RANGELY I Friend of Rangely’s “The Tank” and key organizer Bruce Odland can handle their share of structure. But the organic, natural growth of projects and relationships interests Odland more.
June’s Tank work week gave Odland and the Friends of the Tank their share of both. Planning and improvisation coalesced as Tank faithful from around the country joined local contractors and supporters to continue transforming the empty 30-by-60-foot water tank on a hillside north of Rangely into a Center for Sonic Arts.
To earn the Tank’s coveted Certificate of Occupancy this summer—the next step toward opening the Tank to locals, artists, sound aficionados and the curious—the Friends had key items to check from their to-do list: cut a door into the Tank’s massive steel side, place a foundation and custom-built control room on the site and join the structures with a uniquely constructed deck.
Just how the projects would come together was the unknown variable. Sound artists Odland and Jeremiah Moore, singer-songwriter Lois LaFond and University of Texas professor and composer Mark McCoin, who make up the Tank’s executive board, coordinated with project teams, engineers and local contractors for months before June’s work week.
But with organizers only able to make a couple of trips to Rangely beforehand, they were uncertain how theory and application would merge.
Now, three weeks after the projects’ completion, Odland can say they weren’t without their hiccups. How plans and people came together for the Tank, he said, was organic and something more than that.
“Some kind of new tribe is forming out of the people of Rangely and the people coming in,” Odland said. “I see this wonderful interesting gathering of people who want to see this thing happen.”
Local contractors, among them Urie Trucking, Meeker Sand and Gravel, Ducey’s Electric, W.C. Striegel, Inc. and Stearns Construction, Inc., completed critical work on the foundation, control room, door and wiring. Many of them supported the Friends’ efforts by donating labor and materials for free or at cost.
“We just thought it was too cool a project not to help,” said Vernal’s Michelle Stearns, who, with husband Dennis, donated materials and labor for the foundation at cost.
“It’s not your average marching band; who would have thought the Tank would end up in Rangely, Colorado?”
Placing the foundation and control room required coordination, balance and timing, both in planning and execution. A team of Tank volunteers and designers coordinated with local contractors to orchestrate hole-digging and concrete-pouring, to set pillars and pass necessary inspections.
Not everything progressed seamlessly.
“All of this was planned in virtual reality,” Odland said. “Once I was confronted with the mud and dirt and reality of it, I thought, ‘Oh, no, I got it all wrong.’ I’m a composer, but here I was functioning as a general contractor…it all came out right. This is done now, and it’s going to last a long, long time.”
On June 16, Steve Urie used a front-end loader to lower the acoustically-treated control room onto its foundation. Layered with mesh bags of shredded, confetti-like Croc shoes, the base was intended to dampen all floor vibrations during Tank recording. The question: whether the Crocs would compress correctly or hold the control room off the foundation.
Although the container initially bounced on the Crocs, Urie deftly worked the controls to gently lift and reset the control room until it settled evenly onto its new home. The plan had worked.
From there, the next “step into modernity” involved electrifying the container and wiring it to the Tank. Tyler Robie with Ducey’s Electric helped make that happen, returning later on his own to help with the deck and experiment in the Tank.
Another primary concern was code-approved access to the Tank. A discussion among engineers, acoustic technicians and musicians lasting the better part of two years culminated in the 40-by-80-inch door being cut June 15.
The door, Odland’s design, happened via preparation and planning by metal artist and blacksmith Jennifer Gilbert (Las Vegas, Nev.) and technical theater consultant Bill Ballou (Los Angeles, Calif.). Glenwood Springs SGM engineer Bill Swigert approved the design.
Rangely resident and W.C. Striegel pipeline welder Dana Hanvey made the freehand cut.
All along, Odland and the others knew that hidden stresses in the Tank could warp the door as it emerged from the structure. What they didn’t know was whether cutting the door would change the Tank’s acoustics.
The first happened. The second didn’t.
“We were prepared for some warping to happen and were disheartened when it did,” Odland said. “It took days of different approaches to get the thing back into shape … it’s very hard to model acoustics and know what the outcome will be.”
Old-fashioned blacksmithing proved the fix. As LaFond heated the metal section by section with a torch, Gilbert used a two-pound hammer to restore the door to its original shape. Eventually, Odland said, a heat-resistant industrial rubber gasket will frame the door’s interior, creating a seal comparable to a pressed saxophone key.
The second, more critical issue was the Tank’s sound.
“The big cliffhanger was: Will it change the sound?” Odland said. “It’s very hard to model acoustics and know what the outcome will be. We wondered from the very first Kickstarter campaign, when we knew we had to make a new door, whether it would change the acoustics, and it didn’t.”
The final piece, a wooden deck connecting the Tank to the control room, lacks conventional rectangular lines. Rather, each board radiates from the Tank’s center in keeping with Odland’s vision of the Tank as a “giant sundial” that responds to the seasons and times of day.
“The Tank is a gift that gives back sound,” Odland said. “So the question is, what is the design of the deck that connects the two? If it was rectangular, it would reinforce the taking of sound—for recording, for consumption, for use. We want to always stay oriented to the giving of the Tank.”
Just as important as the work completed, Odland said, were the ways disparate people came together during the work week. What had always been true only became more apparent: that community supporters and Tank people are less one or the other and more a composite of both, he said.
In a first meeting between Tank organizers and community programmers on June 16, attendees brainstormed ways that the Tank can teach art, science and engineering and they discussed the community’s future interactions with musicians and visiting artists through workshops, performances and residencies.
Rangely Junior-Senior High School Principal K.D. Bryant and Colorado Northwestern Community College President Russell George, among others, said they were committed to further linking the Tank to the community and schools via programs and partnerships.
“I think the Tank has the potential to have a very positive impact on the arts and arts education in Rangely,” RJSHS Music Director Christian Saunders said. “I am very excited about the unique possibilities for our students to experience sound in a new way through trips to the Tank. If we develop a strong connection between our schools and the Tank, it will be a wonderful resource.”
The Friends also plan to open the Tank to visitors at Septemberfest via an open house, community performances in the space and school-related activities for children and young adults.
However the Tank’s gifts evolve to teach a new generation, LaFond said, it will increasingly happen in the context of the community and its residents.
“At one of our dinners … I talked about the most important part of the Tank project which, to me, is the connection with the town and townspeople,” she said. “Bruce chimed in and agreed. So I think we can’t talk again about the Tank without talking about the town.”