In the early 2000s, I fell in love with the sound of the Hang, a unique tonal percussion created in Switzerland by PANArt. Over the years, this instrument has become ubiquitous. You would see it in the hands of world-famous percussionists as well as in those of (lucky) buskers. Not surprisingly, the Hang generated a huge number of imitations (and sample libraries – this one’s my favorite!) and wildly exceeded its makers’ expectations. In 2013 PANArt announced the Hang would no longer be made. Long story short, the Hang was gone (you would only find it at crazy prices on eBay and similar websites).
In the meantime, a number of artisans and makers kept honing their skills, creating new beautiful percussive instruments somehow inspired to the tonal qualities of the Hang (and yet different enough to stand on their own).
One of them is Andrey Remyannikov, the founder of RAV Lab, a Russian-based company. In the last few months, I had a chance of spending some time with one of their RAV Vast (or RAV Drum, same thing), and I was immediately hooked.
Computers and electronic instruments are great, but to me, there’s nothing more refreshing than interacting with an acoustic instrument to find inspiration. And the RAV Vast proved to be a great source…
Wait, What’s a RAV Drum?
A RAV Drum is essentially a steel tongue drum, with a large Ding at the top and 8 tongues around it. The RAV Drum is available in a number of scales – mine is a B Rus, if you’re wondering.
I received my Russian ‘flying saucer’ in the sturdiest packaging I’ve ever seen. These guys clearly know what they’re doing! Once I was able to crack that ‘shell’ open (I think it took me over 15 minutes!), I started getting familiar with the RAV Vast.
I’m not a trained percussionist, but with the help of some YouTube videos, it didn’t take me long to get the hang (ops!) of it – after a few hours, I was already getting some wonderful tones out of the instrument.
That doesn’t mean you’ll become the new Manu Delago overnight, but the design of the RAV Vast makes it relatively easy even for beginners to create lovely melodies and patterns.
How Does It Sound?
The RAV Drum – while not being technically a handpan – sounds gorgeous. Warm, lush and soothing are the first words that come to mind. Words can’t do it justice though. Here’s a lovely recent tune from Daniele Rebaudo:
And here a masterful performance by Nadishana:
I can definitely see why these instruments are often used for meditation and music therapy. After a while, their sound ‘sucks you in’. In a way, it’s like what we often experience with a modular synth patch. The difference here is the ‘heightened’ physical interaction that makes your whole body ‘resonate with the instrument’.
Also, these percussions are surprisingly versatile. Using different techniques with your hands (nails included!), it’s possible to get a rich palette of tones. This video is a good introduction:
I’m An Electronic Musician, Why Should I Get One?
You might wonder ‘I’m not a percussionist and I’m certainly not a busker. Why would I need something like this if I’m an electronic music producer?’. Well, first of all, because as said the RAV Vast has a unique, inspiring sound. Whether you’re a beatmaker, a sound designer, a producer, a quality sound source like this is always a good asset for your sonic portfolio.
Now, given you likely already have a DAW, some mics and sound processing tools, the next step is easy: integrate something like the RAV Drum into your tracks, sample it, mangle it, loop it – so many possibilities! Here’s a Four Tet track from his latest album, where guest artist Tom Baker’s handpan takes the spotlight. You’ll get the idea…
Price and Other Info
Let’s say you’re sold. You’ve decided to buy a Hang or something that resembles the sound of a handpan. I bet you would also like it to be affordable. Well, I have some bad news and some good news for you. The bad news? Handpans and quality steel tongue drums don’t come cheap. Also, they are often hard to get. Some manufacturers have (very) long waiting lists.
I don’t know about you but personally, I don’t have that kind of patience. When inspiration (or GAS) strikes, I appreciate those companies that are able to provide a reasonably fast and solid service. This was the added value of my experience with RAV. Not only they have fantastic instruments with a great quality/price ratio, but they also have a responsive sales team and a relatively quick turnaround time.
So, here’s the good news. The RAV Drum (or RAV Vast) is available directly from the RAV website and various retailers worldwide. At the time of writing, on the RAV website prices start from €585 (up to €765 for the most recent E Low Pygmy) + custom fees. FYI: until the 10th of June, if you order from their website you’ll also get a nice protective bag for free. Just mention the code ‘audionewsroom‘ while chatting with the team on the RAV website.
If you have questions, check out their videos and their FAQs, you’ll find plenty of helpful information there.
Heads up: the thing is, if you get a RAV Drum, there’s a good chance you’ll soon want another one with a different scale. Again, it’s a bit like with modular synths. This is addictive stuff! Oh well, let’s see how long I can resist…