Rangely’s Tank Is A Sonic Wonder. The ‘Earth Laws Of Acoustics’ Don’t Apply Here

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7min 30sec
Photo: The Tank exterior bruce odland
Composer, sound artist and longtime supporter Bruce Odland stands outside The Tank on the outskirts of Rangely, Colo.

Update -- CPR Classical will air music from Roomful of Teeth's performance at The Tank at 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 23-24. Stream it at CPRClassical.org.

Everyone who loves The Tank remembers the first time they stepped inside.

“The acoustics in it are just marvelous,” Elaine Urie said of the metal structure. “It does something to your heart.”

The Tank sits outside Rangely, Colorado. Its sound is unique. The smallest note can reverberate and swirl around you for what seems like an eternity.

It stands six stories tall, with an old Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad logo on the side. But there’s no railroad in Rangely. The story goes that a power company moved The Tank to town, and rebuilt it on a hilltop more than 50 years ago for storage. It sat empty for years — and slowly gained a reputation among musicians.

Elaine Urie made her first visit reluctantly, when she was a member of the town council in 2013. Locals knew The Tank as a place where teens went to party. Musicians from outside of town, however, had approached Urie and other leaders to help preserve it.

She understood Tank supporters’ passion the moment she went inside and sang a few lines of “Amazing Grace.” The scene was later recreated and captured on video.

“I have had many people say, ‘This is probably the best spiritual experience I have ever had,’” Urie said.

Bruce Odland, a sound artist and composer, first visited in 1976. He toured small Colorado towns that year with a traveling arts show, creating sound collages for the audience. The day after a show in Rangely, two oil workers told Odland they had something he had to hear.

They drove him to The Tank. Odland said they watched him climb inside, and then the workers banged on the metal exterior. That first trip inside left Odland enthralled.

“You’re in the middle of your own sound field and it comes back with such amazing feedback,” he said. “The Tank is a teacher. Everybody who comes here learns something about listening.”

The acoustics inside are unique because of a cone-shaped roof, a floor that bows up in the middle and metal walls that trap noises inside. The reverberations and resonance kept Odland coming back. Sometimes he stayed in The Tank for three or four days and used portable, battery-powered recording equipment to make music.

Odland lives in New York state but still visits Rangely a few times a year. He’s board president of what’s now called The Tank Center for Sonic Arts and still loves introducing visitors to the sound.

Step inside the structure and the heat wallops you. Temperatures rise above 100 degrees when the afternoon sun beats down. The door sounds like thunder when it closes behind you. Names of hundreds of people who supported The Tank over the years are etched on the door and walls.

Photo: The Tank Roomful of Teeth rehearse
The nine members of Roomful of Teeth rehearse and record inside The Tank in Rangely, Colo.

Odland and other supporters launched an online fundraiser in 2013 to preserve The Tank, and another in 2016 to open it to the public and make it a recording studio and performance venue. Hundreds of donors chipped in more than $100,000 online to save The Tank and upgrade it. Now it sits next to its own recording studio. A group called Friends of the Tank owns the property.

The online campaigns got thousands of people to watch Tank performances. They also caught the attention of the Grammy-winning vocal group Roomful of Teeth.

In June, the singers flew to Denver and drove five hours across the Rocky Mountains to record new music and perform at The Tank. Brad Wells, the group’s artistic director, thinks of the unique structure as “a bit like another planet.”

“The normal Earth laws of acoustics don’t apply here,” he said.

Roomful of Teeth usually records in comfortable, dry-sounding studios, The Tank, Wells said, is the opposite. A turn to the side or a step toward the wall can change your sound.

The singers also dealt with the weather in the high desert. A rainstorm blew across the region during a rehearsal one night. Raindrops pelted the exterior, creating a series of crashes and swells of white noise inside as Roomful of Teeth sang.

As the sun dipped behind the sandy hills outside Rangely the next evening, Roomful of Teeth and other musicians gave a concert at The Tank. Three dozen audience members squeezed inside. About 60 more listeners, many of them families with children, sat outside on lawn chairs and at candlelit picnic tables.

A set of loudspeakers were spread across the surrounding hilltops to broadcast the music from inside The Tank. The voices of Roomful of Teeth bounced off the desert. The music mixed with crickets down the hill.

Odland’s voice cracked as he talked about having Grammy-winning singers recording and performing at a place he had worked hard to save.

“It’s overwhelming,” he said.

Odland and other supporters see The Tank as more than a recording studio or a venue. They want it to be a sonic oasis. A place where students learn about sound. Where artists explore it. Where everyone from children to professional musicians are left awestruck.

“That’s precious,” he said. “A real, honest-to-goodness sense of awe that my senses can do so much more”

Odland said that’s why supporters wanted to save the Tank and share those sounds with the world.