Global- The inventor of the G-Pan Dr. Brian Copland in this exclusive 2010 When Steel Talks (WST) interview, moves to explain some of the misconceptions about the instrument and moreover it's importance to the future development of steelpan movement. click for more
Hi Don Clark
Everyone has the right to their own opinions. With respect to the E-pan, it is certainly not for everyone. As I have always said (for years now) the E-pan is not, in any shape or form, designed to replace the traditional steelpan. The traditional steelpan will always have its demand. Please note I said ALWAYS. The E-pan is going to come close to sounding like the traditional pan as time progresses, but there isen't any electric instrument that sounds exactly as the acoustic instrument does (e.g. the piano and the electronic keyboard, the v-drum and the acoustic drum). If you visit my website at www.napeinc.com you will see all the advantages of the electronic steelpan.
One of the main reasons for creating the E-pan, which you may or may not be able to relate to, was that the steelpan player used to have the opportunity to play with the calypsonians around Carnival time and record in the studio. But, the calypsonian drifted away from hiring the different pannists because the steelpan tone was made accessible on the keyboard back in the mid 80's. Yamaha was one of the first to do this. Since then, most calypsonians (David Rudder, Machel Monatno ... and the list goes on) used the keyboard to get the pan tone. The average listener could not tell the difference unfortunately.
So Don, everyone is not as versatile as you are maybe and cannot play different instruments like trumpet, violin, keyboard etc. But, with the use of the E-pan, a steelpan player now has the capabilities of pressing a button and sounding like a trumpeter, a violinist or keyboard player and he or she does not have to re-learn a new instrument. What the E-pan player now adds to their arcenal when they go on a gig makes them a little more versatile. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z2IbFOrQFBs
Hopefully these few words will help you understand the different applications that the E-pan can be applied and used in.
I am not trying to convince you, but more educate and enlighten and also help the readers understand some of the reasons for my invention.
Inventor of the World's First Electronic Synthesized Steelpan
Phone: (416) 617-0860
In a nutshell, my research interest in pan started with steelpan amplification in 1982/83. I was a young lecturer in the Electrical Engineering Lab at UWI specialising in Control and Instrumentation. One of the lab technicians, Tessie Julien, was a strong supporter of Carib Tokyo and used to complain all the time about steelbands losing ground to DJs and big bands. Quite by accident I made a conection between my Instrumentation Labs (we measured machine vibrations) and one possible solution to the amplification problem. I developed contact and contactless techniques for amplifying pan without microphones - 3 of them I filed as patents. I also formed a company to manufacture and sell these electro-acoustic pans as they were called.
The best of those days was a big launch Carib Tokyo had of their electro-acoustic set in July 1987. The pans were tuned by the late Leo Coker. We literally shook the hills down!! I later worked with Couva Joylanders in 1994 and1995 using a different technique - we were actually on the road with it.
I was daunted by the vibration problems on the instrument and so got into a deeper study of how its works and how to make it work better. This is what ultimately lead me to where I am today - in a nutshell
You never speak about the tone of the G-pan. While the G-pan family may cover the full range of pitches of the conventional steelband with less instruments, how to do you make up for the tonal differences? There are differences in the sound of a quad, 4 pan and cello although they have overlapping ranges. In fact the harmonic content for each is very different because of the placement of notes. How do you plan give back these colors which are so important to the arranger with the G-pan? Also will the National Steel Orchestra enter panorama in the future?
Actually I have referred to the G-Pan tone before (see earlier discussions on Exodus in 2010 Panorama my response to Bugs on February 16, 2010 at 6:22am ). To repeat, you are absolutely correct .. every change in geometry and note characteristic changes instrument timbre. This includes diameter and shape of the instrument, bowl depth, thickness variation, note sizes used, note layout, note shape and note range. Also it is not just the timbre aspects that come from the juxtaposition of pitches, but also all the other linear and nonlinear effects that result in variations in the note envelopes of each harmonic component (that is what causes some octaves on some notes to sustain longer than the fundamental). This is what makes the steelpan so magical - it is essentially a mechanical synthesiser (as opposed to an electronic one) - tuners have a great deal of latitude in changing timbre.
SO perhaps my best answer to this is that the G-Pan does not take anything away from what is currently the steelpan. As such the question of giving back these colors does not arise. Your canvas just got broader and deeper. Parent and child can sing in the same orchestra as we saw in Skiffle Bunch and Phase 2, one supporting the other. Individuals and institutions are free to blend G-Pans with traditional pans any way they choose. At the same time, we are listening to the feedback even on this very issue and are prepared to make adjustments to the G-Pan family once there is measurable benefit in it.
Finally, I think it would be a gross error for the NSSO to compete in Panorama as they are national in scope. Their focus is completely different from traditional bands.
To follow up what you saying, I assume the NSSO is totally made up of G-pans. So irrespective to range, are you recommending that an orchestra using only using G-pan divide the instruments into subgroups, For example having some of the mid range G-pan tuned with different harmonics to produce different timbres.
The ability to modify timbre is a strength of the steelpan as a musical instrument. As such, it is completely possible to play with different harmonic structures among groups of instruments. However,please note that the range of control, although noticeable will not necessarily be significant. Tuners often have to deal with tuning constraints and may, for example, settle on a particular timbre just to ensure that the pan does not generate too much dissonance or is just simply easier to tune.
Tony WIlliams has said that he tuned his pans in Pan Am specially for the Ivory and Steel recording so that they blended well with the piano. I am not sure how many other tuners have done that or are willing to do that.
We did not split the harmonic structure of pans in the NSSO - Jessel Murray uses the same instrument to play different parts of the music. I know of many really good musicians who have listened to them live and expressed complete satisfaction with their performance. They never indicated anything about missing voices.
It sounds like with the G-pan you have a true steel sounding orchestra. Where as in the past the goal of the tuners were to simulate other conventional instruments.
What if your need to generate the sound of a cuatro as many bands do when their seconds strum and yet need a voice in that range with the ring to strength the lead and is commonly done in panorama arrangement for power and clarity.
In his regard is the G-pan better suited for a specific type or types of music?
I am not sure what a "true steel sounding orchestra" is. I am sure that, if asked, you would get all sorts of answers from different people. All of the properties I mentioned before are properties of steelpans in general and rely, in large measure, on the skill of the tuner.
You are probably referring to what many consider to be what has now evolved to the typical voice of a steelpan - there are many who are of the view that a lot of the older more distinctive tones are being lost and that many traditional pans in the same range are sounding more and more alike.
You are right in that older tuners were motivated to simulate conventional instruments - hence names like guitars and cellos.
Good tuners can also control the amount of ringing as well - these are non-musical overtones that come largely from the support web (space betwen the notes) and skirt. This adds the perception of sound volume. As you know, they could also be excited by just playing hard.
Again, all of these aspects are properties of anything called steelpan, be it G-Pans or otherwise. The tuner is still the critical person in the pan manufacturing chain. All we have done is gave him/her a richer form to make pans. Oddly enough, one of the complaints that we have recieved is that the pans sound "too clean." I took that as a compliment.
G-Pans could be used for any type of music. NSSO plays largely classic and jazz but have delivered nice soca/kaiso pieces as well. G-Pans pounded out in Panorama 2010. However, I would leave them at home on a Jouvert morning - you can't beat the rustic sound of those old beaten jobs that some bands bring out in that early morning time.