Designing an Electronic Handpan Tone-Field - with Lumen

Attempts to produce an electronic version of the Handpan have been appearing on our radar here at HPM since back in 2011, with “Dome Control”, by Sonic Fingers.  And the more recently announced “Oval”.  However, one of the main concerns with these new digital versions of the Handpan, is whether they could in any way replicate the subtle nuances of the Handpan, or would ultimately turn out to be little more than expensive Handpan-shaped MIDI controllers. With one of the main issues in this area being the function and sensitivity of any given electronic Handpans tone-fields.  

In their most simplistic definition, “tone-fields” are often thought of as being the "notes" that make up a Handpans scale,or sound-model.  But in reality, the tone-fields of a well-tuned Handpan are more complex than that, incorporating such things as overtones, and octaves, and harmonics. And with earlier electronic Handpan like the Dome Control being lacking in even basic velocity sensitivity - any real world comparison between digital Handpan, and the real thing, has thus far been bleak (though the Oval also shows promise).


However, recent updates from the team behind the development of the Lumen Electro-Accoustic Handpan, have shown that this is an issue very much at the forefront of their minds. With the announcement of their newly designed sensors. That have been constructed to offer force-measurements across ten different zones (see right). Combined with an intention to use this technology to more closely mimic the complexities of a hand-tuned Handpan.

Unfortunately at time of posting there is still very little in the way of actual audio/video footage of the Lumen out there for consumption. Other than the original video of the prototype (below).



But design updates such as the new sensors, and other recently announced refinements are suggestive of a strong desire to produce an electronic Handpan that offers as close an experience (and perhaps in some ways more than) its steel-made counterpart. And with the first Lumen expected to reach their owners come January, 2017. We don't have too long now to wait, to see if they hit their mark.

You can get the latest on the Lumen over at their Facebook page: HERE

The Handpan Art of SoHung

While traditionally Steel Tongue Drum have made up the flashier looking members of the melodic steel UFO family, with the outward beauty of Handpan being a little more subtle.  As makers from around the world have begun to experiment with, and tweak almost every other aspect of the instrument type, visual appeal too, is a quality that has not been forgotten entirely.  So that whereas the first generation of Hang were fairly simple looking creatures, increasingly the instruments of some makers, are becoming as pleasing to the eyes, as they are to the ears.

That said, It is likely that preference in terms of looks will vary considerably person-to-person, but if you’re a fan of the more highly ornate looking creations, such as the instruments of Vadjraghanta - you might also find pleasing the recent Handpan-art of Russian-makers, SoHung.  



Historically, the painting of Handpan has been discouraged among the Handpan community, due to a belief that paint restricts the vibrations of the Handpan, and dulls the sound.  However when questioned over at Facebook as to how these Handpan are decorated,the answer came that: “This special drawings with inks and polish that allows us to use high temperatures if tuning is needed and also it prevents the pan from scratches and rust.”



For more information and to follow the SoHung Art experiment you can join their Facebook group. Or find them at YouTube.

At-TaK of the UFOs - The Handpan and the Rise of the TaK

When we first discovered the Hang a whiles back now, it seemed to be an instrument in a fairly concrete state of form - eight tone-fields (notes) circling a central ding.  Since then though have come the inpex, booty taps, grace notes, and a number of other maker-explorations big and small.  And recently, one thing we’re seeing more and more of, is the “TaK”. A subtle, yet distinctive addition to the sounds of these UFO-shaped steel instruments.

While we weren't entirely sure which maker first employed the TaK, as we noticed them coming into use around the same time by both Swiss-makers Echo Sound Sculptures, and Italian-makers Vision Instruments.  According to Handpan musician, Adrian Portia, in reference to the mutant-esque Handpan “LoDu” instruments of ESS (see video below): “On my signature model i have introduced what i call TaKs. The TaK is a tuned high pitch note/tone that's placed in designated areas around the surface, designed by me and produced by EchoSoundSculpture they add a new percussive element for the player on this very cool and unique sounding instrument.”...



While in definition the TaK sounds to be similar to the "grace notes" employed by Pantheon Steel on some of their Halo instruments.  While grace-notes are essentially just another tone field squeezed in above-and-between, TaK (just about visible in the center in the video below) are more percussive in tone and nature.  Fairly un-pronounced in appearance, but bringing yet another possible dimension to the sounds of the Handpan, TaK, look to be here to stay...

The Dalai Lama Plays the Handpan

While the title of this post might be a little misleading, with his Holiness the Dalai Lama employing little more than a few cursory taps, and while the video itself (below) might be of a pretty poor quality, we’re sharing it anyway.  Because as far as we’re concerned, a man of the Dalai Lama’s stature being introduced to the Handpan, particularly while during a visit to the city of Bern, the birthplace of the PANArt Hang (and the Handpan instrument by default), is an event of note, for this world of UFO-shaped singing-steel that we celebrate here at HPM...



And as it happens, while this may well be the Dalai Lama’s first introduction to a bona-fide Handpan, it is not his first meeting with a member of the melodic-UFO family.  When back in 2012 the Dalai Lama got to try his hand at playing the Steel Tongue Drum...



As a point of note, over at Facebook - HangBlog author Micheal Paschko has stated that despite the Handpan in question being presented to his Holiness the Dalai Lama as being a Bern made Hang, in the very birthplace of the instrument, “I have discussed this with Felix (one of the Hang-makers)  and Frank (admin of the now defunct Hang-forum) and we are sure: This is not a Hang. Our best guess is: A BElls from Bellart. But I'm not completely sure. Perhaps a handpan from another maker.”.  Which is a little strange.  But regardless of the make, HDL seemed to be visibly impressed with the Handpan, just as he was with the Steel Tongue Drum before it, and so for that, we’re chalking him up as yet another fan of the instrument-type, and (however briefly) member of the Handpan-playing community.  

You can read more about the Dalai Lama’s visit to Bern, and his meeting with the Handpan (and watch a much better quality video that we are unable to embed here) over at bernerzeitung.ch

HandPan Tuning Stand / Rings for Sale from NaturePan

In traditional Steelpan making where pans are typically produced from 55-gallon oil barrels, the body of the barrel itself essentially acts as both the stand, and tuning rings for the creation of the instrument.  But with Handpan being made from specially formed steel domes, most commonly known as “shells”, or alternatively as “raw-forms”, something else is required to hold the steel dome (or steel sheet) firm, for the purposes of sinking, shaping, and tuning (as required).

Tuning rings themselves are usually comprised of a pair of metal rings within which the shell or steel sheet are clamped, utilising bolts to hold the steel firmly in place.  And while Handpan makers of varying levels have created for themselves many ingenious solutions for budget-minded tuning over the years, a stand such as those being offered for sale by NaturePan over at ETSY, that holds the tuning rings in a convenient all-in-one form, that allows for convenient 360 degree movement of the shell, for ease of tuning, obviously has its benefits.

And with NaturePan additionally also offering Handpan shells designed specifically for use with their tuning stand, and custom-made Handpan tuning hammers, if you’re looking to source a one-stop Handpan building solution, you might like to take a browse over at NaturePan’s ETSY store: HERE.

Vibrational Healing Through the Sounds of the HandPan

While here at HPM we often feel a little uncomfortable heading into the realms of things like “Auras”, “Chi”, “Chakras”, and so forth.  Particularly with regards to the Handpan instrument, which, during its earliest years developed a certain kind of mystique around it, that had more than a touch of the ultra-spiritual about it.  Despite preferring to see the Handpan as just a musical instrument, there is something kind of special about it - that even we might describe as being a kind of “healing quality”.



Listen to the lyrics in PANArt’s recent video of the Hang Bal, and the suggestion that this is an instrument that is in some way intended to heal, is hard to overlook.

“If you a smart phone slave, surfing non-stop on a digital wave, if your life has become indeed too virtual, if you are looking for a better ritual, you are maybe ready to deal, with the new PANArt Hang Bal Spiel.  If your hands are tense, your fingers blocked, burned out your spirit, your life somehow shocked - you would like to dance your own dance, you can get it, there is a chance…”

And while the above words may have been intended solely to describe the newer Hang Bal, there has been something about the sounds of the Hang, and the Handpan, that have drawn those in need of a little extra “something” to it from the very beginning.  With PANArt listing in their book Hang: Sound Sculpture: therapists, caretakers for the terminally ill, the sick, the stressed, and the mentally unwell, among the distinct demographics that would frequently write to them in a bid to get their hands on one of their sound-sculptures.  And hands in the air, and cards on the table, there was a little of that in our own initial journey to seek out and play the Hang/Handpan.  

The vibrations of the Hang recorded
 using holographic interferometry.
PANArt themselves refer to the Hang as being a “Mirror to the Soul”, and perhaps therein lies its healing abilities.  The intuitive playing style that requires little in the way of musical training, combined with the instruments emotive, fragile quality of sound, that has been described as being reminiscent of a "Choir of Angels", makes it easy to let whatever is inside, out.  Which can be therapeutic in its own right.  And even putting any metaphysical beliefs that one may, or may not harbour towards the instrument type, with regards to vibrational healing aside, here at HPM, we like to look towards the science of Cymatics for something a little more concrete.  For when we consider that the average human body is roughly made up of 60% water, Cymatics helps to demonstrate in a very visible way how the vibrations of the Handpan’s enveloping sound bath, could provide a kind of sonic massage, at the very least, in a way not clearly visible to the eye.

Ultimately, whether you consider the Handpan to be an instrument with healing attributes, or not,  we leave to you to decide.  But on a personal note, we’ve yet to find anything more soothing, when feeling blue, than to pick-up a Handpan, and give audible form to that which ails us.

“...On some nights I still believe that a car with the gas needle on empty can run about fifty more miles if you have the right music very loud on the radio.”  - Hunter. S. Thompson.

PANArt’s Hang Bal - Hangin’ Round Ya' Neck

When PANArt retired the Hang back in 2013, it felt like a huge blow.  Many people around at the time were only just beginning to discover the instrument, and then, all of sudden, it was seemingly gone.

As it turns out though, PANArt’s announced retirement of the Hang hasn’t been quite the catastrophe that it felt to be at the time.  Because for a company that stopped making Hang, PANArt continue to produce a whole lot of instruments, that are very "Hang-like" (with recent additions even partially adopting its name).

The Hang Bal

All this week we’ve been considering instruments for possible inclusion in our own imagined Handpan-centric-orchestra.  But when it comes to PANArt, they have always very much had their own orchestra in mind - the orchestra of Pang.  And the recently announced Hang Bal, is the latest addition to that family.

With no more than a passing glance at the Hang Bal, you’d likely find it difficult to find much to separate this newer PANArt-produced instrument from its older sibling.  However, despite its visual similarities, there are strong differences between the original Hang, and its newer incarnation.  

The Hang Bal features a neck strap, and is designed to be played in a standing position - or while “dancing”, which makes for an interesting concept.  But even placing that to the side, the Hang Bal is tuned in a fashion more complimentary to another Hang successor, the Gubal.  And other more recent Pang instruments.  Essentially taking the Hang design (with minor variations - such as its protruding Gubal-esque bottom), and bringing it back into line with the concept of the Pang orchestra.  

And while as with other more recent PANArt instruments, here at HPM, we've not been as instantly enamoured with the Hang Bal, as we were on first discovering the original Hang itself, upon watching the following video from PANArt showing the dance of the Hang Bal in action, and considering the possibilities of the “collective groove” - it’s difficult not to find a certain charm in, and of the idea, and the instrument itself...



Find more information on the Hang Bal over at PANArt's website: HERE

Buy an Evatek HandPan Case from Hardcase Technologies via ETSY

When Handpan players hit up one of the now many and varied online communities in search of recommendations for a decent case to protect their Handpan, one brand is offered up as being the best option, time-and-time again, by those in the know.  And that is the products of Hardcase Technologies.  A company based in Italy, that has been ingrained within the Handpan-world, since near the beginning of the birth of the Instrument type.

While the Handpan cases produced by Hardcase Technologies have undergone a number of evolutionary steps along the way, their current incarnation (at time of posting) is in the form of the Evatek.  And anybody who has followed HCT man Alessio’s journey along the way, enjoying videos of him jumping on, stomping on, flinging, and generally beating the living-daylights out of his cases in any way he can imagine, in a personal quest to design the ultimate Handpan case, will know that this is as much a labour of love, as it is a desire to establish a workable business model.  So you know that despite the many advocates from within the Handpan community who speak very highly of the Evatek range of Handpan cases, arguably the best recommendation worthy of consideration when giving thought to the purchase of an Evatek, is the fact that Alessio himself feels comfortable with its current form.  



Shock resistant in its base form, the Evatek can also be transformed with the purchase of optional Handpan “shields” into a full flight-case.  Is 100% waterproof.  And is available in different sizes to suit different sized Handpan.  In addition to featuring a number of other well thought out design elements that keep the needs of the travelling Handpan player well in mind.  

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