Updated: Oct 9, 2020
For today's Handpan Maker Spotlight we'll be taking a look at Pantheon Steel of Farmington, Missouri.
Pantheon Steel was the United States' first handpan manufacturer and is one of the longest-running handpan companies in existence today. Founded by steel pan veteran Kyle Cox Pantheon Steel continues to lead the charge of innovation even after more than a decade of the Halo.
I got to speak with Kyle recently about his journey to creating the Halo, and what's next for Pantheon Steel.
What is your company name? And what is the meaning/inspiration behind it?
Pantheon Steel. In 2000, while in college, I toured Italy with our music department and visited the Pantheon in Rome. I was immediately captivated by its amazing and massive dome structured ceiling. It looked like an upside-down steel pan... and I had the vision of myself throwing a tennis ball up to the ceiling to play its notes! Then in 2004 when I was laying the groundwork to start my company, I was searching for a name and remembered that experience in Rome. And that was that.
Do you have a specific name for the instruments you make? (Other than handpan) If so what is the meaning behind this?
We call ours the Halo. Kelly Hutchinson and I both came up with this name simultaneously. I figured if I and a cool dude like Kelly had this inspiration, it was good enough in my book! And then my friend Danny Sorensen (the designer of the Pantheon Steel logo) came up with the slogan: “Halo - for your soul at play”.
Who is Pantheon Steel run by? Do you work alone or with a team of people?
I am the founder, CEO, and head tuner. I worked alone until I met Jim Dusin in late 2005. We quickly became friends and decided to partner in 2006 (Jim passed away in 2016). Since then we’ve had multiple employees and team members worldwide. Currently, Pantheon is a team of 11, including myself, Noah Mungia, Jason and Alexis Ragsdale.
How did you first discover the handpan?
I received a video of the Hang being emailed among steel pan tuners around 2001. It was a grainy, pixelated mess-of-a-video but we could tell it was a hand-played steel pan (as it was being described at the time).
What made you decide to start building handpans?
Besides the Hang, two things contributed to my inspiration to create the Halo. Firstly, my mother had passed away from cancer in 2006 and I felt called to make some type of meditation/therapy steel pan instrument in tribute to her. Secondly, I received a call from an actor/director/musician named Kim Riccelli urging me to make something like the Hang in the summer of 2007. I was unclear on what (or how) to make the tribute instrument to my mother until I received that call. Thank you as always, Kim.
What is your goal as a handpan builder?
To continue refining the instrument itself and the process by which we make it. My passion is problem-solving and I love the challenge of continually figuring out a better way to do this work — and what avenues that work will lead to in the future.
What would you say your instruments are known for?
I’d say our original Halo from 2009-2016 was known for its distinct timbre and strong, yet sometimes unrefined presence. The “New Era” Halo beginning in 2016 is known for its higher level of refinement and its innovation (under the hood, so-to-speak). We’ve developed robotic processes that aid us in the consistent and efficient replication of the final Halo shape in order for our tuners to have the best chance of success.
Pantheon Steel recently announced the new "Halo+" can you tell us a bit more about the inspiration behind creating this new handpan design?
Well, we haven’t officially announced it ourselves just yet. We’ve just soft-launched it thus far, as a way to test its validity and acceptance into the handpan community without a strong push from us. We’re letting the community of players promote the Halo+ for the moment. Its inspiration comes from the desire to make an instrument for the players who desire more notes and scale augmentations, without us having to compromise on sound quality. Many makers are doing great work with the mutant concept which shares the space where the low-pitched central note is with a series of high notes in its scale. I instead chose to move the lowest (formerly the central) note out to the tone circle in order to leave room for the notes in the middle (similar to the steel pan). Another goal is to develop these new layouts to be as intuitive as possible so the player doesn’t have to think too hard or try and remember where all the notes are. It’s a work-in-progress, but I’m very pleased with it thus far.