Spacedrum and Hang, evolution of the steelpan drum
September 28, 2014 2:40 PM   Subscribe

This solo performance of "New Moon" on a Spacedrum by Yuki Koshimoto is mesmerizing, but without much context. Who is she, and what is her instrument? This blog post has a bit more on Yuki, and here is some information on Metalsounds' Spacedrum and other similar metal instruments. If you want more background on the instrument, here's a documentary on the PANArt Hang, something of the predecessor to the Spacedrum, both of which have evolved from the steelpan or steel drum. Going back further, here's Toshi and Pete Seeger, documenting the making of a steel drum, in 1956.
posted by filthy light thief (9 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
It's really so pretty! I saw this the other day and I really did think "Who is she, and what is her instrument?" so thanks for the added info.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 3:12 PM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Article on these in the Atlantic. Some call them handpans.
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 4:02 PM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

See also the "hank drum", from Dennis Havlena (previously). Build instructions here.
posted by alikins at 4:24 PM on September 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you want to know (significantly) more about how to play a Hang or handpan, here's a 30 minute video with 17 similar instruments compared (and individually linked in the description), and the captions include additional scale information.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:10 PM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you really want to go down the rabbit hole, here is the best place online to buy current and classic Caribbean pan recordings and related materials hard to find anywhere else.

Yes, it looks like 1999. Don't worry, it's legit.
posted by spitbull at 7:20 PM on September 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

See also the "hank drum"

And the HAPI Drum.
posted by Foosnark at 8:00 PM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I always liked this performance by Liron Man.
posted by tybeet at 6:06 AM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

My favorite Sesame Street short film is still the one where they make a steel drum.
posted by ckape at 2:40 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Aha, something I know about. The 'hang' instrument was developed in 2001 by a pair of Swiss artist-musicians calling themselves Panart. It is a direct descendant of the Trinidadian steelpan, but has found a very different audience and culture. For many years the Panart Hang was made in their workshop in Berne and was available to be purchased in person only. At first the instruments sold for only a few hundred Euro. The hang is magical and transfixing and a certain percentage of the population seems to become obsessed with them upon first discovery (including myself). Thus, as hangs filtered out into the wild, more and more people came calling to Panart -- but the makers could not increase their output and were not interested in scaling up a large business and factory, preferring instead to cultivate the spiritual strength of the instrument through the exploration of perfectly balanced tunings. The final iteration of the hang, known as the free integral hang, was tuned to notes that are resonant to the device itself but not pegged to western notes, thus making it unsuitable for play with other instruments. Today, Panart makes a new instrument called gubal, which is like a hang with a large spherical resonant chamber attached that makes a deep bass note. Early generation hang sell for 10 to 15 thousand Euro on Ebay.

In the mid to late 2000s, other steelpan makers and tuners noticed the growing demand and began manufacturing their own version of the hang. Because hang is a copyrighted term for Panart's instrument, the generic name 'handpan' was chosen, and is now the accepted term for all varieties of the instrument: Panart's hang, the Spacedrum, and the other 30 or so varieties are all different makes of handpans. The most prominent alternative is probably Pantheon Steel's Halo, made in USA. Today there are several dozen makers, but still only a handful who make top-quality instruments, including Pantheon Steel; all top makers are overwhelmed with demand, and typically either have waiting lists exceeding a year in length, or use a lottery system to give away slots on the waiting lists. Interestingly, though prices for new instruments are drifting upwards and are now typically $1500 to $2000 US, the supply shortage at that price means the market price for an instrument on Ebay can be much higher -- at least double -- creating a market imbalance in which people may buy instruments and flip them for profit. The community argues over what to do about this; makers are hesitant to let the prices rise further as the instruments are already considered very expensive, but no-one wants to see speculators profit off the sale of instruments. Many makers have instituted policies forbidding the resale of their instruments above retail price, and while they have no legal authority to do so, they will refuse to re-tune instruments that were flipped in this way; this could be effective as it is not uncommon for an instrument to require professional re-tuning every five years or so.

What makes the sound so hypnotic is the harmonics. Each note rings with the fifth and octave above its base tone, due to the double-bump indentation which is carefully designed. Relative to the root note of the pan which is played by hitting the large field in the centre, the pan always contains the fifth and octave in the scale, which are placed such that they resonate when the pan is struck. The richness of the sound is due to the combining harmonics. For percussionists who express themselves rhythmically and don't play keyboard instruments, it is an amazing opportunity to generate melodies with the hands; the sounds can be calm, peaceful, and meditative, in ways that few other instruments can approach. One of the closest analogues is probably the harp, in fact. One of the makers calls their instrument the steel harp. It lacks the expressive power of the harp, as it has only seven or eight notes - only one scale - but for a hand percussion instrument, it is revolutionary.

tybeet, that performance by Liron Man always blew me away as well... so much so that I wrote to him after I finally got my first handpan in January of this year, and discovered he was going to be in Vancouver where I live; long story short, he's been giving me lessons and I count him as a friend. I am new to the handpan world, but it's got me and I suppose sooner or later I will be out there making videos of my own. If anyone wants to know about handpans I am happy to answer questions if I can. Or visit the forms at
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:15 PM on September 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

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