On the banks of the River Aare, close to the city of Bern, Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer have found worldwide recognition for their new musical instruments.This content was published on May 11, 2001 - 13:35
The Pang family of instruments, produced by the PANArt company at their small factory, draws on their experience of developing the steel drum in Switzerland for the past 25 years. Their success is such that they're even selling the instruments in the drum's traditional home, Trinidad.
The new family of steel instruments has not gone unrecognised, with one of its eight members, the Hang, taking last year's Bavarian state prize for technical innovation and causing furore at Frankfurt's music fair.
"The Swiss are fascinated by the sound of the steel drums. There are more than 200 steel pan orchestras in the country," Rohner told swissinfo.
The new instruments are made of special steel and have a much different sound from the traditional steel drum.
"We developed a technology with higher rigidity, better geometry and better control of the sound for European ears," Rohner explained. "We approached scientists, engineers and even philosophers and they formed a circle of people to help us make this revolution."
The star of the Pang family, the Hang, came about after a musician visited PANArt's factory with an Indian gatam, an instrument made out of clay. "The musician gave us the idea to develop an instrument in steel which could be played by hand and the Hang was born," Rohner said.
It consists of two spheres of special steel fixed together. The notes are tuned in the upper sphere and in the lower sphere there is an opening.
"We've worked hard for 25 years and now we've translated the steel drum into our culture. The Hang is a wonderful global instrument but it's Swiss and the Swiss will play it the best, I'm sure," Rohner said.
However successful PANArt will be with the new generation of instruments, Rohner and Schärer are keeping their feet on the ground when it comes to making money.
"We are pioneers or inventors of instruments rather than big business people," Schärer said.
Rohner said that many people have asked if the Hang is patented. "We can't do that because we don't have the money. We can't control it, so we have to be fast. We're not here to produce thousands a day but what we can do is sell our know-how," he said.
The company has sold 150 Hangs (for SFr490) since their introduction three months ago. Musicians are buying them and also people who regard the instrument as a form of therapy.
"The steel drum is now on a higher level and that's really a fantastic story. We like to integrate economy, art, science and even spirituality in an ecological way. We learned that through the steel pan," Rohner said.
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