Updated: Oct 23, 2018
David had never played a handpan in person before he taught himself how to build one. Special conversation recorded live at the Samadhi Soundscapes workshop in Glasgow, Scotland.
Sylvain: Hey it's Sylvain and this is the handpan podcast.
Sylvain: Joining me in this episode is my friend David at Samadhi soundscapes whose story of persistence teaching himself how to build handpans before he had ever played one in person is awe-inspiring. David lives in the city of Glasgow in Scotland. That's where I got the chance to meet him to visit his workshop and to record this episode. As a true artist it seems like David is interested in everything. His workshop is like a museum of playful creativity. Of course there are handpan shells and hammers everywhere but you might also find a captain of America shield that he handcrafted for his kids and even beautifully-sculpted wooden wands like Harry Potter that he makes. It's truly fascinating. So let's jump right in to a conversation with David at Samadhi soundscapes.
Sylvain: David welcome to the handpan podcast. And thank you for welcoming me to your workshop here in Glasgow in Scotland.
David: You're very welcome. It's nice to be here and nice to have you here.
Sylvain: Thank you. Yeah, so we're in your shop outside of Glasgow and we got a chance to look around and play your instruments. You have a really interesting story on how you got to start playing and building, and those are interconnected in your life. I'm curious to hear what drew you to the instrument first and what made you want to build it yourself.
David: Well in 2002 in Barcelona I was on holiday and I could hear this wee plinky-plonky noise somewhere and it took me and my wife about 30 minutes around the backstreets of Barcelona to find where the sound was coming from. And then when I saw it. I was like oh, what is that? I've never seen one of these before. The usual thing that every one of us went through when we see or hear a handpan or a hang. And that was 10 years after that, it had been on my mind. But ten years after that I decided yeah I think I'm going get one of those one. It'd be quite good. But what I didn't realize was how hard that would be in 2012 to acquire one in here in Scotland. I didn't even know if anybody here in Britain had one. You know I'd never seen them here. So, I spent probably most of that year, researching all about them, watching videos on YouTube and trying to get myself one. But I didn't have a lot of money at that point you know I still don't but at that time I had even less and there was just no way I could get one, I could afford one for the prices that one asked for. I mean, I think I saw a first gen Hang for ten thousand dollars or something.
Sylvain: And back in 2012, there were only five or six builders back them.
David: That's right. Well, Mark from Saraz had just sort of come onto the scene at that point which was cool because I was looking on the forum, the handpan forum, handpan.org, and there was loads of wee tidbits of information there, for example Victor would give a couple of cryptic clues and how something was produced. But then Mark came him and he started to spill the beans and you know he started to say well you should maybe put it at this temperature, you know. I read everything on there. And by the end of 2012 I was I was hammering a piece of steel with a hammer that I bought from a local store and the journey began.
Sylvain: By that point you still didn't own a handpan.
David: No I'd never touched one. Never played one but knew I could. I don't know how knew about it. I just kind of felt that this was meant to be. This was meant to be. I was meant to be involved in this somehow. So I just kept hammering away, hammering away and eventually I bought the tools I thought I needed, like the jigs needed to hold rings. I got rings made up by my local fabric here. Got it all wrong. Got all the wrong sizes. I mean at one point I remember freeze-framing David Waples' video and thinking "his finger looks the same size as mine.. so let me just measure his finger and measure the tone fields. Okay, that looks like 7 centimeters. So I guessed everything and I got it all wrong and I continued to get wrong for, well for a couple of years. But the lessons that taught me were were invaluable. You know absolutely invaluable.
Sylvain: As you just shared there's been a lot of trial and error in the process.
David: Mostly error.
Sylvain: And you're about six years into it. Yeah. What I love about your story is that. You're still at it and you're smiling and you're enjoying yourself. It's very hard. It seems like a very hard journey but you're getting joy out of experimenting and making these instruments.
David: It's taught me so much that so much I've learned from and not just about how to hammer steel or how to tune a note, it's taught me things like patience which took some error, it is my life you know. And when you get to the end of your tenth prototype that you've made, when you finally managed to get tone fields and then with the last blow with the hammer, you split the ding. There's a lesson there, you know and you would think that you would go crazy and forget it and leave everything and go away and go back to job again. But it drives you on and you just think OK and I've learnt not to hit that quite as hard. So next time or maybe adjust how you use your tone fields presses you know. And also all the wee things that I've learned have helped me do all the other things, that we're talking about, all the things that I do in my life whether it's the band or I make the wooden wands, all these things have stemmed from being able to build handpans and so there's no, although there's been lots and lots of mistakes, it has been nothing that has been detrimental. Everything's been a good lesson for me.
Sylvain: Did you grow up in a family that was very handy. Were you good at building things from a young age?
David: My family, we are not handy, no. My father's DIY skills were legendary for being terrible but I'm handy, I can build things and yeah if there's something that needs done, I can usually work out how to do it and I love working things that, problems. In the early days when I was trying to work on how to hold a piece of steel together together, how do you do that. How do you hold a piece of steel so that you can hit it with a hammer without it moving. I remember lying in my bed at night working through the problems or how to do that. And there's been so many wee things like for instance how to do my tuning station, how I would make that so I could spin my shell when when I've got to do that., and loads and loads of wee problems it and I enjoy that, I actually enjoy that. So nobody in my family were very handy but my brothers are both musical as well.
David: We've had this thing in our family where we all love singing and playing something so at Christmas time and New Year, we would all get together and sing at parties and we've all been blessed by have a wee ear for music. So that was what made me go for it. I think I said to you before that when I chucked my job and said to my wife "I'm going to chuck my job to build these things I've never played or seen in real life". She was totally supportive. God bless her. She didn't know then what she knows now but I kind of had the feeling that because I was a wee bit handy because I had I had a good ear, that's the two things that you really need to be a be a builder, and persistence. If you get persistence and I just never give up I'll just keep going keep going keep going until your arm falls off or I get it right. So far I still got two arms.
Sylvain: I love your story and I think it perfectly aligns with kind of the vision for the handpan podcast which is to experience the simple joy of creating whether it's creating music or creating instruments or you