Denver artists Mad Dog Friedman and Alexander Bernat share a fruitful mentor-protégé relationship. Since 2015, they have played as a duo, releasing four albums together. Their newest, Be Tankfull, has a different recipe: spontaneity and improvisation — captured in a water silo.
Recorded May 15 and 16, Be Tankfull is Friedman and Bernat’s first album recorded in Rangely’s Tank Center for Sonic Arts, a silo used by musicians since the ’70s that was turned into a recording studio in the mid-2010s.
Over several decades, Barbara Wade, the keeper of the Tank's key for thirty years, would informally invite musicians in to play. Eventually she let her granddaughter, aspiring singer Samantha LightShade, open the Tank formally as a recording studio. LightShade works as a sound engineer at the Tank; she helped Friedman and Bernat record Be Tankfull and sang vocals on three tracks on the album.
“I have been singing and making up songs since I was a child, and have always had an interest in acoustical places to sing in,” LightShade says. “Singing helped me express all the complexities and depth that I couldn’t seem to communicate.”
Friedman, who has wanted to record in the Tank for quite some time, describes how musicians must have complete immersion and spontaneity.
“Each musician must respond to the moment as well as the lingering presence of the past,” Friedman says. “The Tank slows and opens both the listener and the performer, allowing beauty to emerge from where it lives inside each of us."
Bernat, who’s played the harp for eleven years, describes the Tank as unfamiliar but meditative upon entering.
“The smallest sounds, like steps and shuffles, lasted for twenty-plus seconds,” Bernat recalls. “Stepping out of the Tank was like the experience of stepping off a trampoline and coming to terms with having a pathetic inability to jump. I could speak with distinct consonants again, but it felt like a flat, two-dimensional kind of sound after hours spent in the Tank.”
Be Tankfull includes eighteen ambient tracks on two CDs for a total of two hours and twenty minutes of Friedman’s Native American flute and Bernat’s soothing harp. Friedman, originally on harmonica, has played the Native American flute on nine of his previous albums and says that the instrument is relaxing, enjoyable and perfectly suited to his spontaneous compositions.
LightShade's voice fits well with Friedman’s style. “When I sing with artists, I like to take them with me into the moment where chaotic thoughts become stillness and silence becomes a canvas,” LightShade says. “I let them start the song, and I weave and intertwine my voice with their instrument until I feel harmonized. Then I start to make up words that are meaningful to me. I just become a conduit for creativity.”
With the resonance offered by the Tank, Friedman and Bernat hope listeners have a profound experience.
“I hope Be Tankfull can help to cultivate a sense of dignity for the residents of Rangely,” Bernat says. “Perhaps, it may add some sort of richness to a musician or artist’s willingness to allow themselves a proud personal permission to explore the unknown.”
Adds LightShade: “Music is a shared moment. A connection with a real human being where, for a moment, you are out of this illusionary world of dissonance and connected to the source of who you are, what you do. The result is a beautiful recording that anyone who listens can experience in that moment.”
Mad Dog Friedman & Alexander Bernat’s Be Tankfull album release concert, 7 p.m. Tuesday, August 28, Dazzle, 1512 Curtis Street.