November 2009 the Hang makers Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer sent this letter to people who asked for an Integral Hang in 2008 and 2009, but weren’t able to acquire one. The text answers the question: “What is a Hang and what is it not?” and announces the new Free Integral Hang.
Around the year 2000, the Hang was born here in Bern, Switzerland, brought about by a particular series of circumstances. Since 1985 we had been experimenting with new materials. We managed to transform common steel into a new kind of material which was more suitable for acoustic purposes. Thanks to the special physical characteristics of this material that we called pang, we were finally able to free ourselves from the shackles of the barrel which we had been using for decades to make steelpans. We deepened our knowledge of acoustic instruments from the near and far east and reconstructed them to attain a better understand of how they functioned. The result was a series of interesting instruments whose acoustic qualities – especially the vitality of the sound – made us prick up our ears. Through years of research we became familiar with the physical laws which led to the development of the Hang. The gong revealed the purpose of the dome, the tabla refined our acoustic art decisively, the gatham led to the integration of air resonance, and the cymbals and pans introduced us to the world of sounds.
In the same year we were invited to the first International Conference on Science and Technology of the Steelpan (ICSTS 2000) in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, where we presented our instruments and our research results. “It sounds like in the old days,” was the reaction of the Trinidad scholars. This statement was a confirmation of our work because it really was the sound of the old steel bands that had inspired us. The appearance of the Hang in the capital of the steel band escaped the attention of the participants at the conference as well as the media. Playing this metal instrument with bare hands was foreign to the people of Trinidad and their reaction was: “This is not our culture”. Back in Switzerland we focused on developing the Hang (meaning “hand” in our dialect). The direct interaction of the hands on the pang material embraced the dynamic sound qualities and became the key issue.
Nearly 10 years have since passed and we now have encountered a crucial crossroads: What is a Hang and what is it not?
Percussionists were initially attracted to this fresh new instrument. They called it by many names and descriptions including UFO, flying saucer, Pantam, disco armonico and Hang Drum. The dream of combining rhythm and melody had come true. They placed the Hang on a stand, even tried to play several instruments at once, and they tried to integrate it in their bands and orchestras. We found ourselves trying to meet the demands and wishes of a variety of people and developed Hanghang with up to 10 tones, made a model with two openings, or with a shorter acoustic sound, and even one with a chromatic scale on both sides. In addition, we offered a wide range of scales from around the world.
Many people were mainly attracted to the energetic vibrations of the Hang. They were delighted by the richness of the overtones and even attested to healing powers of this new instrument. We responded to their ideas and built Hanghang with lunar or solar sounds and healing scales. Whereas the percussionists could envision the Hang as a platform for their rhythmic abilities, others were attracted by the hypnotic sound itself.
Sound therapists came to us and told us about the positive effects the Hang had on their patients. Psychologists, psychiatrists, shamans and healers were interested in using this hybrid instrument in their work. In the past few years, hundreds of people from all over the world have obtained a Hang, either directly through us or up until 2006 from distributors on all continents. You can see Hanghang being played on YouTube, on sidewalks, in concert halls, churches, at rituals, in studios, in commercials and films, and at techno parties. Around 200 CDs have been sent to us and we marvel at their diversity. Many people play in the silence of their homes, outdoors in nature, or in their circle of friends. Some just touch it now and then.
The loud hammering sounds in our workshop opened up a deeper insight into the nature of the Hang. We initially sold the Hang in certain music stores and through distributors, but we felt the demand to produce so many Hanghang uncomfortable and the sheer pressure made our strength wane.
The wishes of our clients were hard to satisfy as some of the scales did not fit harmonically with the Hang body and we began to lose the vision of the Hang as an entity. While it takes artistry and dedication to sculpt a Hang, our work was scientifically validated by researchers who concluded the nature of the Hang as a wholistic resonant body. We needed to pause and regain our vision, and thus a new chapter was opened. We realized more and more the fascinating and challenging work ahead of us. Our desire was to form a whole, a cosmos, not another musical instrument in a standard context. This meant that we had to clarify our views and distance ourselves from the current system that had become susceptible to popular perceptions.
The scales of the earliest Hanghang were bright and higher, and then in 2006 the sound became warmer, more organic and pleasing to the human body. We began to listen more intently and expanded our understanding of the nature of the hand on this complex membrane and how it affects our body, mind and spirit. Through better understanding of our Pang material, we succeeded to manage the high stresses in it. The controlled distribution of these forces is of the utmost importance. The reduction of the tonal circle around the central dome resulted in a better balance in this complex system of forces. A more suitable relationship was established between the choir and the dome. The acoustic relationship of both sides of the instrument with the human body became evident when played on a person’s lap.
The Integral Hang was developed in spring 2008 and it became increasingly clear that we were not dealing with a system of separate notes, but with individual voices exciting other voices that are harmonically related, creating a unique dynamic which defines the Hang. The chant of the overtones was like a choir singing in a cathedral, which is how we see the Hang. We were entering a multi-dimensional walk to a vast potential. Some say it is an intuitive dance, an improvisation, a hypnotic state, a trance, a dream, a meditation…but who could tell?
Now in late autumn of 2009 we have reaped the Free Integral Hang and it rests on our lap, born without the use of tuning instruments. We have arrived at a place of trust with our inner resonance and the result is a highly sensitive Hang body with intensified vibrations that does not need the company of another musical instrument or Hang. The free-tuned Integral Hang is intended for individuals who yearn for balance and inner peace in a world that can be chaotic and unsettling. Our concepts, developments and implementations are far from the musical norms of modern times which require study, practice and performance. Playing with this Hang can lead to a form of freedom, an intimate conversation that can only unfold without pressure and coercion. If individuals are aware of this concept they will be strengthened by this Hang. Thoughtless use can weaken a person. We as Hangmakers and you as potential player need to be conscious of the importance of this fact. We were forced to accept definitions and activities around the previous generations of the Hang to which we could not agree. Treating it as a drum and promoting the name Hang Drum, for instance, has created a ripple effect of misinformation that leads to damaged instruments, physical injury, and mental and emotional turbulence. With the Free Integral Hang we have to exercise more caution.
Sabina Schärer and Felix Rohner