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It's All About the Sound with Spyros Pan

As an expat in the UK, Spyros was climbing the corporate ladder and living large but stress & anxiety led him to a dramatic burnout. Turning his life around brought him to a remote island where he slowly recovered. That's where he first heard about the Hang. In this episode, Spyros shares 10 years of lessons playing the handpan.

"Full Circle" Story - Spyros Pan & OG Voyager 7:

TEDx Talk Featuring Spyros:

Podcast Transcription

Sylvain: Hey, it's Sylvain and this is the handpan podcast.

Sylvain: Really quick. Let me set the stage for this episode. I was incredibly fortunate to discover the Hang through my cousin David Charrier in 2005. By that time though, it was already nearly impossible to acquire this new age instrument from Switzerland. Yet in 2007 two years later I was able to acquire my own Hang and it pretty much changed my life. Here was this 17 year old French kid who had never been abroad, taking a gap year after high school to travel the world and make new international friends and play music. I moved to a new city and during that first year I went to HangOut UK. The first ever handpan gathering located in England. There were about 25 people and everyone's instrument was in D minor. That is where I met Spyros, today's guest on the podcast. The story you're about to hear, it could be out of a movie and it reminds me of how impactful this instrument can be in someone's life. Spyros is funny and whimsical, but the lessons that he's learned and that he shares on this episode are invaluable and they're going to make you rethink your relationship to the handpan. So here we go.

Sylvain: Well, Spyros us, my friend. It is a joy to have you on the handpan podcast. Welcome.

Spyros: Hello Sylvain. It's uh, it's really great to be talking to you.

Sylvain: Yeah. It's been awhile. It's been 10 years.

Spyros: Yeah, it's been pretty much 10 years I think. Yes. Uh, the last time we met September, 2009, at the third HangOut.

Sylvain: Time flies. It's crazy. Wow. Well, um, I'm so happy to reconnect with you. Um, especially because right now we're only one hour apart from each other, in terms of time zones. Um, so I'm going to jump around chronologically, but I want to start with this. What brings you to the US and can you share what you've been up to for the past five years?

Spyros: I am right now in Farmington, Missouri, and for all those who know a little bit more about the little community are, we are in a, this is where the headquarters of Pantheon Steel are. I tried to be here, uh, the last five years on a once per year on annual base. Um, as I have been tuning for Pantheon Steel since 2014. Making the halo. The Halo is, um, how can I say, change is happening constantly. So Kyle always trying to push the art form of tuning steel one step forward every day. So working in distance because my workshop is in Athens, Greece. Uh, it's very helpful for me to be visiting here and witnessing firsthand all the new things that we do.

Sylvain: Right. Because Kyle from the beginning has always been at the forefront of innovation. I think the halo more than any other handpan combines technology and engineering, not just craftsmanship, but there's a lot of, um, high tech involved. Right. Is that part of what you're learning to use or getting up to speed with?

Spyros: Well, if, if we can say that like, eh, every handpan has two stages of production. There is the manufacturing stage and there is the tuning stage. That's how I have, like in my head, I have, I'm dividing the process. So, uh, I don't have anything to do with manufacturing. Although whenever I come here, I helped with the tasks that might be needed, you know, that we need to do. Uh, but when I'm back in Athens, I solely do tuning,

Sylvain: Okay.

Spyros: I get Halo material, I get shells that are uh, uh, just have come out of the first production stage and manufacturing stage. Uh, and then I tune them exactly the same way. They are tuned here at the headquarters.

Sylvain: Like me, you were a part of the first small group of people who were just totally in love with this instrument. And we, we thought at the time that it was impossible to tune steel. Right? We, we didn't understand it.

Spyros: Yes. It was like that. We were thinking that it's impossible to make them. I think that, um, there was this specific person or a couple who have been projecting that kind of a notion. If you want to characterize it as such, that there's only two people in the whole world who can do that and no one else.

Sylvain: Okay.

Spyros: And I think that this is perhaps why we were all thinking you know that, Whoa, wow, this is impossible. It just, just cannot happen. Then all of a sudden appears one guy who, cause I think that Kyle Cox was the first person who presented, um, you know, an alternative. Yes. I mean we would call it another Hang back back then, but that very quickly changed.

Sylvain: Yeah, the terminology became sensitive, very quickly.

Spyros: Yeah, very sensitive very quickly. But you know, like the moment you saw another instrument out there immediately, all that, all that collapse, when people started realizing, hey, this can be achieved actually.

Sylvain: And it was quite something to experience because when Kyle started producing the Halo, there was just this dire need for this instrument. There was this craving for what could not be acquired.

Spyros: So the first Halos came out 2009 or late 2008 or something like that. And I think that the time that PANArt stopped doing it was a little bit later. But yeah. Anyways.

Sylvain: It's amazing how early Kyle started. Sometimes I think we forget that. It's been, it's been 10 years. It's been 10 years.

Spyros: It's been 10 years and more. I mean it's 10 years since the Halo came out, but Kyle has been working on it before like it's not that one day he sat down and he just made it, you know, like there was some, there was some R&D research and development before and don't forget that Kyle was like, uh, he had been tuning steelpans for at least a decade before he started doing the Halo.

Spyros: Before. In the very early years you could find a Hang by walking into an instrument shop. Same way like Andi who was saying that he went into a shop into a sitting by the register and that must have been like amazing to experience. When I met it. When, uh, when I was introduced to the instrument, that already was gone and, and anyone who wanted to get one had to write a letter, but let's take it a little bit, from the beginning I was a, um, I was living in London and I was working as a human resources assistant in uh, thankfully university and not a very big company. Still. We had 8 thousand people to manage and a at the same time I was living in a squat. I was trying to experience best of both worlds. What happened is like at work I wanted to excel and get promotions and stuff like that. So I was asking my line managers to throw me stuff like test me and see how well I can do. So they were just like throwing me workload with a bucket. And then when I was going in home, a home was the place that I was sharing with another 13 people, uh, between five bedrooms and a one toilet.

Sylvain: That's a stark juxtaposition.

Spyros: I would go back home at eight o'clock in the evening, prepare something to eat, clean, wash after myself. And then go to bed, wake up in the morning and do exactly the very same thing.

Spyros: Uh, and at the same time I would see the people I was, uh, living with to be on, on, on much more laid back rhythms. They were not working as hard as I was. Uh, they had of course, much less money, but like every time I saw them, they seemed to be a little bit happier than I. Of course I could just like buy fancy stuff because you know, like I was getting a good salary, but at the end of the day, what really matters is the smile on your face. Now, the situation got a little bit more tense because work was becoming even more stressful. And, uh, I also was a volunteering in a, in a lawyer association that was providing for Free Advisory Service for people who were squatting. So I was finishing work and I was going there and I was getting into the, you know, how the law is working in England and it was all too much.

Spyros: And I would go back home and I would experience, ... And also I was in a relationship that wasn't really working. It was a little bit, uh, I don't know. I felt restricted from or everything was pushing, everything was pushing and there was no way out. So one day, actually one night I woke up in the middle of the night and I was red, all red. Uh, I had some kind of like a extreme eczema and anxiety attack. My fingers, I would look at them and they would be wrinkled as if I was like 80 years old. It was crazy. I couldn't recognize my own body.

Sylvain: Wow...

Spyros: Yeah, yeah. That was, that was, that was a lot. Um, and I had to take at least a week off from work, you know, to recover. And here is where the magic happens...

Spyros: So I quit my job in one day. I quit my relationship. I packed all my stuff and I left.

Sylvain: Wow.

Spyros: With as much money I had saved in my pocket. And I went to a little community in Madeira island up in 1,500 meter and we arrived there and they're waiting for us with a lantern. It was night, like an oil lantern and I, okay, so they show us where we were to sleep and we say, hey where can we charge our laptop? They looked at us as if we were like from another planet and they said, hey listen, uh, basically here we cultivate our own electricity. They could harvest solar energy to produce electricity that was used solely for communication purposes to go online and like make any order and stuff like that.

Spyros: So he was like, if you want to watch a movie? Here is a book, a bookshelf full of books. Pick up a book and read one. If you want to see a movie and you don't like reading books, maybe you can create some kind of a fantastical play with people here you have all the time in the world. If you want to listen to music, here's a guitar, here is a flute, just play. And I was like, excuse me, like electricity is giving us so many commodities. Great. But at the same time, if you read, if you listen to it, it also steals away from, from creativity because like you might want to listen to music and instead of playing it, you press the play button and you listen to the music of another person. It was all mind-blowing. It started like that. So when we did the little celebration for this summer solstice, so we did rehearse for a few days and we performed one song. So when the whole celebration was over, my teacher came to me and he said, do you know the Hang? I was like, the what?

Spyros: There we are on a mountain in my Madeira, in the middle of nowhere in that context that I described. And there's this guy who is telling me about a new instrument that is made in Switzerland and they looks like, uh, some like look like a spaceship, and it sounds like something you have never ever heard before. And if you want to get it, you need to find their address and write them a letter because they don't like to use instant communication and I was like, I'm like I'm living, I'm living it. I believe in the thing. It's like I am and these people introduced me to this new way of thinking and all of a sudden someone talks to me about an instrument that does that and I was like, hey, it got very, very, very, very interesting.

Sylvain: So the distribution model of the Hang at the time was perfectly aligned with that community's philosophy about approaching consumerism.

Spyros: It was, it was crazy, Sylvain. It was crazy. Like you go there and they talk to you about all these new way of being and like you know, they're just telling you that the switching, the light on and off is not something that you should take for granted. Then all of a sudden here I am with somebody telling me about an instrument that does this and that and the people who make it are like this and I was like, hey, this is just crazy. I have to follow it. I have to follow it.

Spyros: When the whole thing ended and I was ready to go back to the other world, the real world or the, you know, the regular life. Uh, I went back to England, I stayed with a friend, like a very, very good friend. And I tell him, hey, you know, like they told me about this instrument and we just have to find it. They just have to, we have to look for it. So we start searching online and this is 2007 and like youtube is not so very popular. And like, uh, after four hours of a searching, I ended up with an email address, one email address, it was, something like this. I don't remember. I found it in a forum somewhere. It wasn't even the hang, the hang forum did not exist at that time. So I decided to write an email to this address because it was, it was the only thing that I had. And immediately I get the response in three languages, English, French, and German, and they were thanking me my interest in their creation and blah, blah, blah. And they were telling me that like their work is very, you know, like detailed and, and it requires from them their complete attention so they cannot be, uh, they don't like to spend a lot of time with computers and responding to emails or phone calls and stuff. And if I wanted to get an instrument to express my interest in writing,

Spyros: I was writing for a month and a half in my head. This is very awkward. You're, you're asking me to write you a letter. You do not know me. I did not know you. So I felt I had to introduce myself a little bit. That's it. Then I would go to the post office and I give the letter to the person behind the counter and I kiss the envelope. I give it to the person. They're looking at me with like, where are you from? Where did you just come from, and I'm like, excuse me, but this must be the most important letter I have ever written in my life so far. So please take it. And I give it to her.

Sylvain: By the way, that might be the secret to why you got a Hang and the rest of us did not. You kissed the letter. So you got a response?

Spyros: I got a response yes, but like I was in, I was in Athens when I sent my letter because I, you went back for the summer, you know, in Greece. So, uh, the address to reply back was an English address. So when I go back home in England, my friend comes and opens the door and he's holding a letter in his hand and he's smiling. He opened it of course, and he's looking at me with a smile that was beyond the years and I was like, yeah. So I take up the letter and I ran upstairs to the living room and what do I see? There was a person who had Hang in our living room.

Sylvain: Wow... Who was it?

Spyros: Who was it? It was, Danny Cudd of Hang Massive back then there was no Hang Massive. Yeah, it was Danny Cudd and he was at the festival for the weekend and my friends were there. And he was searching for a place to stay because he was crossing London and he happened to meet my friend and he told him that like, hey, hey, you have a Hang and my, my best mate send the letter. And he got a reply. So naturally he came to our living room. So there I am holding a letter that says come and pick one and I arrive at my living room and there is already a guy in there playing a Hang. So yeah, it was, I dunno, it was gravitational.

Sylvain: So when you returned from that co-op you got back home in England and you got the letter, did your life change from that point moving forward? Did you go back to the corporate world or did you pursue the arts, I guess?

Spyros: No. Uh, so I wanted to follow that movement. I wanted to go and start a community with other people or go and live in an, in a community with other people. And then came the first big wall. Like, hey, how are you going to do that? Because like you want to go into a community and be part of it. And then one day the person who maybe has the land says, Hey, sorry, my plans changed. I need to sell the land or we have created something very nice, but now I have to just take it to another direction. And you know like maybe you have spent like five years of your life to create that system, self autonomous system and then you might find yourself losing it. So the only way to be safe that I can do that is to own a little piece of land.

Spyros: But like do that 30 years ago it was much easier, like cheaper, try to buy a piece of land today it's not, it's not that easy. It's not that easy. Where are you going to find the money? And like I had some money to help me live the next three months, but I didn't have

so much money to buy land. So there you have it, you have the Hand. And it was described to me as an instrument that you go in the street and you played it and people come and throw your money with a bucket.

Spyros: So I'm like, yes, this is the solution. Not only, it's like coming to me in this synchronized moment of my life. It's like this is it. I'm going to be using this instrument, going the street and play music and earn money with the bucket, and I'm going to use this money to buy a piece of land. And that was my plan.

Spyros: So, so I have the Hang and it's the first week that I have it and I'm in London and then I decide to go to the south side of the river when there is a promenade and you can walk and stuff like that, there's buskers there and I'm going to go there and play. So I go there, I make my little sign, I take, you know, like my little hippie stuff and I create a little area, you know like a little square to play music and I go there and I play music and I made 20 p in like an hour,

Sylvain: 20 pounds in our hour...

Spyros: 20 p not pounds 20 p that's the equivalent of like 30 euro cents.

Sylvain: Oh, That's really bad.

Spyros: Yes, that was really bad. And that was like 2007, not 2019 when like you know everybody, everybody, the majority of people who see you playing in the street right now and say, Hey, I know that this is like a spacedrum. It was a day, nobody knew it. You know like, and, and like I made 20 p in an hour and that was crushing.

Sylvain: Aww.

Spyros: Cause I had the expectations that you know, like hey I'm going to be having this and I'm going to go out there in the street and people are going to be throwing money at my basket. Same Way. Like people were doing that for Davide Swarup in that video in Amsterdam, he's playing and like everybody comes and ca-ching ca-ching and it was, it was a full head-on collision with a wall. Uh, first because I had to deal with a broken expectation because I thought that because I have this instrument I will be making money. And the second is because a, I was there and I made 20 p and all of a sudden I had this thing telling me, hey, how are you going to live? Because you have money for the next two months. And I didn't want to go back to the corporate whatsoever. So yeah, it was a little bit challenging. And the first thing I understood this, it's, it's not, I mean the, it's not the instrument, it's not the Hang, I mean the Hang is, is the, is the vehicle, but the vehicle to go from A to B, it needs the driver.

Sylvain: Hmm.

Spyros: Okay. So the Hang is beautiful. Or the handpan is beautiful and it sounds amazing and it's like such a wonderful thing. And yes, of course. But if you just leave it there, it does nothing. Nope. Unless it is raining. And maybe if you live your instrument on the rain, it plays music for you. And it's very very beautiful. Everyone should do it at least once. Okay. Just leave your instrument in the rain and listen to it. Um, but that's it. If you want to do something, it's not that because you, you just have it. You need to be able to express yourself with it. And when I say express yourself with it, I'm not necessarily meaning that you have to be, uh, like crazy techniques and super fast fingers and like 10 notes in a second then no, you just have to learn how to communicate what you have inside of you to the people who will listen to you, wether it is on the street. Whether it is in the room, whether it is basically anywhere you choose to take the instrument and play. It's not just because you have it and you just, you have to. And that is the, for me, the most important thing with the handpan. For me it's not technique. Yes, technique is nice and of course it's good to be able to produce many sounds and, and, and be able to do all these little things with your fingers and, and, and, and all these rhythms. But like again, this is technicality and technicality can be achieved by anyone if they spend x amount of time doing that. But technicality doesn't show me the musician because if you and I, we train every day, and we do the same technique. And you stand up and you play that technique. And I stand up and I play that technique. We see the manifestation of that technique. Okay. We see the technique. We don't see the person. So if, if, if it's all about technicality, um, it's very impressive. It's very satisfying to be able to do it. I understand it, I know it. But for me it's, it's another thing. The handpan is an instrument that is very expressive. Like even with the little touch, it can do something. So it's all about expression. And, and what I want to see from you is you naked. I want to see you there naked without anything in front of you to hide you from me. Be it technique, be it, uh, like a performance of whatever. You know, like anything fake and you can see that. You can see it. I mean, we have so many performers in all the other styles of music we have that we have, that we of course, it's, it's, it's very natural to see it in our own community as well. But what is real cannot, uh, be of any lesser value. I cannot see techniques being more valuable than expression,

Spyros: This, this philosophy that this instrument is however you play it. It sounds good. However you played. Okay. There's, there's whole, there's no instance of making a harmonic mistake because the instrument is a universe and it takes you on a journey to a specific direction. That's it. I have this covered freedom in the handpan after the 10 years of playing it.

Sylvain: Wow.

Spyros: Yeah. Yeah. Because you know, like the moment you add, you know, like I have the, I have the, so I get my Hang, I want to play something and I have this melody in my head and I want to play it on the instrument and it's missing a note. I don't have it and it's a catastrophe because I want to complete this thing I have with me and it's not happening. And you just have to understand that maybe that thing you had in your head was in your head.

Spyros: It was, it was coming from the head. It wasn't coming from the soul, the spirit, the, you know, the divine or the synchronicity. However you want to call it. It was more of a logical thing. I was singing a melody and I said, okay, now after C comes an E , oh, I don't have an E, what do I do? I want another one. I want another one!

Sylvain: So are you saying that we should approach the instrument differently?

Spyros: Ah. This is a tricky question. Um, I'm going to tell you only this thing. Uh, I think that everyone should approach this instrument in the way that will make that person be happier.

Spyros: If this means having 10 instruments around you and spend three weeks to find out where it is that you have to hit and that makes you happy or observe the word that I use is happy. It's not proud. I mean, just pure happiness for many years in my case, and this is my personal story, I have been trying so hard to become better, faster, more, uh, you know, like have more instruments in margin. You want to have another instrument? It's 2007. Yeah. Okay. And there's not, there's no one, Kyle doesn't exist. Yeah I mean he does exist, but it doesn't exist. It, uh, in the, in, uh, as, as a maker of the Halo. Yet. Okay. So you want another instrument and there you are, you have this amazing little thing into your living room. You are so lucky to have it because people are saying it's so difficult to get it and you have it. And because it's missing a note, it's a disaster. It's a disaster because I want to be making this and I have only that and how can I do that? And it's frustrating. It was frustrating because I was approaching it in such a way. And then what happens? Okay, I have another Halo. Wow. Fantastic. So I put two together and I start playing. The first thing that happened to me was like a lot of pain in my back because you have one instrument at the front of you and one instrument on the left and you need to have your arm all the time extended or your right arm extended or you jump from one to the other. And so all of a sudden, all the ergonomics of the instrument go to the garbage. There you have like a super ergonomic thing that you can put it in your lap and your hands so easily rest on it and all of a sudden you want 2, you want 3, you want 4 and you're like, yes I can play but like after one hour I feel like I have been beaten up with a, you know, like is that good? I Dunno. Does it make you happy? Well, it makes me happy. I have the instruments and I can play the things I have in my head, but like at the end I'm tired, I'm tired. Then I and I, I go to play and it's not playing, it's a, it's, it's practicing to play the same thing again and again and again and again. And what does that differ from playing a piano or violin and guitar and whatever. It doesn't. So all I'm saying is if that makes someone happy, of course you can do anything you like. Does it make you happy? If it makes you happy for me, this is, that's it. You know, that's it. So after 10 years, I'm just trying to play with one. One. And it makes me feel good.

Spyros: The people who came up with the Hang, PANArt, started with 8-noters and then they went to 7. Okay. Uh, I don't think that they went to the 7 notes because they wanted to work less and finish the instrument area and say, Ha, okay, I've done it in two hours quicker. There is a, there was a reason why PANArt started from 8 and went to 7 and there was that. If you have seven nodes in the tone circle and one note in the center, uh, you have more space between each note.

Spyros: Uh, which means that you have less interferences, uh, thus you have better quality of sound. Okay. And remember, remember it was all about the sound and anyone who has forgotten it. I, I asked them again to go back to the start. Everything about the Hang was the sound. It was the sound. It was of course how it looked. Okay. And it looks really cool. It's like a spaceship. Okay. But everything behind it was the sound. So what captivated everyone was how this instrument sounds.

Sylvain: Hmm.

Spyros: And nothing else. So PANArt went to seven and seven is very restrictive because you have only seven notes. And when I was there at the HangBau Haus, I don't remember if it was Sabina who told me or if it was Felix, but they told me, you live in the planet. The planet has a definite, uh, you know, you cannot go beyond your planet. You have a circle that you are confined yourself in. The resources you have on this planet are finite. So you don't have infinite resources. You have that amount of water, that amount of trees, that amount of land you can cultivate. You know, this is it. You live in a restricted the situation. Okay? This is the Hang. It has seven notes. Okay? You cannot do anything more than that. Take it and create the infinity. So it's a bit contradictory, you know, like create the infinity out of a restricted situation. And that is magic.

Sylvain: Any closing thoughts you'd want to share on, um, what you're up to in the near future or any projects you're working on?

Spyros: The biggest project of my life so far. Uh, um, uh, expecting, uh, with my wife we are expecting a child this May.

Sylvain: Oh congratulations!

Spyros: Thank you. Thank you. Very, very, very, very happy about it. It's like, yeah, this is an official announcement. I think it's the first time I openly say something about it. Yeah. So this is a very, very big project lying in front of us, so we'll see. Yeah.

Sylvain: Well thank you. Spyros um, best wishes for your first child coming soon. Safe travels back to Greece and I really hope that we can talk again soon, but thanks for being on the handpan podcast,

Spyros: Sylvan. Thank you very much for hosting me. I'm looking forward to seeing you again, my friend and play a little bit. Bye-bye.

Sylvain: I'll just close this episode with this. This conversation with Spyros sparked my interest in the original and intentional design of the Hang. To be honest, I hadn't thought too much about it until recently. This idea that PANArt or decided to go down from eight to seven noters because it would improve the sound. That uncompromised magical acoustic sound. So I'm going to dig up the old Hang Pamphlet and the book that PANArt later published to go down that rabbit hole. If you want to be a part of their conversation, please join me on the handpan podcast community. I'll be posting my findings there. The had been podcast community is a Facebook group for us to connect and to bounce ideas on the many themes we touch on through the podcast. As a reminder, you can also pick up merch at the handpan, there are three amazing designs made by my friend Jef Cain, who's a brilliant graphic designer and illustrator. The most popular one is a wacky illustration of a green alien playing the handpan. Thanks everyone who already ordered one. Your purchase helps support this ad free podcast and if you want to check out the merch you can simply go to the and click merch.

Sylvain: That's it for this episode of the handpan podcast. Thank you for listening and talk to you in the next one.

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