I’ve been making a concerted effort lately to keep the door of my self-absorbed busy-ness open just a crack so occurrences like that can get in and find room in my soul.
Just this morning I was blessed with such a moment.
I’d stopped—part of my usually mindless morning routine—at my favorite coffee shop for my extra-strong latte. As I chatted with the barista, I noticed they were playing some of the most exquisite music I’ve heard in a long while. And, I thought, what a fine, life-like audio system they must have.
I asked the barista if she knew what was playing or if it was just part of a stream from Pandora or Spotify. She pointed over my left shoulder to a young man sitting and holding what looked like a two-and-a-half-foot UFO in his lap.
As he tapped his hands deftly around the top of the lens-shaped instrument, the sounds he produced had an airy, crystalline brilliance somewhat like those of Caribbean steel drums. It might have been the improvised tone sequences he played, but I also sensed something of the otherworldly mystery of Indonesian gamelan music.
Often Travis seemed to be more stroking
than striking the hand pan.
The affable musician introduced himself and we talked as he continued playing effortlessly. Travis Wright was eager to talk about his instrument—he called it a hand pan—it’s origin and crafting, and the music. He said the incredible colors were a product of the annealing of the steel during the piece’s crafting.
Surprisingly, the hand pan—or hang—is one of the new kids on the idiophone block. (An idiophone is an instrument that produces sound by its own vibrations rather than those of strings, reeds or membranes.) It was developed in 2000 in, of all places, Switzerland.
Travis explained the unique, exotic tonal qualities of the hand pan, demonstrating how sound vibrations a tap of his fingertips creates on one part of the top move around within the instrument and draw out complementary tones from other parts. He can even create the same kind of etherial “harmonic” notes a guitarist achieves by lightly tapping a string with one finger just as she plucks it with another.
I was surprised at how light a touch it took to generate sound. Often Travis seemed to be more stroking than striking the hand pan.
I asked him if he has a CD or performs formally anywhere. Alas, he said he didn’t—yet—but steered me to some wonderful YouTube examples of other musicians’ fine hand pan playing. Here’s ONE.
There’s more information on the development and use of the hand pan HERE.