The Hang Drum Phenomenon

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20150714

The extraordinary story of a bizarre new percussion instrument, The Hang. Looking like a cross between a wok and a flying saucer, virtuoso percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie explores the story of its global success.

Sometimes referred to as a Hang Drum, the Hang is not really a drum at all, but a tuned metal pan that produces a mellifluous, ethereal tone with echoes of the Trinidadian steel pan or Indian ghatam. Some argue that it is not even a musical instrument, but more a work of art, a sound sculpture.

The Hang (meaning Hand in the Bernese Swiss German dialect) was born in the Swiss city of Berne in the year 2000. Played with the hands and fingers, it has become a cult instrument across the globe and demand far outstrips supply. Prospective owners must go in person - by invitation only - to the PANArt workshop in Berne to get their Hang. Applications must be made by writing a letter, not an email. Second hand Hangs can fetch over $10,000 on eBay. Some Hang videos have over 11 million views from a vast online community of enthusiasts.

What makes the Hang so special? What's the appeal of making and playing new analogue instruments in this digital age of Pro Tools and plug-ins?

Evelyn looks for the roots of the Hang and meets up with steel pan master Sterling Betancourt MBE. She speaks to Hang virtuosos Manu Delago and Daniel Waples, as well as Kelly Hutchinson of Hang Out UK, a festival dedicated to the Hang and other handpans. She also talks to Kyle Cox and Jim Dusin of Pantheon Steel, makers of the Halo, a handpan inspired by the Hang.

After making around 7000 instruments, PANArt decided to stop production of the Hang in 2013.

Producer: Tom Woolfenden

A Loftus production for BBC Radio 4.