Other-worldly, isn’t it? I came across the Hang instrument a couple years ago when my boyfriend was searching the ends of the earth to find one. He finally came across one this past week after years of searching, and is willing to bid upwards of $10,000 just to obtain this rare instrument, and he is not the only one!
Hang means “hand” in the Swiss-German dialect specific to the people in and around the capital of Berne (sometimes referred to as Bernese). “Hung” is the common pronunciation in the Bernese dialect.
Most people who first encounter a Hang assume it’s deeply rooted in some ancient culture. They’re often surprised to learn that the Hang is a contemporary instrument that was birthed around the year 2000. Though the Hang is made by two people that live in Switzerland, it’s not really a Swiss instrument in a traditional sense. The design itself suggests something strangely familiar. Some see a flower-petal, others a mushroom, a tortoise-shell, a wheel, a shield, an extra-terrestrial space-craft, a planet, a galaxy…the imagination conjures a lot of images from the Hang but usually not of Switzerland.
The Hang was created by Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer and they are the sole makers of the instrument. They formerly designed and built Steelpans from the Trinidadian culture and had a popular Steelpan Orchestra that toured throughout Europe. They were once inspired to mold, pound and shape a new design using their own Pang material, an alloy that made their Steelpans some of the highest quality available, and from this step forward the first Hang was born. They call their company PANArt, where they continue to create each Hang in their workshop on the bank of the Aare River in Berne, Switzerland.
The sounds and influences suggest the Steelpan from Trinidad; Gamelan instruments from Indonesia; Gongs, Bells, and Wind Chimes from around the globe; harps, guitars and various string instruments; piano and percussion like the clay pot Ghatam from India and the Udu from Africa. The Hang is truly a world instrument in a literal sense, with some “other-worldly” aspects as well. Still, it was conceived, brought to life, and is made in the Swiss capital of Berne.
When the hands are at their most relaxed state and come together they form the shape of the Hang. When a player is sitting upright in a comfortable position, minimal effort is required as the hands relax into the gentle slope of the Hang. Incidentally, “hang” translates as “slope” in the standard German language.
Each Hang is hand-sculpted with special hammers. The non-linear structure of the Hang offers endless pathways for hands and fingers to move and dance in a multitude of styles and positions. I’ve found that over time your hands become so malleable with the Hang that you don’t feel any separation between them and the instrument. The mind quiets as the hands take the lead…the heart responds and the hand answers. It’s like a synergistic dance that becomes a union. Like a magic lamp you can summon a powerful genie from the Hang with a gentle beckoning, arousing the elements of earth, water, fire, air and the great expanse which are all elemental in the Hang. When you play the Hang your an alchemist, transmuting a base element into an intimate encounter by allowing your hands to explore a new frontier of sound.
Many of the qualities of the Hang are available to all of us anytime. We can invite a new perspective in life when we the embrace mystery and soften our focus. Nature can help remind us of our connection to the greater whole. I hope you enjoyed the beautiful mystical sounds of the hang, let me know what you think in the comments section below!