The TANK in Rangely goes public, dazzling on local and international levels | CraigDailyPress.com

The TANK in Rangely goes public, dazzling on local and international levels

Center for Sonic Arts has Saturday public hours, new executive director

Michael Neary

Rangely — In the best of children’s stories, ordinary places tend to become enchanted. Rabbit holes lead to madness and wonder, closets become kingdoms and bedrooms turn into places where the monsters can come out. — In the best of children's stories, ordinary places tend to become enchanted. Rabbit holes lead to madness and wonder, closets become kingdoms and bedrooms turn into places where the monsters can come out.

— In the best of children's stories, ordinary places tend to become enchanted. Rabbit holes lead to madness and wonder, closets become kingdoms and bedrooms turn into places where the monsters can come out.

If You Go

The TANK Center for Sonic Arts is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. on Saturdays through October. The address is 233 County Road 46, in Rangely.

Website:

http://tanksounds.org/

As a person ascends the gravel path leading to a massive old tank in Rangely — once a water treatment facility — it soon becomes clear that such an enchanted world looms. Once inside the faded tank, a person will find tricks of light interrupting a deep darkness. And, more strikingly, a person will hear sweet alterations of sound.

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It's a place where people have been going for years, often on the sly.

"I came in as a teenager," said Heather Zadra, a Rangely writer and a teacher. "I was one of those locals who would sneak in and appreciate the space. I appreciated it because it was different than anything else around — and because it was a bit illicit and forbidden."

Zadra, describing a time about 25 years ago, still harbors a relationship with The TANK — though it's far less secretive than it once was. She's written extensively about The TANK, including an essay that appeared in the Waving Hands Review in 2015essay that appeared in the Waving Hands Review in 2015 — a must-read for people curious about The TANK’s origins. — a must-read for people curious about The TANK's origins.

essay that appeared in the Waving Hands Review in 2015 — a must-read for people curious about The TANK's origins.

Zadra is now the operations coordinator of The TANK Center for Sonic ArtsThe TANK Center for Sonic Arts — a title that reveals how The TANK has slipped from a furtive gathering place into an increasingly celebrated space of acoustic wonder. Bolstered by a nonprofit organization called Friends of The TANK, the structure opened up to the public in June with Saturday hours, and earlier this month an executive director, Rich Harris, started work. Plans are in the works to make The TANK an international center — while retaining a local-community focus — and interest among established musicians is swelling. — a title that reveals how The TANK has slipped from a furtive gathering place into an increasingly celebrated space of acoustic wonder. Bolstered by a nonprofit organization called Friends of The TANK, the structure opened up to the public in June with Saturday hours, and earlier this month an executive director, Rich Harris, started work. Plans are in the works to make The TANK an international center — while retaining a local-community focus — and interest among established musicians is swelling.

The TANK Center for Sonic Arts — a title that reveals how The TANK has slipped from a furtive gathering place into an increasingly celebrated space of acoustic wonder. Bolstered by a nonprofit organization called Friends of The TANK, the structure opened up to the public in June with Saturday hours, and earlier this month an executive director, Rich Harris, started work. Plans are in the works to make The TANK an international center — while retaining a local-community focus — and interest among established musicians is swelling.

But organizers realize that moving from the shadows to the bright sunlight needs to be done carefully.

"We're gradually starting out with simple baby steps," said musician Bruce Odland, who discovered the musical potential of the structure in the 1970s.

Odland's odyssey to The TANK

The TANK is a striking place, with a ceiling that soars at about 60 feet above the ground, and with sparse light that comes largely from lightbulbs placed at the perimeters. Those bulbs replace the candlelight that illuminated the space years ago. Strange and accidental beauty also seeps in from small openings near the top of the cylinder, as light — in one case, at least — takes the form of a bright and distant star. The diameter of the cylinder is about 30 feet.

The electricity is a recent addition to The TANK. In 1976, when Odland came through Rangely on what is now a much-told-about odyssey, The TANK was a place where people scrambled secretly through what Odland said was a 19-inch portal. Odland himself was on what's called a Chautauqua Tour, a traveling arts festival sponsored by the Colorado Council on the Arts and Humanities, and he was easy to spot, walking around Rangely with microphones and other sound equipment. It's a story that's attracted much media attention, including a recent piece in The Denver Postrecent piece in The Denver Post. A crew from CBS has also paid a visit.. A crew from CBS has also paid a visit.

recent piece in The Denver Post. A crew from CBS has also paid a visit.

"Because I was that guy interested in sound, some oil workers took me (to The TANK) on purpose," Odland said in a telephone interview, recalling that 1976 visit. "They thought it was cool. It was a local party spot."

When Odland discovered the acoustical possibilities of the place, he spread the word to other musicians. And so for decades, a group of musicians and sound artists made regular trips to The TANK to play and to record music, and to experiment with sounds. Musician Michael Stanwood eventually purchased The TANK and surrounding property in 1999 for $10, as Zadra explains in her Waving Hands Review piece.

Acoustical wonders

The acoustical properties of The TANK are somewhat mysterious, but Odland, who lives in Hudson, N.Y., mentioned a few concrete reasons for the majestic transformations of sound that people experience there.

"The most obvious things are the size and shape" of the structure, he said, noting also that the half-inch walls are made of steel. And the way in which the structure sinks into the ground, Odland continued, creates a "reverse parabolic curve" in the floor "that is crucial to sound." That means that there's not the usual "slap-back echo" created by flat surfaces. Instead a much more fluid sound-response seeps into the space.

"What we have inside The TANK is reverberation," Odland said. "It's this pool of reverberation instead of an echo … It will retune your note into a slightly different note."

Sounds swell and melt into each other in The TANK, even when they start out softly. Last week, Zadra noted that people are asked to remove their shoes when they enter, as much to preserve the auditory atmosphere as the cleanliness of the floor. And when she sang "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" at a slow, contemplative pace, the sounds seemed to entwine her in a palpable sort of beauty.

"Nobody can get it unless you physically stand in it," said Lois LaFond, a Boulder musician who first came to The TANK in the middle 1980s, in a telephone interview.

LaFond described the sound in The TANK as something that "swirls into another dimension" before it returns — changed in some way — to the singer.

Saving The TANK

LaFond is among members of the nonprofit organization Friends of The TANK — a group that came together and raised more than $46,000 to save the structure from imminent demolition in 2013, buying it from Stanwood and setting the foundation for The TANK Center for Sonic Arts. The group's plan included official code inspections that paved the way for public visits. The TANK now has a Certificate of Occupancy along with, as Friends of The TANK member Jeremiah Moore notes in a blog entry, an “access road, electrical power, ventillation, lighting, safety fence, sanitation facilities, fire extinguishers, and a new door, large enough for a string orchestra.”blog entry, an “access road, electrical power, ventillation, lighting, safety fence, sanitation facilities, fire extinguishers, and a new door, large enough for a string orchestra.” Friends of The TANK members also delivered a proposal to the Rangely Town Council. Friends of The TANK members also delivered a proposal to the Rangely Town Council.

blog entry, an “access road, electrical power, ventillation, lighting, safety fence, sanitation facilities, fire extinguishers, and a new door, large enough for a string orchestra.” Friends of The TANK members also delivered a proposal to the Rangely Town Council.

"If we were going to do this thing, we wanted the town with us," Odland said. "We wanted the participation of the town."

LaFond agreed.

"I feel we have made this wonderful connection to the town of Rangely," LaFond said. "If we can start to help build that and have an impact on the economic development, that … is probably one of the most beneficial things we could do."

New executive director

Now, The TANK Center for Sonic Arts has three paid staff members, LaFond explained. There's the new executive director, Rich Harris, along with Zadra, the operations coordinator. And Samantha Wade serves as "Guardian of The TANK," a position that's particularly important when The TANK is open to the public on Saturdays.

Last week, as Zadra spoke with visitors in The TANK, she was also meeting with Harris, who took some time to explain his interest in the position.

"I have quite a bit of experience as an executive director for nonprofit organizations, and I could get another job easily closer to home,” said Harris, 62, who lives in Denver. “There's quite a bit of activity right now."

But this job announcement struck a chord for Harris.

"I go back to my early 20s in being excited by this sort of stuff," he said.

Harris said he was a "little rock-and-roll drummer" in college, and eventually he earned degrees in music and performing arts before going on to graduate school and continuing his music study at San Francisco State, where he earned a Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies in Creative Arts.

"The area that always interested me was where the arts overlapped," he said, noting music and dance, or sound design and theater.

Harris said he's most recently worked for cities, running their performing art centers. But he's also managed three of "the medium-to-larger size nonprofits in the Front Range."

He's directed the Swallow Hill Music Association, in Denver; The Dairy Center for the Arts, in Boulder; and the Town Hall Arts Center, in Littleton.

The story behind The Dairy Center for the Arts harbors details that hit close to home, close to The TANK.

"It was artists breaking into an old, abandoned dairy," Harris said, noting that they eventually formed a group and received support from city council members to use the building. So Harris knows what it's like to work on artistic projects in an accidentally superb space.

Crafting plans for The TANK

As Harris and Zadra talked last week, they imagined what could be done inside and outside of The TANK.

"We've spoken before about the potential for using the outdoor space in the future," Zadra added, noting the possibility of creating an amphitheater.

Harris mentioned the potential for meditative activities in The TANK.

Zadra noted, too, that groups coming in to do projects at The TANK will be expected to contribute to the community.

"We're a small community with pretty limited arts resources," she said, noting the importance of such contributions.

Zadra said last fall when the Detour Music Program, part of Colorado Creative Industries, came through the town, they brought The Flobots and other musicians.

"They put on a concert in The TANK, experienced The TANK, and they also did three different workshops in town," she said. "For me, as a longtime community member, that's one of my big angles."

Odland said the vocal group Roomful of TeethRoomful of Teeth is planning to come and record in The TANK in June. The Grammy-winning group’s musical reach is wide, as its website notes, with members having “studied Tuvan throat singing, yodeling, belting, Inuit throat singing,” along with Korean, Georgian, Hindu and other musical traditions. is planning to come and record in The TANK in June. The Grammy-winning group's musical reach is wide, as its website notes, with members having "studied Tuvan throat singing, yodeling, belting, Inuit throat singing,” along with Korean, Georgian, Hindu and other musical traditions.

Roomful of Teeth is planning to come and record in The TANK in June. The Grammy-winning group's musical reach is wide, as its website notes, with members having "studied Tuvan throat singing, yodeling, belting, Inuit throat singing,” along with Korean, Georgian, Hindu and other musical traditions.

Last week, Rangely resident Elaine Urie was also visiting The TANK, singing a stunning rendition of "Amazing Grace." In addition to bringing music, Urie has been involved with various corners of The TANK's growth. Her husband worked on construction to improve the area surrounding The TANK, and Urie served on the Rangely Town Council when the successful efforts to save The TANK from destruction were underway. She described The TANK as a positive force for Rangely.

“After I sang here, it was like a huge ‘wow,'” she said. “People need to experience the inside of The TANK.”

Residents from Craig also make the trek to The TANK. Robin Schiffbauer was there recently, and she described the collective sound when Zadra sang "Amazing Grace," and when she and the other visitors joined in.

"It's reverberating all the way up," Schiffbauer said. "You can hear it start at the bottom and go all the way up through The TANK."

For visitors, instruments are available to play — though for the most part they're not conventional instruments. A few gold-mining pans, for instance, sit on the floor. Outside of The TANK, they don't sound like anything special, Odland explained, but inside "they turn out to be fantastic percussion instruments."

This new, public stage in The TANK's life, Odland explained, will allow people to experiment with sound in ways the musicians who first visited The TANK may never have envisioned.

"We're opening it up so people can reinterpret it," he said.

And so in the future, sounds in The TANK will stream from a growing number of professional musicians — sounds skillfully wrought and infused, by The TANK, with surprising new textures. And visitors who aren't professional musicians will also unleash sounds, enhanced by a physics people don't completely understand, and sweetened by a grace that emerges from those ordinary — by those anything-but-ordinary — walls.