It was at the mighty Shambala festival back in 2013 that I first became aware of the new instrument called the Hang, a steel drum-like thing created in Swiss music laboratories. My friend, Phil, had seen the Hang Massive play somewhere else that festival season and highly recommended that we nipped into a late night tent to watch them whilst allowing ourselves to drift in and out of sleep. It was a beautiful, beguiling experience. I wrote about it in this review here.
I confess I’ve not followed the development of the instrument much since. But a quick scan of Wikipedia pages suggests that a tense and intriguing business battle and sometime legal challenge has sprung up around the name. The reluctance of the makers of the Hang to allow others to adopt the name has led to the creation of other similar instruments; handpans and pantams. Who would have thought that an instrument with such a chilled, relaxing sound could generate such intense, muso-political debate?
It’s not my job to stoke those embers (though I do think the instrument’s early history could make for a really quirky Netflix series). Jonny Ong is the subject of today’s Sonic Breakfast post and he’s forged a reputation for himself in the murky world of the handpan. The multi-instrumentalist from Singapore was inspired to pick up the instrument after seeing one being played by a busker on the streets of Amsterdam.
And sure enough, the opening segment of Jonny’s latest track, ‘Taking Silence’, features the reassuring tones of the handpan. Before long though, this dynamic collaboration with a Singaporean singer-songwriter, Inch, blossoms out into all sorts of other avenues. We get funky brass and an almost-indie guitar-based climax. It all makes for an exciting musical cacophony.
“On my previous albums, I’ve focussed on the handpan – this time, I wanted it to be all about the songs,” says Jonny. “I wanted it to feel cinematic. That’s why I went for a lot of strings and horns.”
The video for ‘Taking Silence’, an animated adventure exploring life under the ocean simply adds to the psychedelic fun. Hang The DJ.