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RANGELY I When musician and composer Bruce Odland first came to Rangely in 1976, it was the last stop of the Chautauqua Tour, a traveling arts festival funded by the Colorado Council on the Arts and Humanities.
Odland carried sound equipment around town for three days, recording the sounds of pump jacks and big rigs, documenting the never-ceasing life in the oil fields.
However, his plans to move on suffered a setback during his last day in Rangely as two big, burly men in a pickup truck approached Odland and asked if he was “the guy.”
Assuming that the men meant the guy who records sounds, he said he was.
“Get in,” they said.
The driver headed west of town and turned onto County Road 41, Odland said, adding that the driver “gunned” the engine as the truck crossed the pavement and cruised up the dirt hill leading to a 60-foot water tank with the words “Rio Grande” painted across the outside. Its sides were scarred with graffiti and litter covered the surrounding ground.
Odland still remembers seeing the tank for the first time.
“The idea that struck me was, ‘Wow, that’s not the normal shape for these,’” Odland recalls. “It was huge, unusual. It reminded me of Jules Verne’s space capsule. It was glowing silver in the sunlight and was sitting in this little crater, which increased the off-world feel.”
What happened next changed the way Odland has looked at sound ever since.
The men told him to get into the tank and turn on his recording equipment.
“Why?” Odland asked.
“It’s a surprise,” they answered.
Odland entered the structure through the two-foot-wide portal and waited.
“I had the equipment cranked up and these strong guys started beating on the tank with two-by-fours,” Odland says. “Then they’d throw a rock against the side, from the inside, and those sounds would blend together and last for up to 40 seconds. They’d do lazy 8s, loop-de-loops, spirals and end nowhere at all.”
The reverberations were like nothing Odland had heard before.
He said he returned later that night to slide ºa six-foot-long Japanese harp through the portal. He then recorded the notes as they wound their way through space, expanding and shifting until they became something different from the original creation.
“It was a moment that transformed my life,” Odland says. “I never heard things the same way again.”
During the next three decades, Odland and dozens of other musicians have returned to the tank, experimenting with a variety of instruments, voices and recording techniques.
Several artists have made albums in the space, among them Odland’s “Leaving Eden” and Michael Stanwood’s “Portal.” For these musicians, the space is a “a rusty accident that turns out to be a sonic miracle (with)…a rich, harmonically shifting and three-dimensional reverb that will transform how (one) hears music.”
Odland, who installs sound systems around the globe, equates the tank to a Taj Mahal or Great Pyramid — The Sistine Chapel of the acoustic world.
In April 2012, the musicians learned that the structure might be sold and taken apart.
At first, the group thought the space may have served its purpose and that perhaps the artists had completed this leg of their creative journeys. The group even discussed one last trip to Rangely to record in the tank.
But producer David Shoemaker flatly rejected the idea of a farewell.
“I’m not going out there for a funeral,” he said. “We have to save this thing.”
If that was going to happen, the musicians decided the effort should serve more than those who already understood the tank’s value. They believed it should involve the community, showing area residents a vision of the tank for local artists and future generations.
Enter Friends of the Tank, the non-profit group launched by Odland to secure the tank’s future.
The Kickstarter campaign begun by the Friends of the Tank on March 9 has reached one-third of its $42,000 fundraising goal. If the full amount is raised by March 31, the tank will be cleaned and secured, then furnished with solar power and an Airstream trailer control room for future performances and education.
Community outreach would be a main focus, Odland said, pointing out that it wouldn’t be just for the musicians who would record there.
“There’s this gift sitting on the hills there, and the people of Rangely should be a part of it,” said vocalist Lois Lafond, who recorded with many of the tank musicians in the 1980s. Now she’s raising awareness of the campaign along with the local volunteers.
“Most people on the planet don’t have a chance to step into a place like that,” she said. “Because it’s right here, the community should know about it and benefit from it.”
Lafond said a major part of the outreach program will be educational, and that could mean bringing musicians into the schools and hosting field trips to the tank so the children could experience sound in a new way.
“The tank is a key to developing your musical ears; a place where we’ve learned to listen more than any other place,” she said. “If we can help kids learn what listening really is, we’ve accomplished something special.”
Samantha “Sammi” Wade, a 22-year-old Rangely resident, knows about listening. She’s been doing it since she was a kid, when she would cross County Road 41 from grandmother Barbara Wade’s house to hear the musicians perform in the tank.
“I was most familiar with Mike (Stanwood), who would bring people down to the tank,” Wade said. “They would play big instruments like elephant tusks and sing. I’d bring friends up there every year. As I got older, I really fell in love with music and loved singing, so I’d look forward to the artists’ visits more and more.”
Last summer, while Odland, Mark Mccoin, Mark Fuller and Max Bernstein were recording in the tank, Wade entered without saying a word, lifting her voice instead to create “Sammi’s Song.” To those present, Wade embodied a new generation that could appreciate and use the tank’s power if given the opportunity.
Wade has come by her passion honestly. For decades, her grandparents’ home was a place where tank musicians ate meals, caught up with each other, tried out new songs and grabbed a few hours of sleep. The home also supplied power to the tank when artists held a recording session.
Now, the Wades and locals like Cheri Perry and Brittany Skelton, among other Rangely folks, are pushing to save the tank, too.
“I think if people could just hear it, they would understand how special the tank is,” Sammi said.
Now, thanks to the Friends of the Tank, people can.
The Tank Channel, on the Internet at www.tanksounds.org , adds clips daily from recordings spanning the last three decades.
Until March 31, backers can donate to the cause (and earn bonuses like CD downloads) by going to www.kickstarter.com and searching “Save the Tank” or they can check out “tanksounds” on Facebook for updates.
“Bit by bit, something’s emerging there that includes both of our interests, the Friends of the Tank and the people of Rangely,” Odland says. “We have something in common.”