Introducing: The Hang

From 17-19 June, the Austrian Cultural Forum London celebrates its 60th anniversary with an open house weekend presenting newly commissioned artworks, performances and compositions of artists, writers and composers from the UK and Austria. Alongside an impressive line-up of young, emerging talents in the fields of classical, new music, pop, jazz and rock, the ACF is delighted to welcome distinguished Hang virtuoso Manu Delago.

Born in 1984 in Innsbruck/Tyrol, the classical percussionist, jazz drummer and composer, who studied at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama as well as at the Trinity College of Music, came into the international spotlight when his solo piece ‘Mono Desire’ became the most popular Hang video in the Internet, ranking in the Top30 music videos on YouTube. At that time relatively unknown, Manu Delago’s success contributed substantially to the instrument’s popularity, resulting in frequent collaborations with renowned artists such as Björk, Anoushka Shankar, The Cinematic Orchestra, Joss Stone, Shpongle, Aurora Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra.

BjorkandManu Rehearsal2_body
Manu Delago & Björk, 2011 (credits: Carsten Windhorst)

So, what’s so special about the Hang? My humble explanation invites you to imagine two wok-like pans placed on each other, their domes forming a concave body with differently tuned tone fields on their surface. Placed on a musician’s lap, you play it by hand, creating a full and resonant sound. Inspired by the Trinidadian steel pan and the Indian ghatam, the creation of the Hang, however, took place in Bern, Switzerland.

To trace the origins of this invention, we need to go back to the 1950s, when the steel pan – in its early days old oil drums converted into percussion instruments – found its way across the Atlantic to the UK and from there to Central Europe. Curiously enough, the steel pan found exceptional favour within German Switzerland, where steelbands became a regular sight from the 1970s. Against the backdrop of this trend, a group of steel pan enthusiasts from Bern, who could not afford to import their instruments from abroad, drove forth the pan’s development by producing their own models.

pang-instrumente
Pang instruments

The urge for advancement soon turned into a quest for new sounds, and in 1995, Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer founded PANArt Hangbau AG. Remaining faithful to steel, they developed a pioneering nitriding technique for hardening its surface, and launched a series of steel drums called Pang. However, it needed the inspiration of an outsider for the Hang to evolve. Around the turn of the millennium, a percussionist introduced the drum builders to the Ghatam, a traditional instrument from India, made of clay and played by hand. While demonstrating the instrument to them, he casually dropped the notion that he would love to create more sounds with it. This incident marks the birth of the Hang.

ghatam
Ghatam

Since 2000, the manufacturers have produced several Hang generations for a growing community of admirers worldwide. Merging art and science, the inventors frequently reach out to scientists to research its wealth of interesting physics in order to refine its technology and acoustics. However, editions are small with each generation featuring models with varying tunings. Thus, the resale value of an original Hang skyrockets from originally 300 – 600 SFR to 4,500 USD and above.

With the rise of electronic music, the invention of a new acoustic instrument causes, understandably, a lot of sensation. In the wake of its creation, a movement of Hang-inspired instruments soon entered the market, spanning from “Hang drum” to “Handpan”. The inventors, however, strongly discourage the use of these notations, regarding them misleading. The term Hang, pronounced [haŋ], plural Hanghang, simply means “hand” in the local Bernese dialect.

pangensemble
Pangensemble (credits: panart)

In 2013, PANArt stopped the production of the Hang, driving the prices on eBay up to 10,000 USD. Worldwide, there are around 7,000 Hanghang circulating through the hands of musicians. For Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer, however, the quest for new sound sculptures goes on, with new hybrids being produced. On their website, you can find many videos on new hand percussion instruments such as the Gubal or the Hang Gudu, played by the Pangensemble. Wherever their journey takes them, we are excited to follow their tracks as they forge an entirely new soundscape of Pang music.

So we invite you to come experience this unique instrument live at the ACF on Sunday 19 June at 6pm. You can book your FREE place here.

by Zhuo Wang

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Manu Delago
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