The Hang, an Instrument for our time.

I’ve been exploring the Hang for a number of years now and in the process I’ve gained some personal perspective about the instrument that I’d like to share here. 

First I’d like to extend my deepest gratitude to Felix and Sabina, who invented and continue to evolve the Hang. They have been an inspiration to me and many others. Their integrity and commitment to their art is inspiring. What they’ve created and continue to foster will be appreciated for generations to come. I’ll always consider my visits to the Hangbauhaus in Berne, Switzerland to be major highlights in my life. 

Now I’ll answer some of the questions that people ask me about the Hang. Some of the content is based on my personal experience and opinions.

How old is the Hang & from what Culture is it from?

Most people who first encounter a Hang assume it’s deeply rooted in some ancient culture. They’re often surprised to learn that the Hang is a contemporary instrument that was birthed around the year 2000. Though the Hang is made by two people that live in Switzerland, it’s not really a Swiss instrument in a traditional sense. The design itself suggests something strangely familiar. Some see a flower-petal, others a mushroom, a tortoise-shell, a wheel, a shield, an extra-terrestrial space-craft, a planet, a galaxy…the imagination conjures a lot of images from the Hang but usually not of Switzerland. 

The sounds and influences suggest the Steelpan from Trinidad; Gamelan instruments from Indonesia; Gongs, Bells, and Wind Chimes from around the globe; harps, guitars and various string instruments; piano and percussion like the clay pot Ghatam from India and the Udu from Africa. The Hang is truly a world instrument in a literal sense, with some “other-worldly” aspects as well. Still, it was conceived, brought to life, and is made in the Swiss capital of Berne.

Who Makes the Hang?

The Hang was created by Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer and they are the sole makers of the instrument. They formerly designed and built Steelpans from the Trinidadian culture and had a popular Steelpan Orchestra that toured throughout Europe. They were once inspired to mold, pound and shape a new design using their own Pang material, an alloy that made their Steelpans some of the highest quality available, and from this step forward the first Hang was born. They call their company PANArt, where they created each Hang in their workshop on the bank of the Aare River in Berne, Switzerland. They are also talented multi-instrumentalists who are committed to advancing their artistic vision while maintaining a sustainable business model that supports this vision.

What does Hang mean and how is it pronounced?

Hang means “hand” in the Swiss-German dialect specific to the people in and around the capital of Berne (sometimes referred to as Bernese). “Hung” is the common pronunciation in the Bernese dialect.

What is the significance of the “hand”?

Each Hang is hand-sculpted with special hammers. The non-linear structure of the Hang offers endless pathways for hands and fingers to move and dance in a multitude of styles and positions. The Hang is extremely sensitive to contact with the hands and the lightest touch can reveal the most profound effects. I’ve found that over time my hands become so malleable with the Hang that I don’t feel any separation between them and the instrument. The mind quiets as the hands take the lead…the heart responds and the hand answers. It’s like a synergistic dance that becomes a union. 

When a player is sitting upright in a comfortable position, minimal effort is required as the hands relax into the gentle slope of the Hang. Incidentally, “hang” translates as “slope” in the standard German language. 

Yoga instructor Ellen Kiley once pointed out after one of my performances…”when the hands are at their most relaxed state and come together they form the shape of the Hang”.

What material makes up the Hang?

What kind of instrument is the Hang?

Are there different sizes, scales or tunes of the Hang?

Can the Hang be played with other instruments?

What is the tune and scale of the Free Integral Hang?

Why was it so difficult to obtain a Hang?

Closing thoughts (for the moment)