Sunday, May 17, 2015

Pans and Perspective with Daniel Waples

I originally composed this interview for publication on my company TerraTonz's blog. Enjoy!

Daniel Waples attends Alex Grey visionary arts event in GA.
Daniel Waples and his agent arrived at TerraTonz headquarters a couple weeks prior to Christmas 2013. They came in from the cold and were greeted exuberantly by my 5-year-old after the nighttime rehearsal of her school play. Visibly excited by Daniel’s effervescent personality, signature locks and lovely British accent, she engaged him in immediate conversation about her role as a pink pig and unloaded a barrage of cheerful questions about his name and age. During this conversation, I made two important discoveries about Daniel Waples. First, he genuinely lacks pretense, possessing instead a distinctly compassionate interest in people. Second, at almost 30, he was on the precipice of what some people call The Saturn Return, which (New Age notions of astrology aside), is widely regarded as a time when people give deep consideration to how the way the world sees them correlates with the way they see themselves. It was a few days into Daniel’s visit that I made my third observation: The man sincerely loves music and is keen on finding it everywhere.

During his visit, I witnessed Daniel unleashing the songs held within a double barrel stove, a glass bowl and an old handsaw. His more formal skills as a multi-instrumentalist extend to guitar, Djembe, snare drum and bass drum. However, it is of course with the Hang that he has most powerfully distinguished himself. In 2013 alone, Daniel, performing as Hang in Balance, appeared in over 20 countries across three continents, gave two TEDx talks, released two studio albums, made his previous recordings available on iTunes and achieved 1 million YouTube views for his video Solo Hang Played in a Tunnel.

Beginning with an authentic PANArt Hang tuned to what has now become known as the Waples Scale, Daniel has recently begun exploring the work of the HandPan makers whose instruments owe homage to PANArt’s innovation. His introduction to TerraTonz occurred rather organically when he played one of our instruments after connecting with its owner in Dubai. This owner later wrote to us sharing her enthusiasm for her new instrument and a private video clip of Daniel and our pan. Honored that he’d touched it, we had no idea he would soon be at our door.

While in Georgia, Daniel performed in Atlanta at the Third Annual Visual Arts Fair featuring internationally acclaimed visual artist Alex Grey, visited the banks of KnottaLotta Lake (where TerraTonz plans to make its future home) and accompanied me on a brief road trip to the Chattanooga, Tennessee, airport where he would board a flight to New York. In route to the airport, conversation unfolded like the road before us, with Daniel doing most of the talking. As I was at the wheel, I listened closely to him tell stories of his upbringing near London, his experiences with world travel and his ongoing relationship with music.

Daniel said, “As a child I never really was very artistic. I kind of found dot to dot more entertaining than having a blank piece of paper and creating something.” With this statement, it struck me that Daniel has two great gifts. First, he recognizes what’s already there but goes largely unnoticed. Second, through his music and personality, he allows others to begin to see it too. As for me, here are three of the insights I gleaned from connecting the dots about HandPans and life thanks to my time with Daniel Waples.


1. Luck happens naturally.
Daniel credits his early interest in music with his father’s habit of playing guitar in the moments when he was off work as a firefighter and Daniel and his siblings weren’t “being little terrors.” Following his parents’ divorce, Daniel says he began playing guitar as a way of connecting with his father’s energy. One night, while playing electric guitar with an amplifier by his bed, Daniel recalls giving himself an unintentional sound bath and becoming filled with vibrational energy. “It happened naturally, and I was quite lucky,” he says.

Later in our conversation, it occurred to me that luck is something which, while seemingly coincidental good fortune, often happens when a person is living in greatest accordance with his or her personal nature. For example, Daniel says the most common comment about how he acquired his Hang is that he is quite lucky. Considering PANArt’s practice of having people apply for the Hang and Daniel’s total lack of knowledge of this practice, it’s easy to see why he receives the feedback he does. However, Daniel was simply acting in harmony with his heart when he contacted PANArt. He wrote a sincere letter of inquiry communicating his desire to have an instrument which would balance his personal energy with “the feminine touch of melody.” His authenticity was natural and clear.

2. Balance has many faces, and some resemble HandPans.
Balance is an important element of Daniel’s life. Daniel speaks of the way he benefits from balancing a life of travel with periods of stationary reflection from home. And of the way Hang in Balance is partially inspired by the limbo state of items once they have been placed up for pawn but can still be bought back by their original owners. In all his traveling, the one observation which Daniel says always strikes him is the need for people to balance their indoor day-to-day existence with time in nature, which he believes may allow dormant senses to awaken.

As balance within music is concerned, Daniel says, “The Hang brought me a magical kind of balance between rhythm and melody.” However, he also likens his Hang to a vibrant palette of colors which are quite beautiful and satisfying but cannot be mixed to create the additional hues which a painter may long to include in his art. A desire to expand his sound inspired Daniel to privately explore HandPans outside the PANArt Hang, and this choice led PANArt to initiate a professional separation. Daniel compares this to being “released into the wild but without my feet.” To hear him speak of it, I’m reminded of myths centered on characters who, once cast out of their place of greatest growth and development, overcome challenges and do tremendous good in the wider world. There is certainly a sense of balance in this juxtaposition of life within the garden (so to speak) and life outside it.

However, Daniel’s most powerful example of balance is his description of the relationship the Hang and HandPan creates between the players and their audiences. When Daniel talks about the instrument’s ability to make him feel comfortably accepted in crowds where he would otherwise be uncomfortable, if not ostracized, he says simply, “I see Hang and HandPan as a cushion between myself & the hardship of life.”

3. The key to navigating any path is to take one step at a time.
Daniel spends much of our trip reflecting on his time performing with the military marching band of his youth, the Hang Playing Hedge Monkeys (within which he first discovered the Hang), Da Harmonics, The Hang Drum Project and his most recent solo work as Hang in Balance. He also focuses on the way that a work study program in Totnes helped him to become less extreme in his being and the way that various instruments and career paths have led him to his present work with HandPans.

What I notice most is the way Daniel navigates these memories with a sense of intuitive wisdom, gained, it seems, through combined awareness and experience. At the most basic level, Daniel credits his ongoing journey with his initial decision to take a step outside the proverbial “box.” Equating his childhood home with the box, Daniel says, “That box was very beautifully cared for by my mother. There’s food there. There’s a bed. There’s warmth. But there’s only so much there that can quench my massive thirst for travel.”

At TerraTonz, we are fond of the phrase Path to Pan. We use it to describe CR’s experience emerging from several metaphorical “boxes” as he learned to make HandPans. We also apply it to the path which people take between inquiring about our instruments and acquiring their own. There is also an unspoken sense that the “path to pan” is ongoing, as both makers and musicians will continue to learn more and evolve.

When I inquire specifically about Daniel’s personal Path to Pan, he says, “It’s like walking in nature without a compass. You could go the right way to meet something. Or you could go the right way to meet something else. Either path is there to take.” He adds, “My Path to Pan is to experience the instrument and also to bring it to other people’s lives.”

It is this sense of purpose which has earned Daniel a popular reputation as a HandPan ambassador, and Daniel’s first major step toward embracing this title is his decision to give away his Hang this year to one of the people who downloads his most recent album. Daniel will also be launching a newsletter through which fans can learn more about his unique perspective on the Hang, HandPans and life.

As Daniel departs for the airport, he momentarily notes that we haven’t spoken much about the way the Hang and HandPans sound. Then, he flashes a disarming smile and is gone. Personally, I find that the instruments, and Daniel’s playing, speak best for themselves. However, for those who love words, the descriptions Daniel provides on Hang in Balance’s Facebook page are pretty good. These include World Fusion, Healing Jazz, Urban Tribal and Acoustic Hip-Hop. Paradoxical and poetic, HandPan music in general (and Daniel’s especially) carries within it an energy which brings people just to, and sometimes a bit beyond, the edges of their existing perceptions.

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