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The History, Development and Global Dissemination of the Hang/Handpan

Wong, A CK. (2023). The History, Development and Global Dissemination of the Hang/Handpan. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


In the year 2000, a flying-saucer-like musical instrument named the Hang was invented in Bern, Switzerland, by Swiss steelpan makers Félix Rohner and Sabina Schärer.
The Hang was available briefly in several international independent music instrument shops and private resellers when introduced in the early 2000s, before it was withdrawn completely. When there were no resellers or shops stocking the Hang, those who wished to acquire one had to write letters directly to the Swiss makers, hoping for their agreement and an invitation to purchase the instrument in Bern. Although the original makers ceased production of the Hang entirely in 2013, adaptations of their original design were launched and widely distributed, all of which are generally named the handpan. These continue to flourish around the world, with more than 300 makers identified to date.

Despite the lack of support from major instrument outlets and without the advantages of global branding or advertisements, the Hang/handpan has quickly become a global cultural phenomenon, enjoying widespread popularity well beyond Switzerland, particularly in cities across Western Europe, the USA, Israel, Russia, and East Asia, including China. This dissertation examines how this non-electronic musical instrument has achieved this level of global recognition, the musical contexts in which it is most frequently found, and how the popularisation of the instrument has been largely influenced by an online instrument-centric community. By conducting ethnographic research concerning the production, regulation, and consumption of the Hang/handpan, and by investigating matters of identity construction surrounding the instrument, the dissertation illuminates the complications within and between Hang, handpan, and Trinidadian steelpan communities in a world increasingly connected by hypermobility and digitalism. Newly-developed non-electronic musical instruments such as the Hang/handpan rarely reach its popularity. This dissertation thus not only affords insights into the instrument itself, but it also provides an original contribution to knowledge on the complexity surrounding musical instrument innovation, development, and ideologies, and how these intersect with current social and legal frameworks relating to intellectual property.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General)
M Music and Books on Music > M Music
N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general
Departments: School of Communication & Creativity > Performing Arts > Music
School of Communication & Creativity > School of Communication & Creativity Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses
[thumbnail of Wong thesis 2023 PDF-A.pdf]
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