Sound and music are not the same. They belong to the same realm but work in different ways. Think of a square and a diamond: a square is a diamond, sideways and always. But a diamond, except in the one specific way, is not a square. In a similar way we can talk about music and sound: music is sound, always. But sound is not always music.
In the past few decades already, there has been a shift in the discourse about music and sound, when the quality of recording and reproduction has reached the point in which even the most infinitesimal aspect of each fragment of sound has been adjustable. In this time, we have evolved and become much more sensitive to the quality of sound, sometimes in detriment of the quality of the music.
We are made to move in this way and exhaust whatever we come in contact with creatively. Recently however, little by little, the dialogue between sound and music has started again, in a more balanced, more respectful way.
One of the most interesting phenomena that I have been able to witness recently has been the appearance and prevalence of the handpan, that mysterious instrument shaped like a UFO. An instrument created to produce the purest sound.
The instrument and its variations, such as the tank drum or the steel tongue drum have populated the roads I have traveled and always given me the impression that music, in them, was different than the one I have experienced as a classically trained musician.
For a violinist, it is often difficult to envision music that can be non-linear, or scales that are limited by the instrument.
During the quarantine, I had the pleasure to encounter percussionist, Max, in the balcony opposing my apartment. The first instrument that he brought out was a handpan, and I saw in it the possibility to explore a medium that I had not previously had access to. Weeks went by where we played with a street between us, improvising now and then in the lost hours of a long spring.
The experience of playing along a handpan is unique in every sense. Although its clear and full sound is already recognizable, once one enters the scale of the handpan the whole perspective changes. Notes flow in a different way as the harmonic structure of the handpan frames the music. It’s not as easy as it may seem – instruments like the guitar, the violin or the piano offer a wide range of notes allowing for infinite combinations. The handpan plays in the scale of C#, and can form different melodies and patterns with the notes that form the scale, and their harmonics.
As I was getting acquainted with the handpan, Max showed me another instrument he had brought to Barcelona. At first, I thought it was a smaller handpan, but he quickly corrected me: it was a steel tongue drum, but not quite: the instrument was called Idiopan.
A month later I held in my hands an Idiopan for the first time. Unlike what I had expected, the instrument was not as easy to play as it seemed. In order to create sound with my fingers, I had to hit each steel tongue in a specific way that became more natural as I experimented more. When I got a hang of it (no pun intended), I was surprised again by how different the relation to the instrument was, as a player. The Idiopan works in a zig-zag pattern, which breaks the visual linearity of the scale that one would have, for a clear example, in the piano. Other instruments such as the violin, or even woodwind and brass all follow the same pattern that has the lower notes to the left or bottom part of the instrument, and the higher ones to the right or top part of the instrument. The Idiopan is round and as such there is no real top or bottom, although the natural way to play it keeps the lower notes on the bottom left and the higher on the top right.
To play the complete scale, however, notes are divided by sets of two, one for each hand. Thus, the Idiopan as the Handpan become drums and as such respond to the natural flow of percussion.
The interesting part comes then when a drum allows for a melodic aspect of musical interpretation. Like the timpani or the marimba, the Idiopan can at the very least create a melodic line that interlocks with the more percussive base.
One of the characteristics that I appreciated most, being a more melodic musician and not a percussionist, is that the Idiopan can be tuned to different pitches with the help of small magnets located underneath each steel tongue. This means that, unlike the handpan, the Idiopan can create music with a wider range of chords, scales and notes. The magnet adjustment taking mere seconds, I enjoyed playing along different songs, shifting from one scale to the other with ease. I also noticed the difference when playing violin along the Idiopan, and here the scales I had access to were more akin to the ones that are used in most of the western music tradition.
It really struck me that such a full sound could come from hitting a piece of steel with my fingers, and in that same gesture I saw myself now on the other side of an instrument that I had long misjudged.
It is true the instrument does not have such a high learning curve as other instruments may have, instruments that are not within the reach of the vast majority of the population.
But creating music is a human right and indeed a smaller, more flexible handpan such as the Idiopan presents anyone and everyone with an extremely portable threshold into musical creativity.
Another aspect that I immediately enjoyed as somebody that has spent a many years appreciating and creating music was the pureness of the sound. A sound that is similar in its genuineness to that of blowing into an empty glass bottle. The contact of the hand with the steel or the percussion of the mallet on a steel tongue creates vibrations unlike any other instrument. Waves that really resonate inside as outside the body of the instrument and the body of the player. Although for some of the smaller iterations of the Idiopan the full range of volume is pretty limited, the instrument can be directly connected to a speaker or amp through a pickup located inside. The vibrations emitted by the Idiopan are transferred to the pickup which in turn transmits the sound as is to any electronic accessory or device which enables a wide range of effects and adjustments to the already mesmerizing sound of the Idiopan.
In the Idiopan I have found a tool that will allow me to get more acquainted with sounds by themselves, with percussion and with another side of music that I had previously not experienced. In the Idiopan, both rhythm and harmony rule over linearity. In the Idiopan, the squareness of both the handpan and the instruments of classical tradition are turned into a more widely accessible, portable diamond through which I can freely enter, at will, the world of both music and sound.
- Bruno Millan Narotzky - lamoodstore.com