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Felix Rohner is building a handpan

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Published on May 11, 2017

Not long ago I visited the PANArt team in its workshop. There I found a handpan lying on the floor. I tried it out. At the first moment it sounded nice. But after a short time playing became boring. The sounds were harmonic but static - not much dynamic inside. I noticed that there were only a few hammer marks inside and outside of the instrument. It was not a cheap instrument. The price was high and it is not easy to get one from the maker. A so called “top shelf instrument”.

I talked with PANArt Tuner Felix Rohner about my feelings. He told me that this instrument was made with a relative simple tuning technique using plates with string like modes as tone fields. Those string like modes were described by physicist and steelpan researcher Thomas Rossing. The overtones of a string have certain frequencies that depend on geometric reasons (full length, half length, third length etc.). In a similar way also plates can oscillate due to geometrical reasons. If you shape a plate as an ellipse with diameters in the ratio of 2:3 the plate will oscillate with the partial tones octave and compound fifth only because of the geometric ratio. The fundamentals of those instruments are week and they don't exchange energy with the upper partial tones.

In contrary the art of Hang tuning is all about making the fundamental strong and letting it exchange energy with its upper partial tones. This way the tuner creates the characteristic dynamics of the tones of his instrument. For this he needs other parameters including the prestress in and the curvature of the tone fields. The domes which are so typical for the Hang are only required in this context. For simple tuning they aren't necessary.

Felix Rohner said to me: “You can build your own. It needs only a short time to make such an instrument. I can show you how.”
I asked if I could record a video and he agreed. It was very interesting for me to see the basics of string-like tuning. It is very different from the usual PANArt tuning method.

A usual Hang upper shell was used and three rounds of tuning were carried out interrupted by two heating procedures in the oven. The first round is shown in full length in the video, the other two as excerpts. The tuning time was round about an hour. Then the upper shell was glued to another cut shell that was left over from Hang Gudu building. This way a handpan without domes and without a closed chamber that works as a Helmholtz resonator were made, a handpan that doesn't copy the characteristic Hang design.

There are a lot of high-priced handpans on the market made by simple tuning. Are those prices really justified? I wonder why a lot of handpan makers are using domes for their instruments although they are not required. Isn´t it confusing the costumers when the famous Hang form is copied?

This is my personal view. I hope you will enjoy the video.

Frank Sturm (Pangplayer)

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