Every instrument we make is hand-built. The material we use to build our instruments is a nitrided, low-carbon steel, hand-hammered to create beautiful acoustic properties. We have come to understand the building process as idiosyncratic: each instrument in part determines its own path to completion. Our central aim is to create instruments with character having notes that are soft to the touch and vibrate freely. Thus, we take a whole-instrument approach to tuning, creating balanced instruments with an emotive quality that are fun to play.
A handpan is a musical instrument made of steel and played with the hands. It can trace its origins to the steel pan instruments developed in Trinidad and Tobago in the 1940s. The essential shape fixes two bowl-shaped sheets together to create a resonant sound chamber.
The elliptical shapes apparent on the top half of the instrument are tone fields. They are worked into the upper shell using a series of hammer blows so that each tone field produces the sound of a note. The work of a handpan tuner is to take a rough-hewn tone field and very precisely manipulate the metal to bring three distinct frequencies into alignment. Perfect alignment among the frequencies produces a good-sounding note. The relationship among the frequencies on a given pan may differ, but in general each note resonates with a fundamental tone, an octave, and a fifth.
Music played on a handpan has an affective, resonant quality that some say sounds ethereal or even haunting. As instruments, they are accessible to those just learning music, but versatile and complex enough to challenge and inspire even the most accomplished musicians.
Through theoretical research and practical experimentation, Isthmus Instruments has developed an instrument-building process that can turn a simple sheet of metal into an acoustic work of art.
What's that... Isthmus?
Madison, WI, where I live and work, is located on an isthmus. To me, conceiving of the Isthmus as a "land bridge" underplays the importance of water to the city and its people. Madison is more like a bridge connecting two incredible bodies of water; it is a special location. Like Madison and its lakes, my instruments are two bodies joined together that produce a sound some say evokes water itself. I find these instruments have an amazing ability to link together people who come from many different geographic locations.