant treading a path that would lead to essential questions of humanity.
We are now discussing one of these.
PS: While reading my text, the Swiss radio SRF broadcasts news on vaccines and the related procurement problems. What the SRF expert with a cool voice just says makes me sit up and take notice:" Everyone knows that when something is scarce, it goes where the money is".
PANArt has gradually increased the prices for its sound sculptures because their quality, their density, has steadily increased and not because demand has increased. It did not award them in a stubborn selection process, but to people who saw through the sacrosanct tenet of the market, gained confidence in our work and were willing to sign an agreement against speculation. In this way, our sculptures have not only ended up in the hands of rich people, and the tuners of PANArt have been able to continue their work and to do so without sacrificing the quality that it absolutely demands.