The story of the Klangauge began with a friendship between the two creators of this new instrument. Jörg, artist, globetrotter and entrepreneur, and Markus Mayr, master metal worker.
The two young men met in 2003 at a beautiful place on La Gomera, one of the Canary Islands.
They were soon the best of friends, united by their common passion for making music, improvising and developing instruments.
Together, they drummed away many nights under the starry Spanish sky, building instruments such as djembes (African drums) out of agave roots.
In early 2006 on La Gomera, Jörg Künstler heard the sound of a Hang for the first time. The Hang was then very new, a UFO-shaped musical instrument made of sheet steel.
The Hang consists of two metal dishes, joined together at the edges. The upper half has dimples hammered into it which allow different notes to be played. The instrument is placed on the musician’s lap and played with either the tips of the fingers or with the whole hand, which is how the instrument got its name – Hang is Berndeutsch (a Swiss German dialect) and means “hand”. Incidentally, the plural of Hang isn’t Hangs, it’s Hanghang! In Israel, the instrument is called the Pantam, and in the USA, there is also something similar, called the Halo. Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer from Bern developed the Hang in 2000 and continued to produce them until 2013.
In the meantime, they have further developed their idea and created the Gubal®.
Jörg Künstler was so thrilled when he heard the Hang that he wanted to have one of his own…
Buying a Hang proved to be much more difficult than Jörg had thought. It was incredibly difficult to find one for sale.
In the end, he finally found one in an online auction. Unfortunately, the price that it fetched at the end of the auction was so high that he could no longer afford to buy it, but he couldn’t let go of his dream. When he contacted the manufacturers, PanArt Hangbau AG, he learned that the waiting list for a Hang was over a year long – much too long for Jörg!
“There had to be another similar instrument which was easier to get hold of and at a price that everyone could afford. What I was looking for was an instrument that involved less effort to make, but still had a similarly beautiful, overtone-rich sound. After all, the steel drum was originally created so that people could make great music without spending a lot of money”, says Jörg Künstler. He continued to look for alternatives.
As he investigated further, Jörg Künstler came across the American all-round musician Dennis Havlena, who makes so-called “steel tongue drums” out of propane gas cylinders. He saws “tongues” of various sizes into the base of the metal cylinders. The different notes are created by the different sizes of the tongues.
“They sounded great! I bought a gas bottle and followed the instructions from Dennis, but somehow, the instrument didn’t sound quite the way that I had thought it would.
I was slowly running out of ideas, but then I suddenly remembered that Markus was a professional metal worker”, recollects Jörg Künstler.
Unfortunately, Markus Mayr was studying for his master craftsman’s certificate examination at the time and had no interest whatsoever in developing a musical instrument.
Jörg only managed to convince Markus at the second attempt, but after that, the two friends immersed themselves in development work to realise their dream of creating their own totally new instrument, embarking on a search to find an inspiring idea…
The two musicians spent the next few months on intensive development of the instrument. It became more and more clear to them that designing a musical instrument requires a lot more than just theoretical knowledge about the materials used and the sound. The spirit of the instrument has to be discovered and awakened!
Today, Jörg Künstler is convinced that two qualities are especially important in this regard: patience and sensitivity. Both these qualities grew stronger in the two men as they met the challenges and started to make progress. After many busy nights, they finally finished developing the Klangauge,
with its highly distinctive design.
They had hardly finished making the first instruments when the first buyers came knocking at the door.
“It was amazing. We still weren’t too sure if we were making the Klangauge just for fun or we wanted to turn it into a proper business, but I had the feeling right at the beginning that it would become more than just a hobby – and that is exactly what happened. Demand grew, it all just seemed to happen on its own… so we decided to start a company”, muses Jörg Künstler contentedly.
“I often had the feeling that the Klangauge had a life of its own and was pulling us both along with it, and we were trying to keep up, to meet its demands. Sometimes we had to work very hard to do that”, recollects Jörg Künstler, “but there came a time when things slowed down for quite a while, and at some point during this period, Markus wanted to go his own way and work on his own ideas. We grew slowly further and further apart. In the end, Markus left the company, but we found a good way to do things and we are still friends.”
The time that followed was very difficult for Jörg at first because he suddenly had to take care of everything on his own, but he grew with the Klangauge. The two of them were in a kind of symbiosis. When Jörg needed a break to relax or for personal reasons, fewer orders came in. “The Klangauge is a living companion which also gives me space to breathe if I need it”, he says affectionately.
Jörg Künstler set off with the Klangauge under his arm and sold the first instruments at the Musikmesse (music trade fair) in Frankfurt in 2008. The Klangauge enchanted the dealers with its special magic, as did Jörg Künstler with his amiability. Today, this unique musical instrument is available from around 100 retailers all over the world, and is especially popular in Austria, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. The Klangauge is also available directly from the online shop (www.klangauge-shop.de), in the colours Ivory White or Black. Accessories include beautiful bags made of felt – a quality handmade product from a felt manufacturer in Southern Germany.
Recently, Jörg Künstler was contacted by an inventor who has been involved in the development of musical instruments for the last 30 years.
The slightly over 60-year-old man, who is very creative and experienced, proved to be a gift from heaven for Jörg Künstler and his Klangauge production. Working together, they have managed to improve the instrument even more, and to plan further enhancements and continuous improvements. There will also be a completely new instrument, which will be produced in an additional small workshop, to be opened in Berlin.
The next goal is to establish the Klangauge brand as a label for other products such as clothing, and perfume made with essential oils.
For example, cool baseball caps with the Klangauge logo are now being sold in the online shop.
Jörg Künstler’s dream is that one day, he will be able to run the company from a yacht on the Pacific Ocean or on the Atlantic. Thanks to the internet and other modern technology, this is now a very real possibility. Jörg would like his team to be a large community of free-thinkers and visionaries who work independently but cooperatively, like a family. The Klangauge family should be a worldwide phenomenon – in Berlin, in Thuringia, on La Gomera, in Mexico… all held lovingly together by Jörg.