In the year 2000, a small Swiss company called PANArt invented a musical instrument called the Hang®. It became an immediate success and the new soaring demand for Hanghang made it extremely rare and difficult to acquire one.
And then... prices skyrocketed:
I still remember when a Hang sold on eBay for more than $10,000 USD! Wow! And to think I had purchased mine for only 600 euros... "How lucky” I thought but I have come to realize 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. It was the beginning of the handpan era...
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 a direct opposition. But in 2020 the inventors of the Hang claimed copyright protection on their design which could mean the end of the handpan as we know it. Copyright protection would consider handpans as mere "copies".
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 rising 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.
Learn more about this ongoing legal battle from the:
P.S. Some fellow 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 and PANArt?".
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. The steel on your lap doesn't care either way.
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.