Interview: RAV Vast – The Story, Handpans vs. Tongue Drums And What’s Next

RAV TeamRAV Lab is a Russian company, well known for its RAV Vast tonal percussion, somehow inspired to the famous Hang Drum.
We enjoyed our RAV Vast so much (see our RAV Drum review) that we couldn’t help but ask the RAV team some questions about their unique instruments, the story of the company and what’s next.

A big thanks to Kirill Voronkov for his precious help with the interview, and to Viktoriya Kutdusova for her assistance.

-Can you tell us how did the RAV story start?

The founder’s name is Andrey Remyannikov. It’s a whole big story about him inventing the RAV. He got an engineer education and worked in a factory. He was really into handpans and wanted one for himself but couldn’t afford it, so he started thinking about making his own instrument.

Every month he was spending money and time into research and trying his best to make prototypes. After 2 years of work and about 15 different models, he finally got to the RAV that we produce today.

RAV - Hang

-I can only assume that the Hang has been a huge influence on your work, like for many other makers. How does your steel drum compare to those instruments, and what makes it stand out?

The Hang was surely a huge inspiration source. We didn’t want to make a copy though – the aim was to invent something new. Although a RAV and a handpan might seem pretty similar at first sight, there are few key differences between the two:

First of all, it’s the appearance and construction. What’s different in RAV Drum is that it combines the concepts behind handpans and tongue drums. The instrument uses cut keys as opposed to the hammer tuned Handpan, which is not cut or welded in any way.

The sound is different too. Handpans have a more percussive nature with a slightly brighter metallic sound while RAV is more of a melodic instrument, thanks to its super long sustain. The thing is, each RAV tongue has 4-7 notes tuned into it – that’s where the sustain comes from. RAV has a deep resonance and profound reverb effects where the sound lasts for a long time while the Hang/handpan sound goes for a much shorter duration.

Thus, even melodies you create on those instruments, would usually sound different. Handpan players tend to play much faster and use more of a percussive approach, while RAV is great for more mellow melodic tunes.

Another factor to keep in mind is durability. RAVs are more durable. It’s a fact. Our drum doesn’t suffer from hot weather (some handpans do), which makes it more convenient for traveling and playing outdoors. Also, as we all know, handpans may go out of tune once in a while. RAV doesn’t need to be tuned up ever. Well, of course, there are exceptions to that rule, but unless you’re going to hit your RAV with some kind of heavy stuff, or drop it from stairs, it’s going to be okay😀

– RAV is based in Perm, Russia. Does Perm’s rigid weather somehow affect your quest for a warm, intimate sound?

Interesting theory! Maybe there’s some truth to it. Winter lasts too long here. It practically starts in November and ends in March. Sometimes it’s snowing during April too. That’s pretty tiring, I should say, so yes, I guess the demand for warmness, sunny weather and that mellow watery sound of RAV occurs subconsciously in every one of us, especially during wintertime.

– How long does it take to make one of your percussions and what’s the most complicated step in its production?

It takes about two weeks to get one drum done. Thankfully we’re optimizing and improving our workflow all the time, so every production step is getting done faster and faster. The most complicated step is tuning a drum, I’d say. There are steps that require a lot more time than tuning, but they’re mostly standard and pretty much automated. Tuning is an operation that requires a lot of patience and concentration.

– RAV Drums are available in a good number of scales. Will you keep developing more scales or are you also considering the idea of an ‘Integral RAV’, a sort of ‘universal’ instrument that goes beyond the scale concept?

Sure, our research team is always eager to work on new scales! It just takes time to come up with a scale that a) would sound perfect on our instrument, b) would fit other scales that we have in our range and c) would be unique compared to others. It’s a huge selection process. We actually limited the number of scales. It’s very easy to make like 30 scales which would sound almost the same. We want every tuning to stand out so you really have a choice between different instruments. Nonetheless, I should say that we have a little surprise for those who are waiting for a new scale. I assume you mean a chromatic scale under the “integral RAV”. That, I think, can be done, but not now. Maybe sometime in the future!

By the way, we work hard on new products too. I think many of our customers are already aware of the RAV Sax, the innovative saxophone which can be played intuitively. We wanted to release it a while ago, but decided to take some time to make a perfectly sounding instrument. It’s still coming, but we want to make sure that we release a decent product.

– RAV Drums, as well as handpans, are often described as meditative/healing instruments. What makes them really special among other instruments, in your own words?

It’s all about the sound. It has a certain peaceful, calming and meditative quality to it. Not only that – it’s really unique. When I first heard it, I realized I never heard anything like this before. You can’t get this sound out of anything else.

Appearance plays a huge role too. RAV Drums and handpans look unusual and even those who are not into music are curious about them. When people see a thing looking so unusual making such cool noises, they want to try it themselves. That is what’s so appealing about those instruments.

– What’s the most unique feedback you ever received about your percussions?

We receive awesome feedback practically from every client so it’s hard to choose one. Although I have a nice little story to tell about one of our customers. The guy was homeless at the time, struggling on the streets. He got a RAV somehow (I still don’t know how he managed to get it) and when he got it, he started playing on the streets, grew in a decent street musician and raised money to buy new instruments. Now he also has a pretty successful YouTube blog. He literally rose from the very bottom when he got himself a RAV. Very inspiring!