Special: Mark Lupan | How is a Handpan made? Interview with one of the world's best handpan makers.
🗓️ Recorded June 29th, 2021. 📍Barcelona, Spain
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About this Episode
Meet Mark Lupescu, also known as Mark Lupan - a celebrated handpan maker and player known worldwide for his beautiful Lupan Handpans.
Have you ever tried the handpan or just listened to it? For me, it was love at first sight.
The first time I tried one, I knew there was no going back. We were on La Palma, and a friend had borrowed a handpan and wanted us to try it. Three months later, my first handpan arrived. The peace it gives, the sound, the learning journey of getting to know the instrument and getting better. What a joy.
Our love has kept growing. We have created an online platform where people can learn to play the handpan, and while shooting a video on how the handpan is built, we met, Mark Lupescu; he is so fantastic and inspiring that we wanted to show more of him to the world. So please enjoy our interview with Mark Lupescu, creator of the Lupan Handpans.
Mark Petersberger Lupescu is a professional musician and harp maker who moved to Barcelona, Spain, in 2008, where he discovered handpans and integrated them into his music. In 2013 Mark started his journey of building handpans. He learned the art of tuning steel thanks to the guidance of master tuner Darren Dyke and as a result of many hours of hammering where he developed his own technique. Having played these instruments in different situations (concert hall, yoga room, open space), he knows which qualities to search for in a handpan: stable and equilibrated note fields, nice timbre, good sustain, and pleasant overtones. As a perfectionist, he is always seeking to improve these qualities.
This video is edited by our dear friend Matej Michalec, a fellow traveler whom we met in Istanbul. Check out more of his work here: https://www.instagram.com/macelachim/
Watch the full interview on YouTube
0:00:10 - Jesper Conrad
I fell in love with the hand-panned instrument many years ago and we have had three, and the latest model we have is actually one called Lupin hand-panned. It is made by the wonderful Marco Pesco, who is one of the, in my opinion, world's best hand-panned maker, and we met Marc when we were creating our online courses for how to play the hand-panned. So I hope you will enjoy this special episode of our podcast where I introduce Marc about how it is to be a hand-panned maker. Enjoy.
0:00:42 - Jesper Conrad
Hi, we are here together today with Marc. He's a hand-panned maker and I would love to talk to you a little about the hand-panned Marc. So where did you play your first hand-panned? Do you remember where?
0:00:56 - Mark Lupan
Barcelona. And no, no, actually no, in Germany. In Lexi, somebody, a friend of mine, was studying percussion also.
0:01:06 - Jesper Conrad
0:01:07 - Mark Lupan
He had one and he came with one with the original hand-panned art and they and he told me, you can go to. Switzerland and buy it, and I yeah that's the first time I saw it. Yeah, I remember I was like, wow, it's a totally different sound and I never, I never listen to this, this kind of sound. You know, there is the vibraphone, which is like metal sound in a way, but still, as a musician I was like thinking, oh, it's only eight notes, I didn't see the value.
0:01:45 - Jesper Conrad
It's not enough.
0:01:47 - Mark Lupan
Yeah, yeah, I think many musicians think like that. Whatever it would, eight notes, yeah, till I saw somebody play it like more sophisticated and then I said, oh okay, that's what you are, that's what you can do with this instrument. And then I realized, oh, okay, it's like it's not the eight notes. If you just see there's the notes, you're limited. You can still do, you can do your chord progressions, but you have not many chord progressions, you just have one scale, but still. But if you think about the whole percussive world which is there, you know the whole tabla technique or frame drum technique, or if you bring that into, it's really interesting because you have to then suddenly okay, you have eight drums with eight different drums, almost a different tuned drums Like it starts because the drum is a membrane and you play like jambe playing is just three notes and you can do so much in a way.
So if you just one note can be basically played, as you know you can do music in a way just with one.
0:03:18 - Jesper Conrad
But you come from percussion originally and then at some point now where you are making handpands professionally, you must have ended up falling in love with the instrument. And if it wasn't in life sick the first time, then where did you try it and was like I must have one? It was in Barcelona.
0:03:38 - Mark Lupan
In Barcelona, when I started, I met a lot of handpan players in Barcelona and that's where I saw different techniques, how it's played and everything. But actually the first years I didn't. I had my own instruments, like I play harp, I play kura, so I was basically playing with them and sometimes I would, as I am a percussionist, so it's like an actually an easy access for me. This instrument is percussion, so without much practicing I could play one or two songs with the people. Yeah, to play his instruments more than me. It was difficult to buy one. When I finally was interested it was like there was a long waiting list, so I didn't, and the prices for reselling were really high, like 2000, 3000, 4000. So I didn't buy one. Also, I was playing with all these handpan players and I thought they had like three hands everybody.
So I would, I would borrow any time or I could when I wanted to play, but basically I mostly played with them. But I was. I was seeing that the handpan world how it develops and that there's not many makers and that it's like difficult to make. You know it's an art to tune steel and I got like you know it's interesting to do something new also to try to. I was doing instruments. You know I had always this part of musician also, but also having my workshop and my, you know, doing things with the hands.
0:05:35 - Jesper Conrad
So you made drums yourself when you were a part of the process.
0:05:38 - Mark Lupan
I was changing the, the skin of the drums and not really building drums, but I was building chorus. Okay, the chorus is what I built them, so it's. I was building these African harps and guanine and chorus. So I had my workshop and I enjoyed that also to build an instrument. So I thought let's give it a try and then count. Be so difficult Because there's only eight notes.
Because it's an art, but everything you can learn everything. It was a different method. You know, I came from wood, let's say from wood working in a way to to to to steel sheet, and but it was very interesting.
0:06:25 - Jesper Conrad
I mean it still is.
0:06:26 - Mark Lupan
I'm still learning about how to make it perfect, yeah.
0:06:30 - Jesper Conrad
But what is it about the metal that is fun to work with? I, we, we saw you work earlier and it's a lot of hammering and at the same time it looks like you. You disappear into the sound and have kind of a communication with the metal.
0:06:47 - Mark Lupan
Yes, well, yes, I don't know how to put it in words. I mean, it's a lot of concentration when I tune. That's. That's a big difference between doing other instruments, like when I was doing chorus. I could say it's carpentry, like I could.
I know I have to cut this, what like this, and do the holes here and put the pegs and skin the calabash, whatever it's, it's there are tricks you know, and and and things you need to know to make a good instrument, of course, like the measurements and stuff, and how do you tension the skin and whatever, and how do you cut the wood so it doesn't splitter? Okay, but apart from that, I could listen to music while doing it. It's like easy, easy work it takes a lot of time but it's, it's easy.
In a way, I can show you how to make a chorus in two days, okay and I could learn to make a corner if you are talented or good with tools, yeah, okay, I cannot put it yeah, a minimum of a minimum of skills like pre, like talent or skills, like with tools yeah, like a carpenter could do a corner really fast, and. But this thing you have to hammer at least one year on your own and try to find out, because you don't see you. You can even if you watch me yeah doing and I start explaining you why I hit here and how hard I hit. You don't feel how hard you I hit no, you don't see it.
You know. You know the angle I'm touching and the the forces is very okay, I can feel it, but you have to experience it. So you would have to search, because if I give this stroke a little bit different, the octave maybe is rising, and with this stroke I actually brought it down, but you know. So you have to find out how it reacts and and it takes longer time to learn how to tune steel and of course there's people who are talented and others who take longer time or other shorter and when we looked at the.
0:09:03 - Jesper Conrad
Actually, I will bring one. This is the handpan when you you buy the metal yeah, yeah, yeah yeah, and then you go to to that one, and for me it's two different things. And it must, isn't it a wonderful travel to follow an instrument from here to there. Yeah, well it's just because this compared to.
0:09:34 - Mark Lupan
It doesn't sound like a handpan it also is interesting, it just sounds because it has this bottom glue to it, yeah, if not, it doesn't sound like it sounds in the rings yeah but outside of the rings it doesn't sound. The middle note it sounds a little bit, but this not. If I hold it like this a little bit, the not sound and it's just glued with with the rubbery type, silicone type.
0:10:13 - Jesper Conrad
So it needs this. But how is it to hear it after? I don't know how many hours you put into playing one instrument, making it, because it seems like there are many hours from group, from this one just a couple of hours.
0:10:27 - Mark Lupan
I don't know, is it?
0:10:28 - Jesper Conrad
there are different stages yeah, and you never do one from start to finish yeah, I was do two or four in a row, you know.
0:10:35 - Mark Lupan
So yeah, I never calculated how much time I need to do the cupolas. Maybe you know it depends one hour, two hours to make the cupolas and then the tuning and you pay the shaping first. The shaping is a tough part where you shape it with a nomadic hammer.
0:10:58 - Jesper Conrad
You do all the work in between the notes yeah and then you tune it up to three times and then they said you bake it like it was a bread, more or less. That's to keep the vibrations, or how was it?
0:11:16 - Mark Lupan
is to loosen up the tensions. It wouldn't get out of tune so fast, okay, basically, I think it's more for that. It also opens up the sound a little bit. It takes away that too many tensions I have here from from the shaping you know which is tension.
0:11:33 - Jesper Conrad
So what you're saying, model is that when you work with it, the metal gets stressed and then it gets into a long, very hot sauna and then it releases, it relaxes. So it's better to play no, it's relaxes.
0:11:47 - Mark Lupan
It's better for me to work with it. It made it makes the sound better on one hand yeah he. On the other hand, it prevents that it would get out of tune. If there is tension here After sometime, this note is going to get out of tune. So it's like an effect I need for stabilizing, stabilizing, and I wanted to keep the tune for a long time.
0:12:12 - Jesper Conrad
So to understand your history correct, then there wasn't a lot of handpans around and you were thinking, okay, why not make one yourself? And how long time did it take, from you got the idea till you were sitting with your own first handpan.
0:12:29 - Mark Lupan
Wow, three years, three years, wow. Well, I have the first prototype here. Actually, this was maybe one and a half years, only One and a half years, but it's not really good. Handpan, you know A lot of that was the first drive. That was the first one. Yeah, I even used a shell. I already hammered and tried. You know it was a scrap shell I used as a bottom because I didn't want to use it. I knew it was not going to be, perfect, I'm not going to sell it.
So that's where I kept it in the end Museum. So anyway, it's a really short sustain. So I was fighting with having sustain in the beginning. So then later started shellpan and ayasa to sell shells.
0:13:26 - Jesper Conrad
Yeah, like this one.
0:13:28 - Mark Lupan
Preformed shells, because before I would buy the flat sheet.
0:13:31 - Jesper Conrad
So the first one you made was a flat sheet. Yeah, these were flat sheets and I would sink it first with these pneumatic hammers yeah. Wow, or by hand.
0:13:43 - Mark Lupan
I started by hand with the big wooden mallet. By hand you can make a perfect block just with one hammer, with the same hammer from beginning to end. There's a technique even with the metal ball from the steel pan, because they sink the oil barrels and you can do it with a big ball of steel. You let it fall and you hit by jumping with this ball. You catch it again. All the time it's like yeah, it's a different technique. I never tried it actually.
0:14:21 - Jesper Conrad
But there must be a lot of hours saved in getting the shells.
0:14:25 - Mark Lupan
Yes, and also somebody doing shells. They take away from you the work to look which is the good one, because they try it first. You hear that it sounds good, you know you can buy it, so it's like the thing that they started to sell shells was a big changer.
0:14:43 - Jesper Conrad
That's why they are so many. So you're saying the metal sounds good, so they are listening to that.
0:14:47 - Mark Lupan
this is what metal is no, they have to try it out. Yeah, an instrument out of that Cannot really say, by the pure sound, no, no, okay.
0:14:58 - Jesper Conrad
So they make an instrument and it's like, okay, this metal we have bought now is good for making hand pans. Exactly how much have you learned about steel by working with them? And how many years have you made hand pans now? From the first one it's like seven years now, seven years, but you have, I mean from that sound over there to this one.
0:15:20 - Mark Lupan
Yeah, well, but just I mean this one. Yes, yes, of course it's getting better, but even two years after that one, it was already similar. Yeah, you know.
I was like but it was a lot was the steel? This was not good steel. This you cannot make it sound better, okay, you cannot make it have more sustain in a way. No, no, even now, if I would work it, maybe a little bit because I had more experience, but not really. It's a lot about the material. It's a lot about the tuning technique, but it's also the material, the base material.
0:16:00 - Jesper Conrad
What is your favorite part of making the hand pan? Because there's a long many processes from here to this one and I saw your hammer and it was really interesting to just see how you get into this dialogue more or less with the metal and the sounds and where you're hitting. But what is your most favorite part of building an instrument? Gluing it.
0:16:27 - Mark Lupan
Selling it. You're a glueing it when I write the check no no. No, well, gluing actually is a certain satisfaction because you like, finish the work. You know, like whatever art piece you do and you finish it and you put the oil on it, on a wooden sculpture, for example, it's a satisfying. You said you finished it, but in the work thing it's the tuning probably here, not the shaping. The shaping is like more and more physical work. It's. There is small satisfaction in everything if it turns out nice.
You know you like do a line with the shaping hammer, and it why I made a really nice contour like gives you satisfaction also in a way. But the tuning, the tuning, but the tuning is also the most demanding action. It's because you're like, as you say you constantly, if you start to, you can call it a talk with this membrane. You know, to convince it to sound like I want to or I fight with it.
0:17:39 - Jesper Conrad
Yeah, it's a lot of fear, or it's a lot of fear.
0:17:42 - Jesper Conrad
you know it's like it's a lot of hate affair because sometimes he doesn't listen to me.
0:17:47 - Mark Lupan
No yeah, he doesn't want to lower this octave or raise this fifth or whatever, and sometimes it just does it like. But anyway, so it's it's. It's interesting because it's also the, it's the main art you know to bring it to, and it's not just tuning, actually, it's the whole. I can you know the how it sounds, you know the timber you you can get. Yeah, it's like it has a lot to do with the shape and the compression and the tensions you have in that note.
0:18:23 - Jesper Conrad
Is that scale you prefer to make your instruments in compared to others?
0:18:33 - Mark Lupan
Yeah, well, the scales mostly, which I like to play most. You know they are the most interesting things. But from a from a maker's point of view, it's easier to make easier scales and they are easier at the higher the notes actually easier, okay, because I don't have to pack them so close. Yeah so they are free, so I don't care, so I don't have to take care about interference. Interference is when, when two notes would sound, activate each other neighboring notes. Yeah, yeah, so this is one problem.
0:19:13 - Jesper Conrad
So the higher notes are smaller and therefore they are wider. Apart on the handpan to understand the correct no what do you mean?
0:19:23 - Mark Lupan
No, the size of the note is just equivalent to the frequency. No, it gets higher, it gets a smaller membrane of it. The higher it is, the smaller membrane. But it's about yeah, I mean no, if I would have like seven notes here, you know, take one out and move it. Yeah, I have so much space between now the note and they won't.
I don't have to turn them and check the interference, because there is no, you know. So the it's easier to make eight notars than to make the, the mutant ones which have, like, I don't have any here.
0:20:14 - Jesper Conrad
Oh, no, no, no, but the ones they have, the two extra ones, two extra ones.
0:20:19 - Mark Lupan
there you have to work a little bit differently and to have to take a lot of care that it doesn't make interference. Yeah, it must be.
0:20:28 - Jesper Conrad
Have you ever made a handpan where you're like OK, I won't sell this, it's too good, I'm too happy with it.
0:20:34 - Mark Lupan
It's too good.
0:20:35 - Jesper Conrad
Yeah, no, no.
0:20:37 - Mark Lupan
Well, no and yes there were there are. Sometimes you say, wow, this I really like how it sounds, it's perfect. Like, if it's all perfect, I should keep it. So I show people, look what I can do yeah. But on the other hand, I take it like as if somebody sees the instrument that wants it and I always think I can do another one and I should be able to do it just as good or even better, of course. So that's why I let it go. Yes.
0:21:18 - Jesper Conrad
And I understood when we heard you working with it down there that you were trying new things, so it sounds like you're challenging yourself in how you can build it still.
0:21:31 - Mark Lupan
You're not finished learning. No not finished learning.
0:21:35 - Jesper Conrad
What was it? You challenged yourself to it's like a musician you never. You can always make a better one, you never stop studying.
0:21:41 - Mark Lupan
Actually, you never stop. It's not even the highest. They still. If you're super high level as a musician, you maybe you, just you keep, you keep practicing, just to stay with the velocity, yeah, but you're still. No, you're still learning.
0:22:00 - Jesper Conrad
What is it you're pushing yourself to? One to now. What are you focusing on? Learning while you're building?
0:22:09 - Mark Lupan
Well, everything perfect sound, which for me is like strong, strong volume, but each note equilibrated, like it shouldn't sound loud, much louder one note and the other. There are all small differences. Then the way to control the harmonics that they don't shout too loud, they don't scream. Then there's the interference thing. You don't want to have interference between two notes. So yeah, there's still ways to. I mean, it can always be better. It's never perfect. This is an instrument which is never perfect. This way you can always say oh, this one, no, so a little bit more tense than this one. I mean it's we try to do the best, or I try to do the best I can, but it's never perfect.
0:23:14 - Jesper Conrad
0:23:15 - Mark Lupan
it's the same time it's a curse, you know, it's sometimes like when I was doing harps, or you know they all end up perfect. There's no, you know, there's not much.
0:23:30 - Jesper Conrad
No, that's not. Why is the challenge?
0:23:32 - Mark Lupan
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. And here you have the challenge, which is a curse sometimes, because you're like, wow, why this note? In the last one it was like perfect, and now it's like a little bit tense or not, but it's all about experience, and then you learn your stuff every day.
0:23:51 - Jesper Conrad
And if you, if anybody who's watching this, wanted to say to themselves, okay, maybe I should try and create a handpan, what advice would you give them? What advice I would?
0:24:04 - Mark Lupan
give them To try out different ones.
0:24:09 - Jesper Conrad
And you mean different ones. Then what do you mean? Different brands?
0:24:11 - Mark Lupan
Different brands. You're thinking about different brands, buying a handpan and you don't know which one.
0:24:17 - Jesper Conrad
I was thinking about, if you wanted to create a handpan, to build one?
0:24:22 - Mark Lupan
Yeah, to start a building.
0:24:23 - Jesper Conrad
Yeah, would you? The other question is also interesting.
0:24:27 - Mark Lupan
Yeah, let's take the other one first, and then jump to this one, just as you asked me like because I see this often people want to buy their first handpan and they see like 10 brands and they don't know which one is better.
0:24:41 - Jesper Conrad
0:24:42 - Mark Lupan
So now there is no you know. So of course they have to judge by videos. Okay, you can do that in a certain degree. The best is if you can try different out. Like you go to a handpan festival and then you see all kinds of instruments of different brands or you go to a shop with different brands, but mostly shops are limited in two, three brands max. But anyway, if you have a possibility to try different brands and then when you try them I see most people doing like they would be afraid of the instrument, like at this volume, yeah. So if you play at this volume most of the handpans sound good Like it's not, it's okay.
0:25:31 - Jesper Conrad
Yeah, I saw, your hammer very hard on it from time to time when you no no, no, no, that's a different thing, but if you play like this, they all sound pretty similar.
0:25:44 - Mark Lupan
If you play, you have to play it a little bit louder. That's a good test. If you play at this volume, you realize that there you will see difference between with other hand bands. A bad quality. If I, then it would sound to raise something, some of the other, if it would start to like sound weird and fluffy or something, then you know, ah, it's not really. This also can be an indicator. It would go out of tune fast. Ah, yeah. Yeah, you know, if you can, if you can hit it hard and it still stays there, the same frequency it responds to. It's not supposed to that you play so loud, but it's a good test. You see the quality of the membrane, if it's stable, and I hit it so hard with the stick to see if it stays there when I tune, because if it With a strong stroke, if it gets out of tune, it means this tension was already there. It just jumped there.
0:26:54 - Jesper Conrad
Okay, okay, it's like a string pulling.
0:26:56 - Mark Lupan
Yeah, it just jumped there. It means if I don't do this now, now it's tuned, I give it to you. But in three months, this tension over time, the metal is working yeah. It's going towards there and after half a year maybe you tell me oh, this note is a little bit out of tune. Ah, yeah, yeah, so to prevent that every tuner has to, you know, like normally.
0:27:19 - Jesper Conrad
Make sure they don't go out of tune.
0:27:20 - Mark Lupan
Make sure they don't go out of tune. It's a test of stability. And the other question what would be my advice for somebody who wants to make them? Yeah, don't give up. Yeah, well, don't give up. Well, it's your choice. If you give up, yeah, maybe you have something better to do. Of course it's okay. You know, I don't say don't give up, but I say Well, it's not a fast entry, it's like it takes a year at least. But you need a place where you can make notes and you can just start by sinking an oil barrel and see if you do.
Just to start Wood and hammer, just to start to see if you want to, if it's your thing to hammer steel, yeah.
0:28:10 - Jesper Conrad
You know, yeah, because that's a big part of it.
0:28:13 - Mark Lupan
Yeah, First just take an oil drum, a wooden mallet round the wooden mallet and try to make it this yeah, From a bottom of a steel barrel.
0:28:24 - Jesper Conrad
Because if you don't like to hammer steel, you need to wrong business. Yeah, you stop there already.
0:28:28 - Mark Lupan
Yeah, you don't finish that. If you finish that, you can cut it and you already have one shell and you can go and see makers but if you go and see a, maker from scratch.
Yeah, I would say it's not worth it to go to a maker. There's some makers who offer like, come one week, you pay 3000 and your handpan and take one handpan home, for example, which means he lets you hammer a little bit on some shells, then he finish it, yeah, and and you maybe take it Okay. But that is where you don't learn much. You get an entry of what tools are used and stuff, but this you can already see in a lot of YouTube videos. Yeah, so what you, what you need is practice to have this during rings, get your during rings. Get some shells, yeah, you know, because also, the good thing now is a YASA shells. You know they sound. You know other makers made it sound. Yeah, it's not like you buy a steel somewhere. That's that's why they were so few makers also before, in a way, because you wouldn't need to buy your steel.
And in the beginning you don't know. I was in the first two years I was. I didn't know if my metal was bad or if I cannot make it sound. I there was a good thing that my, my teacher, or the guy who I learned with. He came to my workshops from time to time and he would confirm if the metal is workable or not, because he would make it sound or not. Yeah, so Then I. But if you don't have that, it's difficult. You don't know if it's your technique is wrong or this or the metal. So now you have metal which you know it sounds, and so it's you. You have to Understand how the you know the basic information, how to you see shaping and stuff. It's already out there. So you need a lot of practice, a lot of practice. You just need a lot of practice and to to understand what's, what's going on with this membrane and how do you? Okay, you do it. Yeah.
0:30:38 - Jesper Conrad
My, I want to thank you for your time and ask if we could Ask you to give a little little short tune on this wonderful one. Do you have a plate here? Okay, if it's a tune and you're happy with it. It is it, is it? Oh, okay.
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