A Hang History

An informal, possibly scattered and continuously reinvented(?) history...
by Torbz
(updated last 16th August 2009)

PANArt has not always exclusively made the HANG. They (being Felix and Sabine) conducted long research into the varying aspects of forming instruments from steel. Much of the inspiration came from the traditional steel pans of the Caribbean islands, Trinidad and Tobago and Switzerland was well-known for its manufacture of the steel pan.

Felix became swept up into the Steel Pan 'virus' that hit Switzerland in the mid-70's (introduced via the infamous Notting Hill Carnival in London) and as an avid player, he began to develop skills and interests around re-tuning damaged steel pans, which must have been a regular flow of metal-bashing fun. I think it is fair to say that this is where the fascination with steel instruments began.

It was common for people to create their own steel drums in Europe as the craze took off and continued through the 80's. It was this renewed call for steel drum re-tuning that influenced PANArt into finding a stronger, more durable material for making them. (See 'the science of the hang' for more in-depth detail). There were also other motivations for wishing to invest much time and energy into more complex research, the high volume levels of traditional steel pans being one.

PANArt spent five years researching and experimenting with different metals, forming and shaping processes, which eventually culminated in the discovery of a new hardened steel and form that could produce slightly softer tones and allow greater durability.

PANArt developed various instruments based around the Steel pan family - namely the Peng, Ping and Pong. They are concave in form, more like the Steel pans and include a two octave, whole tone scale. The Pung is not entirely disimilar to the afore-mentioned except it has slightly fewer notes and has a more dynamic range of 'tones' which can produced i.e. a harder hit produces a crashing effect and a softer hit or warmer, more melodic tone. The HANG central note can also be played to a similar effect with enough impact force.

The Gatam

Jump forward another 25 years or so, the HANG was inspired by a visitor to PANArt, Reto Weber, who brought along the Indian 'Gatam' (see left). It inspired them to make a steel insturment that could be played by hand.

The HANG consists of two hemispehres of steel which have been hardened by the process known as gas-nitriding. (Once again, to not bore you with too much 'nascient hydrogen atoms' or 'nitride compounds', see 'the science of the hang' for more)

The notes are then formed in the top hemisphere and then attached to the bottom hemishpere making the familiar UFO-like shape (many have commented on it being two woks!)

The familiar dimples, in the centre of each note around the outside, produce a distinct area of compression within the metal (and each note) which gives the Hang's shape (or form) a heightened architectural strength and also affects the nature of how the notes are further tempered and tuned.

Without sinking to deeply into the beautifully metaphorical world of note tuning, each note is then meticulously formed through the many varying strikes of a hammer (namely the heart, crown, trunk, root and foundation blows) - terminology coined by the PANArtists.

It is perhaps worth mentioning at this point that the MK 1 had two types - a bass and treble version. The treble enjoyed the luxury of an additional outer note (8 outer, one middle note) whilst the bass model had 7 outer and one middle note.

In the Winter of 2005, PANArt closed their doors for several months and reported to their distibution network of music shops and suppliers around the world that they would no longer supply the HANG to them and orders for instruments should stop. Instead Schaerer and Rohner spent those months devloping the HANG MK 2 (not the official term but useful for our purposes).

This decision was apparently motivated by the need to stem production so that Sabine and Felix could cope with the increasing demand and not be under pressure to produce, but rather spend the necessary time and attention to quality and detail for each instrument. This is highly comendable strategy, as the move to 'sell out' to a major manufacturing process would have taken the heart and soul out of the instrument, and no doubt led to a myriad of cheap, sub-standard units or HANGs with Yamaha emblazoned on them!

The holy grail and saving grace of non-Hang owners is perhaps to find the definitive and convincing Hang-a-like manufacturer as the current production capacity means PANArt won't be accepting visits for sales until well into 2008.

An appealing idea as that may be to the many without, it seems that the Hang drum's producers are safe in the thought that the Hang drum is probably extremely difficult to replicate. With a long history and deeply entrenched experience with both the science and love of metal and steel instruments, PANArt have (almost certainly) achieved a unique piece of musical magic. There have been attempts made at steel instruments that involve a similar hand playing style, though the tonal quality of the Hang has yet to be neared or matched - the 'Caisa', which looks like a direct inversion of a steel drum, which is made in Germany (by Caisa Bill no less), is one example of this.

The Hang MK2

The redisgned MK 2 remained almost identical in shape but had now an additional coating of brass on the top hemisphere and an additional brass rim around the circumference (see left).

The difference in feel, volume and tone marked both a departure from the familiar, (to many existing Hang players), but the design and material changes had obvious benefits. The MK1's were prone to damage and would go out of tune and the launch of a new hard shell to cover the top of the Hang helped to sustain the instrument's integrity further.

A long troop to Bern seems to be the only current solution despite Felix's attempt to give me sound advice (by phone) on fixing it myself. I did manage to change the note by a semitone - just in the wrong direction!!!

Given the detail that goes into to every note, it's a wonder to imagine that any skilled metalworker would blindly invite people to invade their work - however, the notes in the science section may well help you to get a feel for actual complex make-up of the Hang and maybe even give you strength and nerve to attempt a self-tune should you ever be unfortuante enough to have to resort to one.

It also marked the end of the huge variety of scales that were available in the mark I range. A total of 45 different scales were made, spread among the near 4,000 MK 1 models produced. The MK 2 models now limit themselves to just 5 scales, all based around a bottom D middle tone. You can see and hear all of the MK1 scales here.

There have been a few variations with the MK2's away from these five scales, as the Hang's now share a common base tone and 3 notes, leaving 4 notes for the PANArtist to choose or 'coax' from the material.

Another deviation includes the 'Udu' hang which has an additional hole on the underside, enabling the player a greater degree of sound control and a nice udu effect.

During 2008, PanArt have finally settled on a design (that, we are told, will continue to evolve) - the Integral Hang is the culmination of over a decade of research and practise. However, the application process remains the same, write a letter and wait for a reply and hopefully an invitation to make the journey to Switzerland. PanArt have recognised the difficult mission this is for many, what with the Hang's global appeal, and do also ship orders abroad again (something they haven't done for about three years). The current new purchase price is approximately 1200 Euros.

The notes on some of the earlier 2008 integral models are D Ding (central note), A, Bb, C, D, E, F, A. However, it seems PanArt have changed this now fixed scale to another scale.

All 2008-made Hangs have been accounted for and PanArt will take yet another break of several months, if not longer into 2009 to continue research and development.

There is still a long waiting list for Panart's Hang, so patience is the key.

Also worth mentioning is that all new Hang purchases now require the signing of a 'binding' agreement that states the Hang may not be resold for profit and must be offered back to PanArt at cost price first. Personally, I see this as nothing more than gentleman's (gentleperson's!) agreement, as such a contract will surely prove unenforcable across the world (especially in the U.S. which does not honour this 'Droit de Suite' law originally designed to benefit 'impoverished' creators of works of art, originally introduced in France in the late 1800's).

Whether the Hang makers will rely on this 'Droit De Suite' law to pursue those who break the agreement or indeed whther their agreement constitutes anything reflected in law remains to be seen. In essence, it will only be effective by demonstrating its purpose to those who buy a Hang and they hope it will be respected.

The UK adopted this (EU-wide) 'droit de suite' law in 2006, meaning technically the Hang makers could pursue it (no doubt at great cost and with difficulty) through the courts. However, if a Hang were to be sold for less than 2500 euros or more than 10,000 euros, this law is NOT applicable in the UK.

Exact details can be found at the end of the documents listed below courtesy of Hangblog.org and PanArt AG.

Hang Booklet 2008 - English  PDF (en)
Hang Booklet 2008 - German  PDF (de)
Hang Booklet 2008 - French  PDF (fr)
Hang Booklet 2008 - Spanish  PDF (es)
Hang Booklet 2008 - Italian  PDF (it)

It seems the waiting will continue for the many eager potential Hang owners...

And for now, here endeth that brief history...there will no doubt be plenty more sections to add and stories to be told.

Most importantly, if you don't yet own one, hang on!!!

Or go to the forum to see if anyone knows where to find one!!

Research Papers on Steeldrums
Presented by PANArt at the Conference on New Developments of the Steelpan - May 2000

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