I first saw a Hang when I visited my friend, Tim Carroll’s house in 2004. It was hanging on the wall of his front room. A friend had given it to him at WOMAD. I didn’t play it, or see it being played but I was totally intrigued. On leaving the house I did some research and learned that it was a brand new musical instrument invented in Sweden in the year 2000 by Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer. There was some footage on You Tube of the Hang being played and I discovered that the dimples on the top side of the instrument are individual notes. As a pianist, this interested me because playing the piano requires your fingers to create a melodic rhythm through striking the piano keys – I felt that learning this instrument would be an interesting challenge.
I found a music shop in the north of England that stocked the Hang. I’m pretty sure they wanted £250 for it at that time and I couldn’t justify the expenditure on a whim so let the opportunity pass. A couple of years later when I had a few more quid in my pocket I telephoned the store to ask if they still stocked them. ‘No’ was the answer. Oh. I did some research on the internet and discovered that they were being sold direct from the makers in Bern, Switzerland. However, due to the worldwide demand for this instrument, their website had been taken down and all correspondence relating to the Hang was to be done in writing. I found the address and penned a letter outlining my interest and fascination in the instrument and described why I would like a Hang and what I would use it for.
A year passed. Then, out of the blue came a letter in the post explaining that my letter had been read and the makers had decided to allocate me a Hang the following year. At that time, I believe the makers were creating approximately 80 instruments a year. There was no choice in key or tuning like before. The generation that were going to be produced were called the ‘Integral Hang’. I returned a contract of sale and waited.
It was another 18 months before my Hang arrived. I was supposed to collect it in person but when the time came a trip to Switzerland to collect an instrument was not affordable so the makers very kindly packaged my Hang up and sent it to England – I will visit them one day in the future.
I was totally absorbed by this instrument when it first arrived. It is made of nitrided steel and feels pretty special just touching it. People often ask me if they can have a go. Some people sit down and instantly knock out wonderful sounds, others struggle to make it sing. It was funny having an instrument that has almost no history and no specific method of playing (except with your hands). You simply make it up as you go along. The philosophy of the makers of this instrument is also very interesting. If you would like to read more then Wikipedia has a good write-up <here>
So, the year when I finally received my own Hang was 2008. It had taken me four years. I feel that I have only brushed the surface of the instrument in terms of learning how to use it. The song that I perform in the video link below is titled ‘Bishanpura’ – named after a meadowland that I visited and tigress that I saw in Madyah Pradesh, India. I guess this Hang and the tigers left wild in the world are about as rare as each other.
Attempting to integrate the Hang with my recorded music is tricky. It’s tuning is unusual. It is in D minor with a couple of strange notes thrown in. Neil Muttock has tuned his guitar to the Hang and we wrote ‘The Tale Of Morgan’s Hill’ and ‘The Sea’ – two tracks that appear on The Home Fires album, ‘Ember’.
I would love to be able to jam along with myself playing a Hang rhythm on the piano but only having two arms restricts this. However, since I finally now have my own recording studio, my plan is to sample rhythms on the Hang and then write piano pieces to this music. Some of these experiments will find their way onto my next album I am sure.
The journey I went on to obtain this unique instrument was pretty unique – the makers have no desire to mass produce this creation, even though the worldwide demand would certainly be there for them to make millions. It is a strange and magical, musical instrument created at the turn of the millennia. The conventional Hang is no longer made by PanArt. However, they are still creating new instruments. Their website can be found <here>.
And there you have it – the story of my journey with the Hang so far………