Hang Time

One of the many joys of my somewhat Zen existence (I can only, pain-free, produce the sound of one hand clapping) is the constant novelty which it brings.

This last Thursday, on a whim (well, I still can’t ride my bike) I went to Turner Sims to see an Austrian chap called Manu Delago.  He was described as the world’s leading Hang player: I had no idea what a Hang was, but had assumed it was probably some fiendish, ancient Oriental game (or, possibly, instrument).  In fact, it is a musical instrument but it hails from the decidedly occidental town of Bern in Switzerland.  It was only made from 2003 to 2013, so is far from ancient but has, nonetheless, been consigned to history.

The Hang looks like two woks (minus their handles) that have been glued together by their rims.  The top wok has been knocked about a bit, as it has a number of dints and depressions in its surface.  The bottom wok has a hole in the centre of its base, into which a sort of chimney was at one stage inserted  The instrument is tapped, struck and stroked to produce a wide variety of tones in a similar tonal space to a steel drum.  Apparently, it acts as a Helmholtz resonator and not just as a pair of vessels for the creation of a tasty stir-fry.

Mr Delago was joined by a couple of Austrian (I assume) chums on a wide range of percussion along with voice, violin and keyboard.  The concert moved from the hauntingly beautiful to the violently rhythmic and was accompanied by projections and much more sophisticated lighting than is usual at the Turner Sims.  It was a very enjoyable and different musical evening (I bought a CD), but mostly appeared a serious, considered affair: just the occasional hint of Manu’s more mischievous side and his love of drumming really loud.

This impression did change when it came to the encore.  I had noticed during the main concert what seemed to be a coffee mug on the stage that hadn’t been tidied away, but as it transpired this was not an example of slipshod stage management.  Oh no, the mug and its contents were a key part of the first encore.  Manu and his percussionist returned with mugs (I’d only spotted one), now revealed to contain a toothbrush and some fluid (I’m assuming water) and performed a short (funny, but still musical) piece involving brushing and tapping their teeth, “popping” their mouths using the toothbrush and unexpectedly tuneful gargling.

Racism is an insidious thing and it is now clear that I had never thought of the Austrians as being funny.  This opinion will clearly have to be revised – as will the potential fun I can have in the bathroom just before bedtime.  Get your minds out of the gutter and/or your slacks, people!  I am clearly referring to dental hygiene.  I wonder if Manu would consider making his dental piece available to parents to encourage reluctant infants to keep their gnashers in tip-top shape?

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