lectronice → notes

The Hang

A mythical sound sculpture

The Swiss flying saucer :: 2021-02-23

The Hang is a musical instrument created in 2000 in Bern, Switzerland, by PANArt Hangbau AG, also known as Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer. They refer to it as a sound sculpture, with a strong emphasis on their artistic process.

It's a kind of double steelpan assembled in a lenticular shape and designed to be played with the hands ("Hang" means "hand" and "hillside" in the local Swiss dialect). To get technical, it's an idiophone using Helmholtz resonance.

PANArt was initially in the steelpan business, and developed the concept thanks to Reto Weber, a percussionist and ghaṭam player who suggested the idea of a "sounding pot in steel with some notes to play with the hands".

Rohner and Schärer's creation is known for two things: its unique, ethereal sound, and the time-consuming, costly and complex process to get one, that required at some point to write a motivation letter and wait for months.

The production of the Hang has been discontinued in December 2013. However, PANArt's website indicates that the Hang "is still built by PANArt tuners", so its status isn't clear.

Long story short, they stopped because they didn't want to make instruments at an industrial scale. This later caused a variety of legal issues, as other makers started to built Hang-like instrument to satisfy the ever-growing demand.

For a deeper insight on the genesis of the Hang, this documentary is highly recommended.

Take note: there is no such thing as hang drums. A Hang is not a drum. PANArt strongly disapproves the use of the term "hang drum", not only because it's a misnomer, but also because "Hang" is their registered trademark.

There's been quite a lot of controversy in the handpan community when they decided to sue people making instruments that look too similar to the Hang.

Personally, I'm absolutely baffled by Felix Rohner's statement. It is hugely disappointing to see that people who created such a wonderful instrument hold values that are so hopelessly capitalist, to the point of equating copyright with human rights, and implying socialism is the enemy of creativity.