The Tank Is Saved: What's Next for the Acoustic Wonder?

The Tank Is Saved: What's Next for the Acoustic Wonder?
Mho Salim/Courtesy of Friends of the Tank

It went from nearly being sold for scrap to becoming a new destination on the world’s music map. Thanks to the efforts and cooperation of musicians worldwide and the small town of Rangely, 275 miles northwest of Denver and a short hop from the Utah border, an empty storage tank that served as an unsanctioned, guerrilla audio chamber and recording studio for 37 years will now live on as the new Center for the Sonic Arts.

“Now our attention begins to turn toward doing things,” says globe-trotting composer and sound artist Bruce Odland from his home and studio in upstate New York. For several years, Odland lived in Denver, working with the Denver Center Theatre Company and running several of his own projects at the same time. In 1976, he visited Rangely as part of a state arts-outreach program. Two anonymous oil-field workers took him to the Tank, and the rest is history – weird and surreptitious history.

A Kickstarter campaign that ended on February 28, aiming for $57,000 in funding, raised more than $61,000 from 695 individuals in eighteen countries. (Disclosure: I gave $50. Hey, I’ve been there, it’s amazing!) The Tank is a sixty-foot-high, thirty-foot-diameter steel container intended to hold water that was moved to Rangely in the early 1960s and assembled a few blocks from downtown for industrial purposes. Fortunately, that never came to pass, and soon the derelict structure became a hangout for local teens.

Preparing the interior of the Tank for a recording session.
Preparing the interior of the Tank for a recording session.
Photo by Galen Clark/courtesy Friends of the Tank

Over the next three decades, a small band of musicians began to investigate the unique properties of the site. The Tank is a huge paraboloid that gathers and reverberates sounds in an astonishing manner, akin to the resonant complexities of ancient cathedrals. Camping out, in and around the Tank over the years, borrowing power from "neighbors" using 200 feet of extension cords, Odland and other musicians such as Mark McCoin, Mark Fuller, Ron Miles, Dexter Payne, Paul Klite and Michael Stanwood made music and recordings, then shared them with avant-garde enthusiasts around the world. Now, it's the world that wants to play along.

“We have sixty people who want to volunteer here,” he recently told journalist Heather Zadra. “Twenty composers want to do projects. Forty people want to join a Rangely-specific community around the Tank. It’s pretty extraordinary.”

This is the second successful round campaigning for the Tank. The first secured its existence by raising funds to bring the neglected site up to code, including the installation of a proper access road, electrical power, ventilation, lighting, a safety fence, sanitation facilities, fire extinguishers, a new door (for years, the only way in was through an eighteen-inch portal), and an attached recording studio created from a shipping container.

“We’re fixing up an old Spartan Aircraft trailer-coach so people will have a place to stay on site,” says Odland. “It’s like a big aluminum mansion.”

Now comes the tough part. “Now we’re part of a social project based on the entity of the Tank,” Odland says from his studio.

Educational programs using the Tank have already begun (“You can learn directly from the Tank how your ears work in your head, how you orient yourself through sound,” says Odland), in cooperation with the local school district as well as the Colorado Northwestern Community College in town. Plans call for more school and community outreach, open houses, meditation sessions, artistic residencies, concerts, curated events, sound-art installations, acoustic research and more – whatever a creative, inquiring mind can come up with.

So what’s up next? “First, some rest,” says Odland. “Then we get the money delivered. Then we assess how to operate the entity, and we do need folks to help us run it. Creating stuff is right up our alley, but now it’s time for some arts administration. The Tank is changing from a cool place to a really interesting and unusual institution, and we want to make it self-sustaining.”

The Friends of the Tank are not into the idea of aping mainstream music-industry practices.

“None of us have any faith in or respect for the music industry per se,” says Odland.” “We don’t want to run it like a recording studio. We don’t want to have clients. We aren’t used to formalities. We want to establish something that functions as a counter-example to the capitalist model. We want music to be a process, not a commodity. How do we do that, and how do we make that process coherent for those who come?”

The local community is a large part of this, brought into the process early to form an unlikely coalition with the tootling, drumming Tank Friends. Already a young Rangely woman, Sammi Wade Moon, has created some incredible work there, with a soaring voice that can reach a high E above high C.

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So what drives this extraordinary, positive achievement?

“Well, when there’s a flood or an earthquake, people come together and help. People want to have that experience, it feels good, they want to help,” says Odland. “Maybe we can do that concerning a sonic emergency, or without there being an emergency at all. It’s an inspirational opportunity.

“Let’s face it:W hen you go inside the Tank and you hear it, it’s so powerful. It opens up an inspiration of very basic creativity that’s within each of us. Something inside happens that says, ‘This is so right.’ And when you come out, you’re part of a new little tribe. I want people to do that, to get involved on a positive, tribal level.

“We’ve had our time there," he continues. "We want it to persist outside of our involvement with it. We want to find out what the new people will do, how the young people will use it.”

The TANK Center for Sonic Arts is slated to open in June 2016. For complete information, please visit tanksounds.org.

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