There's More to That Story with Michael Barticel - Part 1

In part 1, it's Michael Barticel of The Good People Effect Podcast who interviews Sylvain. Originally intended to be published only under Michael's podcast, it felt right to exceptionally share this conversation as part of a two-episode series called "There's More to That Story". If you've wanted to get to know me, this is your chance.

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Podcast Transcription:

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

Today, I am delighted to bring you not one but two new podcast episodes. We're going to call it a part 1 and a part 2 but these are two different conversations I had with my new friend Michael Barticel.

Michael is the host of The Good People Effect podcast. It's a show about purpose, adventure and creativity—and it's got a whole lot of handpan stories too! Michael kindly invited me on his podcast, and we had such a good time that I asked him if he'd be willing to be on the handpan podcast. I'm so glad he agreed (that's why I'm calling the episode "There's More to that Story") and we are bringing you both conversations right here on the handpan podcast, as well as on the Good People Effect podcast.

This episode, part 1, is Michael interviewing me. So, if you've been curious to hear more of my own story, well, this is your chance. And part 2 is me interviewing Michael whose life, it seems, could be made into a movie some day. Michael is kind, humble and honest and I'm so grateful he reached out. I definitely made a new friend, and I'm excited to share these conversations with you because they were so refreshing and inspiring to me. So, here we go:

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

Sylvain: Today. I am delighted to bring you, not one but two new podcast episodes. We're gonna call it a part one and a part two, but these are two different conversations I had with my new friend Michael Barticel. Michael is the host of the good people effect podcast. It's a show about purpose, adventure, and creativity and it's got a whole lot of handpan stories too. Michael kindly invited me on his podcast and we had such a good time that I asked him if he'd be willing to be on the handpan podcast. I'm so glad he agreed. That's kind of why I called this episode. There's more to that story and we're bringing you both conversations right here on the handpan podcast as well as on the good people effect podcast. This episode, part one is Michael interviewing me. So if you've been curious to hear more about my own story, well this is your chance. And part two is me interviewing Michael whose life it seems could be made into a movie someday. Michael is kind, humble and honest and I'm grateful he reached out. I definitely made a new friend and I'm excited to share these conversations with you because they were so refreshing and inspiring to me. So here we go.

Michael: how's it going? How's life? Talk to me.

Sylvain: Good. How are you Michael? It's nice to connect.

Michael: It's great to connect. Um, I was just thinking the same thing today. I was like, here's another podcast there that also has a show that's, you know, has the hand pan as a key element. And it's, it was funny when I came across you, I was like, I really need to reach out to this guy and, and just see if we can, I don't know, have a chat. I just feel like it would be interesting.

Sylvain: Well, I'm so glad you did. Um, because it's not very often that we, uh, take a chance and reach out to someone completely new and, um, you know, whenever I've done that in my life, the outcomes and the new ideas that have come out of that have really changed the trajectory of my life. So I'm glad that you decided to email me out of the blue. I'm glad that you persevered cause uh, the summer was busy and it took me a while to get back to you.

Michael: Yeah, yeah. I totally agree with, with what you said. I mean when you, when you do kind of take those chances and go into these unknown directions and you just go with how you feel, it usually ends up being something great. So, um, yeah, I've been really looking forward to this chat today and I really enjoy your podcast, the handpan podcast. It's been a delight to listen to. Um, but I just, I guess I just wanted to, I wanted to interview you for a change because you speak to a lot of people and it's very different. Um, having like when you're as, as a podcast to be interviewed yourself, it's, it's, it's a very, it just kind of changes things up again. So how did this, I just wanted to know, like how did all this , all this journey began and, and, um, can you take me, I know it's a difficult question in some respect, but can you take me back to the beginning?

Sylvain: sure. And again, just to, I want to reiterate that it's extremely kind of you to, to ask me to be on your show. And you're right, it is kind of funny to be on the opposite side of the podcast.

Michael: Yeah.

Sylvain: Um, but, um, but it's exciting too because you're right, when you do a podcast, you don't necessarily get to share your story as much. Um, but you know, my story, um, started in a pretty unremarkable way. And I don't mean that in any negative sense, but I, I'm from France, I was born in France. My entire family is French. My grandparents, my great grandparents, you know, there was nothing international in my background. I think I never got on a plane until I was 18. I never traveled as a kid. Um, and in 2011, uh, I moved to the United States as an exchange student. And I've lived here ever since, and that's been one of the greatest adventures of my life. Um, one of the things that I'm the most proud of, it's been difficult, but, um, so much meaning has come out of this experience. Um, so that's a little bit about, uh, where I'm from and where I live. Now. You know, I think something that might help your listeners kind of get a sense for who I am because when you press the play button, you hear a new voice, you don't always know who your, who you're hearing from. Um, you know, long before, um, I knew anything about psychology long before I had a notion of, of my, my personality or temperament. You know, I think it's later in life that we develop these psychological frameworks that help understand how we see the world and how we see ourselves in it. Um, you know, I've always operated emotionally. Um, I'm of a, a melancholic temperament, uh, which means that I tend to experience very strong feelings, very high highs of ecstasy, you know, and very low lows. Um, and, and so that kinda helped, helps reframe, um, who I am and what I'm drawn to. I am very sensitive to art and beauty. Um, and one of the things that I, I, I really kind of recognize in retrospect is that I am, um, a contrarian and what this means is I'm, I'm a drawn to the unique, to the special, to the extraordinary. And, um, and as you know, you, you mentioned the handpan and I know you play the hand pan as well. We're within that realm. Right? Um, and so that's played a big, big role in my life.

Michael: So besides the handpan, where else have you, have you been able to find this kind of unique uniqueness in life?

Sylvain: You know, I am drawn to philosophy and faith. Um, I think that this life that we live, um, even though the way that we experience it is ordinary, right? The mundane routine, the daily grind, um, it is still amazing, right? Um, to think that you and I, we were created, we were born without our own permission. You know, from the day you get on this earth. Um, there a countdown not to be, you know, gloomy or anything, but it's almost like we arrived too late by the time we get here, there's already a countdown. Um, and this theme of finitude, um, is very prevalent in, in philosophy. Um, you know, so I'm drawn to these really big concepts that have no really tangible answer, but I think they do provide some value for our day to day. Um, as I said, you know, I'm drawn to the special to the unique. And so when, when life gets boring, when you get stuck, I think these bigger questions can, um, lead you to, um, a, a wellbeing, um, through, you know, primarily thankfulness and gratitude. Because even though we didn't choose this life, you know, you didn't choose where you were born when you were born. Uh, the color of your skin, your gender, your social economic background, you do live and you're here. And, um, that's all, you know, that's all I know. And we can, we can resent it or we can take it as a gift. And so this is where I find meaning in my life as well.

Michael: Like you mentioned philosophy and faith and do you feel like going away as an exchange student in any way kind of connected to that, enhance that?

Sylvain: It's an incredibly powerful and impactful experience to go study abroad or to go travel, you know, you don't have to live there or to study there. Um, what it does is, I don't know if you've ever, ever heard the image of the fish in water. So the fish is swimming in water, water is clear, it's invisible. Um, and really the fish has no idea that there's this thing called water all around him. But if you take the fish out of water, it's gasping for air. It, it doesn't know its new environment and it realizes looking back, Hey, that was water. Um, you know, I think moving abroad or traveling in general, um, or opening yourself to new experiences, trying something new for the first time, um, it does that you look back and you, you realize that what you thought was it, what you thought was, uh, maybe a universal truth. It was just water. It was just one thing and it kind of gives you a new perspective on that. Um, so it truly did that for me. Um, now you know, the whirlwind of, of, of, of emotions and inspirations and insights that you get from experience, uh, traveling or moving abroad at the time you sort of ride it like a wave. You don't interpret that, you don't really make sense of that. Um, but in retrospect you can find those themes and...

Michael: I feel like in some way, my first trip abroad, I'm not sure if it would have been the same as an exchange. I mean, I've never been on an exchange, but just traveling anywhere, it really opens you up. And I found in my own experience, it opened me up a lot towards what you were, what you were mentioning earlier. You know, this, this feeling of connection, this feeling of, you know, a growth. You're pondering these questions that you know, even if you're not, might not know the answer or the answers might seem like they're a bit of a paradox. Then just pondering the question and just kind of thinking in that kind of a way opens you up to different ideas and thoughts. But I feel, I feel like travel has in my own journey has had a real deep responsibility for that or at least has added to it.

Sylvain: Yeah, that makes complete sense. Um, did you start traveling early in your life?

Michael: I was, yeah. I started traveling quite young. I went on a few smaller trips and I was lucky enough to, yeah, get some traveling quite early. And I feel like even though I don't really remember a lot of the experiences and I, I, I know that they've kind of had some that washed over me in a way and I had some kind of residual effect.

Sylvain: Yeah, that makes sense. Cause it opens a door to something new. And I think that as much as there is value exploring what is in our own minds and understand who we are individually, um, a lot of the insights that we get on in this life are through books. So someone else's teachings through, you know, podcasts like yours, uh, you know, asking questions to a new person, getting new insight, uh, traveling, being, um, exposed to something new that questions the way you live and it makes you realize, Hey, it is possible to live another way. It is not necessary, um, to live the way I have lived. Um, so these are deep things. Um, and they're incredibly rich. Hmm.

Michael: How do you feel like your, your trajectory was changed once you encountered a handpan?

Sylvain: yeah. How much time do we have? Um, you know, when I discovered the Hang and the Hang was the first invention, which later, you know, paved the way for this category of instruments called hand pans. Um, but the Hang really, you know, in short was invented in Switzerland, uh, by a company named panart. And it was truly a discreet revolution, which is the name of a documentary that was made about the hang in 2008. Um, the, the hauling. And just to let your listeners know a little bit more. Um, although I'm sure they've heard about the hand pan before on your show, it's this incredibly remarkable instrument. Why? because it's intentional. Um, you know, a piano or guitar, um, has all the different notes in the Western scale. They're chromatic instruments. Uh, they're mechanical, they're incredibly intimidating to learn, um, and they're associated with an institutional path, you know, going to music school or conservatory. Um, the, what the Hang offered was creative freedom, um, because they didn't even call it a musical instrument. They called it a sound sculpture. Um, because I think they knew that putting labels on things can deter certain individuals from even believing they can approach this thing. Um, so the reason why this was remarkable is because by default, this was an instrument that bypassed entirely the status or the, the, the hierarchy of the music world. And it bypassed entirely the fear of doing it wrong. You know, you approach a piano today, you're afraid of doing it wrong with, with the Hang. It's a diatonic instrument. It's in only one scale. So specific only specific keys of your piano are on that instrument, which means that you can't really play a wrong note. It all sounds harmonious and beautiful and rich and layered and um, it very much aligns with this idea that less is more, you have a finite instrument with eight, nine, maybe 10 notes and out of finitude you create infinity.

Michael: Yeah, it's, it's, I've often heard you speak about this when your show, I think you spoke about it in recent episode as well. You were talking about how the simplicity of the pan, it's simple on one hand, but it's infinitely complex on the other and there's so, so many options when you're kind of confined to what you have. Um, and I do find it's quite, it's quite interesting. I've got a strange attraction to strange instruments or unique instruments or instruments that, you know, just produce a sound that I've never heard before and I really enjoy, I find that kind of connection with instruments that are easy to learn. I feel like with the hand pan, it's, it's really easy to learn, but it's obviously difficult to master. And that's something that really attracts me. I feel, I feel as though, um, when you're, when you're playing this instrument, um, your, you're making these beautiful sounds which kind of motivates you to keep going and it's, I feel like it would be a great first instrument because I feel like in some way you learn about the art of learning in a way, uh, builds a sense of discipline I guess if you're, if you're practicing regularly and it shows you the pattern of learning and I think that's one of the many, many great things about, about the hand pan.

Sylvain: Yeah, I think you're absolutely right. It's often described as a gateway instrument. It's allowed countless non musicians a chance to belong, a chance to create, um, a chance to be a part of making art. And you can't do that with any musical instrument. Then you also touched on the art of learning. I think that our world, um, has often got the art of learning or teaching wrong. You know, think about school. Um, you are taught to be competitive. You're taught to, to, you know, pass, uh, tests, you are taught to do it right. Um, you're not really taught to enjoy the process. It's kind of all about the destination. Um, and we all know that we remember very little about what we actually learned in school. But what would be really valuable is to remember and have really assimilated the joy of learning. So in a sense, the hand pan, I think especially in the early days of the Hang, it offered, um, a way for people to create simply. Um, and, and that for some of them, for me it changed my life.

Michael: Hmm. Can you tell me a little bit about how it changed your life and kind of like your first encounters with the instrument? Cause you've been playing for quite a while now. It, it's like something like 13, 13 or 14 years. Right. So that's quite a long time and it's much longer than, you know, I've even known that the hand pan or the Hang existed. Okay. I only heard about it, um, you know, probably four, four years ago. So I'm super curious to know at such an early stage of the instrument's life kind of what, how'd you guys cross paths? That's what I want to know.

Sylvain: Yeah. Yeah. And it's interesting if you use a tool like Google trends, which is a fascinating tool. If you just Google Google trends and type any sort of keyword or search term, um, you can look up the global search interests or local search interest over time for specific, um, topics or ideas or, yeah. And so for the hand pan or for the Hang, you can see that there was literally no interest nor no significant, um, interest as a trend before the year 2008. And that's when YouTube blew up. And a few YouTube videos go viral and it's kind of helped spread the word about this Swiss instrument. Um, but I guess back to your question, so, um, I was incredibly fortunate, uh, so privileged to discover the Hang, um, in its infancy when it was totally unknown. Um, and it, the handpan is still relatively unknown, but, um, I have a cousin, um, who is named David Charrier and he's a very prominent, um, hand pan player in the global hand pan community. Um, and in 2005, um, there was a, a little family reunion organized at my parents' house and he brought his Hang. So that's how I got introduced to the instrument. Um, I had a visceral, um, kind of a gut reaction about it the following night. I dreamed of the sound of the Hang all night and the next day I woke up. I was totally obsessed and I haven't had a lot of those kinds of experiences in my life, so I knew that I just had to get one. Um, they were very rare at the time. And so it took me two years to, to be able to, to acquire my Hang. And then really the reason why it changed my life, which I know sounds so cliche and so generic, but what it did is it, it empowered me. It made me believe that I could create. Um, you know, I've, I've mentioned the terms status, I, which you could think the comparison trap comparing yourself to others. I've mentioned the term fear, you know, the fear of doing it wrong. What the Hang provided me with was a, an environment totally free from status because there were no Hang players. I mean, apart from my cousin, I didn't know any other Hong players for a long time. Uh, there were, there was no community at the time. Um, you know, no cool kids and the top players and the, you know, there, there's just none of that. There was no status. And because of the nature of the instrument which I described, which is very forgiving, very intuitive, the ergonomics are, they feel very natural. It feels very natural to play. It's not awkward at all. Um, it means that there was no fear of, of doing it wrong. And so I started creating and I started enjoying the process and I developed pleasure from this, this new thing that I was able to do, which was to create music. Um, and the thing is when you do that, when you create and create some more, no matter where, what your background is or how good you are at music beforehand, or if you're not a musician, you become better. Um, you know, magically duh. Um, you do something a lot and you become better. And if really what you've invested in was the process, the joy of, of playing, then you're almost unstoppable because, um, you have, that's, that's your, your secret ingredient. That's the, the weapon that helps you to go distance.

Michael: Right. I just wanted to know how, like what kind of challenges did you face on this journey with the hand pan? Like if you were to think back, um, what kind of things did you face that kind of, you know, might've been roadblocks since you, since you began with the instrument?

Sylvain: Yeah, that's an incredibly good question. Um, you know, I just described this really high, high, right? This mountain top moment where you get vision and you're so excited. Um, you know, over the years, as I got the chance to travel with my music to put out music and to record music, to meet friends across, you know, countries and continents, and to make new connections, um, you know, I think sometimes you can lose your original spark, you know, what got you into it in the first place. Um, so there was a few things like, you know, one of the incredibly exciting experiences that I got to live is I had a couple of viral videos. Um, my cousin David and I played a lot of hung music together and uh, and in 2008 and 2009, we had a, a couple of videos. One of them is, is called Hang Insomnia Jam. Um, I think it has over 4 million views on, on YouTube. Uh, there's a few others. And so now this was fun, right? It's, it's really fun to experience a measure of success. It's exciting. Um, I remember one of these videos got re shared on Facebook by Ricky Martin modern.

Michael: Ricky Martin, are you serious?

Sylvain: Um, now that I'm into his music, but...

Michael: What do you mean, you don't like Ricky Martin? Are you serious? Cup of Life?

Sylvain: I'm not familiar with, I told you I'm a contrarian.

Michael: Cup of Life is the best karaoke song, group karaoke. Um, but yeah, sorry I didn't mean to interrupt.

Sylvain: I will listen to it after this conversation. Um, I'm sure it's gotta be good. You don't get to the top by making bad music, but.

Michael: so you reached a level of success.

Sylvain: Yeah. And so then the thing is, what got you into it was the freedom, the freedom. If the joy of playing, you know, the, maybe we'll talk about it later, but the, the tagline of my podcast is the simple joy of creating. And I hold onto that dearly because when you lose that, when you lose the simple joy of creating and you start worrying about what is expected of you, because think about it, you have a video that performs well. Well, hold on now w w what are we going to make the next video about? We needed to perform at least as as well, right? So there's these expectations. Um, there's also, um, you know, a certain sense of, of status, um, in spite of, of my own approach. I think in those early years now it's, people have completely forgotten. But I think there are a few people who put me on a pedestal, uh, because of this relative success, which quite frankly, you know, viral videos, there's no science to it. It's being at the right place at the right time. Um, it's not based on merit is what I'm saying, but I think you start infusing status and comparison and you alter with that original spark. You know what, yeah, what lit you up at the beginning. And so that leads to, um, being stuck or bored or disappointed and it brings you to this place of, of maybe cynicism.

Michael: So how did you reconnect from that place to a simple joy of creating

Sylvain: Two words? Rediscover wonder. Talk to me about that. So what got you into this thing? At first it was the beauty. You as the creativity, the freedom. Um, there's, there's an attitude of, a contemplative attitude towards art and beauty. And maybe here's an image. It might be imperfect, but, um, you know, there's a sunrise and sunset every single day for all of us. Um, I miss most sunrises cause I don't wake up early enough. But I try to catch a good amount of sunsets. You can get used to sunsets. Um, and I think that if you apply that same approach to rediscover wonder and you, you contemplate the beauty of a sunset, that by the way is, is worth, is worth remarking on it because so many people take pictures of sunsets. Like you look at a sunset, it's, it's beautiful. It's, it's awesome. But you can disconnect with that.