Reto Weber - The Spark that Started a HandPan Fire

They say that “there’s no fire, without a spark!”, and while PANArt’s Felix Rohner,and Sabina Schärer are without doubt responsible for the physical creation of the Hang, if one man could be said to be responsible for providing the spark that breathed life into these most sought after of metallic UFOs , and ultimately all of the HandPan that would follow in their path, it would have to be ‘Reto Weber’.

Every Great Invention Starts with a Simple Idea

Born in Switzerland in 1953, Reto Weber, is a master percussionist by trade, who has traveled the world performing on such instruments as the steel pan, gongs, bells, and balaphones (among others). And it was during Reto Weber’s visit to PANArt in November, of 1999, that the seed for the idea of the Hang was first sown.

Having demonstrated his skills on the Ghatam, and having been shown PANArt’s earlier creations known commonly as the ‘PANG drums’, or ‘PANG instruments', that consisted of a mish-mash of resonant steel instruments, including steel pan, bell, gong, gamelan, and cymbal (like) creations. Reto Weber shared a desire for a “sounding pot in steel with some notes to play with the hands”. And from there, with a lot of hard work on PANArt’s part, the Hang was born...

These days Reto Weber can be found performing with his self-titled outfit ‘Reto Weber’s Squeezeband’, an eclectic ensemble who with their 2004 album ‘Squeeze Me’, offer up a diverse seven track release, that in addition to featuring some very nice beat boxing,and some sweet Ghatam, among its other audio treats, also sees the man who is at least partially responsible for bringing Hanghang into the world, performing on the instrument that he'd always dreamt of playing, and the instrument that started a singing steel revolution.
You can find Reto Weber's album 'Squeeze Me' for sale: HERE, or alternatively, you can visit Reto Weber over at his own personal website: HERE.

The Blue Point Steel Harp / Innersound HandPan

(!) This post may now be out of date - but has been left published for archive purposes.  It may still prove to be of interest, but some (or all) details may now be out of date (!).

The Blue Point Steel Harp (also commonly known as the ‘Innersound’, [UPDATE, 2015 - the Innersound is now known to be a completely different entity to the BPSH] is the HandPan tuned by 'Eckhard C. Schulz', of E.C.S. Steeldrums in Germany. A tuner of some note, with plenty of experience to back up his name, Eckhard began creating his own range of HandPan following being called upon to frequently re-tune Hanghang, following PANArt’s (the Hang makers) decision to bow out from the responsibility of maintaining their old instruments. So that from Eckhard Schulz’s gained experience in re-tuning Hang (and years of experience as a steelpan tuner), the Blue Point Steel Harp was born.

Personally I really like the sounds of the 'BPSH', and for me, Eckhard's skill as a tuner really shines through in the refinement of the instrument's voice. However, word on the street is that while the level of tuning of these HandPan is up with the best of them. The steel shell from which the BPSH is made lets it down a little. Being softer metal, and requiring a gentler touch than some other HandPan to avoid ‘screaming’ (at time of writing). Issues that will hopefully be solved with later shell development. And not necessarily issues that make for a 'bad' HandPan (it's better than many, in my opinion), but something that has kept it just short of being counted among the very best.

Points of note:

* The last known price of the Blue Point Steel Harp was somewhere around the 2000 Euro mark. Which makes it one of the most expensive HandPan currently available (this high price is believed to be due to the fact that E.C.S. tune the shells, but do not manufacture them themselves, instead importing them from abroad - resulting in shipping charges that unfortunately need to be passed on to the customer).

* The Blue Point Steel Harp HandPan also goes under the name of ‘Innersound’, a name given to the BPSH by a HandPan reseller. And despite the official name of the instrument being the BPSH, the Innersound moniker (being somewhat less of a tongue-twister) seems to have stuck. (The Innersound re-seller 'Meditationtone' can be contacted via his YouTube account: HERE).

* With (as mentioned above) E.C.S. not manufacturing the HandPan shells themselves, it is believed that there are several other tuners out there using the same shells for making their HandPan. So, while it can be more difficult with this HandPan than any other, if you’re considering buying a HandPan that ‘looks’ like an Innersound/BPSH from a source other than direct from the tuner, be as sure as you can be before parting with any money for it, that the HandPan is what the seller says it is. If a BPSH is what you’re looking for, and not simply something that 'looks' like one (but may sound very different).
For more information, and/or to make purchase of a Blue Point Steel Harp, you can visit the E.C.S website: HERE (or possibly from this website - though as always, tread carefully).
Or alternatively, you can usually keep up-to-date with the latest on all things BPSH/Innersound over at the HandPan.org forums: HERE
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How HandPan Got Their Name - The Naming of a New Musical Instrument Type

Prior to becoming interested in the ‘hang drum’, as I originally knew it to be called (before learning that its makers were not keen on the attached ‘drum’ moniker). I’d never really given a whole lot of thought as to how exactly, things came by their names. A trumpet, is a trumpet, a tiger, a tiger, and a toaster, is, just a toaster. And the fact that at some point in the past the naming of these animals, or objects, may have been a serious cause of contention, had never really crossed my mind. These things simply were. And are.

HandPan

The name ‘HandPan’ was already sufficiently in-use, and seemingly accepted, when I first named, and began this website, that I didn't think to question it. And it wasn’t until many months later, that I would learn that the term HandPan, as a descriptive name for the now growing group of ‘Hang-inspired instruments’, had initially met with loud objections. Though mainly from the known PANArt ‘purists’, but also from PANArt themselves, with Felix Rohner (Hang maker) publicly stating (by proxy) that the “Hang is not a HandPan”. And condemning the name, as causing offence to the steel pan makers of Trinidad, and Tobago.

Where did the name HandPan come from?

It is believed that the title was first coined by Kyle Cox of Pantheon Steel (makers of the Halo), back in 2007. And was Intended both as a mark of respect towards the Trinidadians (counter to Felix Rohner's beliefs), and also as a term through which to describe the Hang-inspired instruments he was creating to potential customers, without having to use the name Hang. (With PANArt having already requested that any mention of their trade-marked name be removed from the Pantheon Steel website).

Following the use of the term HandPan by Kyle Cox, the name was taken up by the website ‘hang-music.com’, who titled within their forums a sub-forum, labeled ‘Other HandPan Developments’. And from there, the name HandPan began to take hold, and spread.

* Back in 2009, the moderators of Hangforum.com attempted to put a stop to the name ‘HandPan’, resulting in a twelve page debate titled ‘What is a HandPan?’* in which a few tired arguments were repeated over, and over, by a few, while the majority agreed that the name HandPan was indeed the most suitable.

At the time, as an argument against the name, it was posted that typing the term ‘HandPan’ into Google produced only 35 results, showing that the name HandPan was not yet used by the majority. However, on typing ‘HandPan’ into Google today, just over two years later (at time of writing), we see that Google now returns 28,500 results. Proving that while the name of this new musical genus may not yet still be conclusive (although it probably is), use of the label HandPan is spreading, and with the alternatives put forward by the opposition being such mouthfuls as ‘harmonically tuned sheet steel instruments’, I for one, couldn’t be happier. ;)

* You can grab yourself a little slice of HandPan history, and travel back through time to 2009, to read the naming of the HandPan debates for yourself: HERE
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The Octo-Pan - The StickyDrums HandPan

(!) This post may now be out of date - but has been left published for archive purposes.  It may still prove to be of interest, but some (or all) details may now be out of date (!).

Judging on YouTube videos alone (which isn't always completely fair), at the time of writing, if it wasn’t for the fact that the ‘Octo-Pan’, is being billed as an early ‘Prototype’, there would probably be little, if anything, good to say about it. And even with that in place, to be brutally harsh, other than the fact that the maker has got off his arse and had a go at it, more than many of us have done, it’s still very difficult to think of anything positive to say about it.

Sounding like a very early Disco Armonico, the Octo-Pan, built by ‘StickyDrums’ of France, looks relatively ‘Hang-like’, being HandPan in shape. But, when listening to it sing, at best we can say that just possibly, somewhere deep within its voice, lies the spark of potential. That with time, research, and development, the maker will be able to mold into something far more satisfying.

Priced at around the $1150 mark, (on ebay at time of writing), the Octo-Pan isn’t cheap for a HandPan that lacks the refinement of its ‘older brothers’, and at that price, we’d certainly recommend checking out the likes of the Caisa, the SunPAN, and the Disco Armonico (which in our opinion, is starting to sound pretty decent these days) instead, as HandPan within a similar price range. But to also perhaps keep an eye on the Octo-Pan, and to offer encouragement to a maker who has already gone one step further towards building their own pans than most of us ever will, which you can do by visiting, and subscribing to the makers YouTube channel: HERE. Or alternatively by visiting the StickyDrums website: HERE

Because just perhaps, this is where the start of something beautiful begins.

A Few Photographs of the PANArt Hang Being Made

Having spent a good while poking around online now, into anything, and everything Hang, and HandPan related, today, I came across something that I’d not yet come across before.  And while perhaps for some, not overly exciting, pictures of the type that follow, showing the PANArt Hang being constructed by Felix Rohner, and Sabina Schärer, seem to be incredibly rare online.  With PANArt having no web presence themselves on the Internet (at time of writing), and having on occasion even ‘respectfully’ asked for the removal of photographs of themselves from at least one other Hang focused website.
So for the interest of bona-fide Hang geeks everywhere, I’m posting links through to the photographs hosted on www.frsw.de, that show the now world famous Hang makers, enthusiastically building what I’m pretty sure are some first generation Hang (although going by some on-page dates they may well more likely be second generations).
Either ways, if it sounds like the sort of thing you might be interested in, you can take a peek at the photographs in question below.


* Photograph 1 * Photograph 2 * Photograph 3 *

“Hang Drum” Dimensions - Diameter | Height | Weight of the PANArt Hang

Over the last year we’ve received numerous visitors to this site via the search query, “Hang drum dimensions” (despite not having had that information available previously).  So whether you’re on the hunt hatching secret plans of building your own Hang-like HandPan, looking to get a custom case made for a Hang bought secondhand on ebay, or for whatever other reason.  The following are the dimensions of the first generation of Hanghang, (and as far as we know, the later generations are at least roughly the same, if not exactly so).
Diameter = 20.86 inches
Height = 9.44 inches
Weight = 8.15lbs
Thickness of metal = 1mm
We hope this helps.


Colin Foulke - "Bringing the Steel Storm!"

Should you ever (God forbid), find that having listened to just one Hang / Handpan video too many on YouTube, feel that the magic of these beautiful steel instruments begins to fade for you, don’t worry. There is a cure.

Because while Handpan being an intuitive, and essentially ‘easy’ to play group of instruments can sound great in the hands of almost anybody, it takes the dedication of a true master, to really make one sing as it was intended to. And listening to the likes of veteran Handpan player ‘Colin Foulke’, quickly washes away the jaded tarnish of a thousand "first time playing my (assorted HandPan)" style videos, and reminds you of what it was, that made you fall in love with the sounds of the Hang in the first place. Or for those newer to the ‘scene’, provides an audio treat, the likes of which will make you cream your pants.

Colin Foulke

Born, and raised in Southern California, Colin’s first love was the Cello, but when later turned-on to the sounds of the Hang after stumbling across a video online, he soon fell in love all over again. And as with the Cello before it, Colin began a new journey to master the Hang. And while perhaps, complete mastery of the HandPan is something that can never be achieved by anyone in one lifetime, Colin Foulke comes as close as any of the other ‘big names’ in Hang / HandPan music. And his fourteen track self-titled album, featuring tunes such as the majestic ‘Steel Storm’, and the ding-singing dark lullaby ‘Goodbye’, recorded using five different HandPan, and a variety of other worldly instruments, will, and without meaning to sound cliché, 'stir the soul', and at times soothe it too. It will lift you up, and toss you around. Open old wounds, before kissing them 'all better' again, and then at journeys end, will tuck you in, and send you off to a peaceful, and fulfilled sleep. (or at least, that's how it was for me). ;)
You can preview (in full), or purchase Colin Foulke’s self-titled album over at bandcamp.com: HERE.

Or alternatively visit Colin Foulke’s personal website: HERE. Or for all manner of assorted HandPan goodness, visit Colin over at his YouTube channel: HERE.

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