In early 2008, the popularity of the handpan was starting to take off. Some people who heard them became instantly addicted to the sound. For the inventors of Lumen, the introduction was via a local artist named Paul Boyter.
Frustrated by the general lack of availability, a decision was made to try and make one. Thinking that there must be some way to reproduce the instrument electronically, work began on the first version - initially called the Touchpan. Using extremely high tech TFPC™ (tin foil and paper clip) capacitive sensors, an SB™ (salad bowl) shell and no small amount of passion, progress was swift.
Realising that the TFPC™ capacitive sensors were fairly limited when force/velocity was required, piezo elements (vibration sensors) were introduced into the SB™ shell, allowing for some degree of velocity response. Various configurations were attempted, more piezos, exposed TFPC™ sensors, but ultimately it just wasn't working.
After some tinkering, the TFPC™ capacitive sensors were thrown out entirely and replaced with piezo elements. The SB™ shell was modified to allow for independent and dampened vibration of the new sensors. Numerous enhancements were made to the electronics, allowing for more sensors and better response. The sound of fingers tapping on the hard plastic salad bowl was less than desirable though.
Local industrial design firm Denka was contracted to start turning my prototype into an actual product, now named Lumen. Concept artwork was drawn up by them and really took the idea to the next level.
Looking for permanent suppliers of high-quality samples, we approached Soniccouture in the UK. After a demo of the salad bowl prototype (such as it was), we received some very positive feedback and offer of their top quality samples and design assistance going forward.
A wooden prototype shell was commissioned from Morne Gerber, an incredibly talented local turner. The wooden prototype was fully functional after some sensor reworks. The prototype included two Halo tunings and two Original Hanpan* tunings, supplied by Soniccouture.
Paul Boyter - the man who initially inspired this whole journey - and a friend of his tried out our wooden prototype. We were blown away by his response. Listening to such talented artists play the prototype Lumen, and then to say that they want one, was more than we could have hoped.
Taking this from concept to actual product required funding. We decided to go with an Indiegogo campaign as our funding platform of choice.
Nic Janse Van Rensburg of Timelines Productions filmed and edited our campaign video, with Paul Boyter providing some expert skills on our wooden prototype. All music in the video was him playing :)
We reached our funding goal in just seven days, thanks to incredible support from the handpan community. By the end of the campaign, we had reached 166% of our goal.
With funding secured, full industrial design began. Our early concepts were reworked and enhanced by the team in Cape Town.
We added multi-zoned force sensitive resistors (FSRs) to the sensor pads and further enhanced the exterior design by providing for a top-mounted interface around the ding and all cabling running straight down from underneath the instrument.
Our 8th internal revision, this one featured an all touch, no buttons interface. Changes (switching scales, etc.) are made by using a scrolling touch sensitive ring which surrounds the ding, with the tone fields themselves operating as buttons.
At this stage, we were testing out the drivers we'd selected, and had brought in an acoustic engineer to design the internals of the shell.
We designed unique sound lenses for the internal structure and separated the top and bottom shells to allow for a centrally-mounted driver.
The board which manages the scrolling interface around the ding was completed and first samples arrived from China.
Our shell manufacture process was almost complete and had produced a number of samples. The manufacturers had a tough time of trying to get the tooling right, and many revisions had to be made.
A bass enclosure was designed to encompass the driver, enhancing its response.
New sensors were designed in Canada, and custom software was commissioned for the interface between Lumen and the computer (to load new sample packs).
Some studio testing allowed us to balance the audio produced by the internal driver, taking into account the shell.
After some detailed tooling optimisations, the tooling go-ahead was given. Onward to production!
We're in the process of tooling for production, which is both an exciting and stressful time.
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