Updated: Dec 9, 2021
In the year 2000, a small Swiss company called PANArt invented a musical instrument called the Hang®. It was extremely rare and difficult to find. It actually took me two long years to finally get mine in 2007 (many people never got theirs) and then prices skyrocketed... I still remember when a Hang sold on eBay for more than $10,000! And to think I had purchased mine for only 600 euros... "How lucky” I thought but exclusivity is only enjoyed by insiders.
Then, one by one, people like Kyle Cox, Mark Garner and many others who were fascinated by the Hang taught themselves how to make a similar instrument. The result was not exactly a Hang but it produced the same kind of magic. It became known as the "hand pan" and through it immeasurably more people got to join in. The ability to join brought diversity of population, ideas and outcomes. Diversity led to connection and forward-motion.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love playing the Hang to this day. It’s charming and poetic and PANArt's philosophy is revolutionary in how to approach music-making. But the inventors of the Hang are now claiming copyright protection on their design which could mean the end of all handpans. It would consider handpans as mere "copies" (which, to me, is just shrinking the truth) and that doesn't seem fair after two decades.
For me, as an early Hang player who also became a part of the handpan movement, I always viewed the handpan as a continuation of what PANArt did with the Hang — not an opposition.
What do we do when ”private property” shows up where it didn’t use to exist? To be sure, the Hang was clearly a success and PANArt is worthy of respect and recognition for creating it. But the Swiss inventors could not meet the global demand for this instrument and as a result a whole art form sprung up. It seems like a non-competitive ontology where the presence of one does not negate the presence of another.
Here are some questions for all of us (makers, teachers, performers, organizers) to ask ourselves: What is the point of spreading our gift? Only when we give it away does it become art. It can only become art when we share it. When we give it to someone else, we change them, and then, they give it to someone else. Because together is better than alone.
Learn more about this ongoing legal battle at hcu.global.
P.S. Some handpan players are wondering why old-time Hang players like me are so attached to PANArt's creation. Some might say, "Aren't today's handpans better than the original?" or "Aren't the lawsuits enough to change your mind about the Hang?".
Let's put it this way: the feeling you experience when listening to your favorite childhood song isn't only about that song (or the artist who wrote it). Rather, it's about the memory of where you were or who you were with, that is, it brings you back to that period of your life when you first heard it. So it is with the Hang for me. It brings me back to those special life moments.
Others might call for boycotting PANArt products... but in doing so I would actually be punishing myself (by not playing my instruments made by PANArt all these years ago) or punishing my friends who create music with PANArt instruments.