A Brief History of the Hang
The Hang is a contemporary musical instrument, often referred to as a “sound-sculpture” created by Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer, owners of a small company called PANArt in Bern, Switzerland. The Hang was first introduced to the world around the year 2000, and by the year 2013, following the evolution of several generations of several thousand Hang instruments, PANArt had decided to focus on a new creation, the Gubal.
Both the Hang and Gubal are made from a steel-based alloy called Pang, a patented material developed by the instrument makers themselves. This material is partly what gives their instruments such a captivating sound with the slightest effort necessary. The non-linear, somewhat cosmic playing field, the richness of tone, the unprecedented versatility of playing options and the dynamic response to the slightest touch has caught the attention of the masses, with YouTube videos of a few early Hang players going viral and demand for the instruments running high.
PANArt had declared early on that the Hang was not meant for mass-distribution and instead kept their attention on the evolution of their art form, the Pang material, and their commitment to maintaining freedom from the trappings of commercializing their instruments. However, the world would not sit still and be denied their contribution, at least not in spirit. The Hang has sparked a renaissance in musical instrument design, with countless new instrument makers following the inspiration that first came to Felix and Sabina. Many of these instruments have been dubbed as “Handpans” while others have created their own categories and descriptions. A culture has been building and a new sound and style of play has been unfolding. Never before has an instrument had such an immediate and profound effect on the music landscape. It all started in Bern, Switzerland at the hands of Felix and Sabina. Their role for giving birth to this phenomenon will be remembered and respected. The Hang and their future contributions will always be held in the highest standard by those who are fortunate to experience them first-hand.
I wrote in detail about the Hang and that writing has been featured on this website for a few years but is now being replaced by this summary and an introduction to the Gubal. For those interested in a deeper look into my experiences with the Hang and some answers to frequently asked questions please feel free to access that writing here: THE HANG INSTRUMENT.
The Gubal, Balu and other Instruments from PanArt
As of September 2018, PANArt has created a host of new instruments that span the spectrum of rhythmic and melodic possibilities. The Gubal, the Balu, the Godo, the Gudu, the Gede and Hang Bal are a few of the latest instruments to come from PANArt’s workshop since the Hang. Most of these instruments allow the player to access deeper bass tones while also allowing for melodic options associated with the Hang. I define the instruments of PANArt as true “World Instruments”. An amazing array of sounds can be accessed from these ergonomically advanced forms. They truly meld elements of the steelpan, the gamelan ensembles, the Udu and other melodious and percussive instruments from around the globe with the addition of a deep, airy bass that can change pitch with the skillful movement of the hand. There are other unique features that when all are combined gives the player an ability to create the sound of a small ensemble on his or her lap, yet the sounds from each of these instruments are unique to themselves. Most of the essential elements of the Hang are still intact in the case of the Balu, the Gubal and Hang Bal but the player has the ability to access lower frequency options to balance the upper frequencies usually associated with the Hang and the instruments inspired by it. Bass frequencies are really the crux of most of the newer instruments from PANArt and they warrant a different approach to playing than the Hang. The Gubal, HAng Bal and Balu, perhaps even more-so than the later generations of the Hang, are best suited for quiet environments with relaxed play. This is where the magic occurs and where the full spectrum of sound can be heard and felt.
The unique elements of all of these instruments will be best appreciated in a live encounter. Listening over a computer or a phone without the use of headphones or good speakers will be a disappointing experience, as the low frequencies won’t be heard at all. With that in mind, strap on y our earbuds or headphones and visit PANArt’s channel on YouTube for some excellent playing by Felix, Sabina and others. That link can be found here: PANArt’s YouTube Channel
I’ve posted some of my own videos on this website, and also on my YouTube channel that can be found here: Matt Venuti’s YouTube Channel
Further information about these instruments, from the words of PANArt, including their process for creating and distributing the instrument, can be found here: Gubal news from PANArt
I hope to see you on the road during one of my performances. I sing passionate, original songs while accompanying myself on the Hang and Gubal. I play in venues ranging from house concerts to concert halls. Please check my schedule and come see me live when possible, and be in touch if you’d like to host a concert in your area.
All the best!