The Oval, The World’s First HandPan Controller
If you’re anything like me, then you were probably mesmerized the first time you heard a Hang. This relatively new and already legendary acoustic instrument has a fascinating backstory that revolves around its eccentric creators, Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer of Bern Switzerland. Much of what I’ve heard personally of the story revolves around the scarcity of the early instruments, and the efforts by players and instrument-makers alike to get more of them made and into peoples hand’s.
Thus, it was not a complete surprise when on my way to Sonar last month, I was contacted by the makers of The Oval: the first controller (and dedicated sound-generating software) based on The Hang. When an acoustic instrument is scarce and expensive, why not make a controller version of it? I was skeptical at first, knowing from first hand experience how difficult it can be to represent acoustic instruments with digital controllers. After I played it at Sonar however, I became thoroughly convinced of the quality, expressivity, and the great relevance of The Oval.
Most interesting to me was how different it feels to play the harder composite triggers compared to the more common rubber triggers found on most percussion controllers. Not only does it make for a convincingly real “steel” feel (The Hang and other similar HandPan instruments and made from hammered steel), but it allows for a different range of playing techniques, and what felt to me to be an extremely natural and responsive control surface for percussive sounds.
I had a long talk with several of the creators of The Oval. I’m very impressed with all the thought and attention to detail that has gone into every aspect of its design and launch as a Kickstarter campaign. This is a truly deep and expressive instrument from a new company that, if you’re interested in HandPans, deserves your support.