Group rallies around Rangely tank and its unique sound
Echoes are a boomerang, repetitive waves of sound that return with a warbling whisper or a slap to the cheek. They come back like a golden lab with a tennis ball, and the lesson learned is one of trigonometric wave equations.
This is different.
For lack of a better word, let us say reverberation. A sound leaves its source and does any number of unpredictable things: race in circles like atoms in a supercollider. Twist away like a whirlpool, like a benign Charybdis. Expand and pulse up and up and up.
In this water tank, which never held a drop beyond the sometimes seepage common to old, rusty buildings, choirs bloom from a single note. Sound lingers, enveloping like a dip into warm mineral water, reluctant to fade away.
Thirty feet across, 60 feet high, the water tank on an off-the-beaten-path hill just outside Rangely town limits has been called a marvel, a wonder, a miracle. It looks like an old pail of lumpy paint.
And it has been saved.
A Kickstarter campaign to save the tank, with a goal of raising $42,000, ended March 31 at $46,126 from 751 donors around the world. The unmoving tank had somehow ended up on a precipice: Owner Michael Stanwood had shouldered the taxes and liability and maintenance since buying it for a symbolic $1 in 1999, and it was getting to be too much. Someone offered to buy the tank and five acres that go with it, with the idea of selling the steel tank for scrap. It was tempting.
“He thought we’d all lost interest in it,” said Bruce Odland, spiritual godfather of the tank. “We’d been recording there for 37 years, and he thought maybe we were tired of it.”
Nobody had recorded there for two or three years, Stanwood said. It is surrounded by broken brown glass and deer droppings and punctuated with graffiti. Stanwood lives in Lafayette and there’s only so much he can do.
Barbara and Donald Wade live directly below the tank on Rio Blanco County Road 46, and they long ago took a protective interest in the tank and the wonder of its sounds. Barbara became keeper of the key for the lock that secures the tank, and her granddaughter, Sammi Wade, 22, became the tour guide, scampering up the hill and letting in those who passed muster.
Those who understand, who’ve stood inside and heard the wonder of it, protect the tank like a living thing, like a dappled egg in a nest. And it was in danger.
“It hit such a chord with our group, with those of us who’ve played and recorded there over the years,” Odland explained. “It was a rallying cry.”
Save the tank!
Odland, a musician who lives in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., should know. In 1976, as part of the Chautauqua Tour, a traveling arts festival, Odland spent three days in Rangely, recording its sounds for a sonic art piece he’d present at the end of the tour’s run in town. He was “that guy,” everybody knew about him, the one who walked around with big recording equipment and headphones.
A pickup pulled up next to him one afternoon and one of the two guys inside, two oil field workers, said, “Are you that guy?”
I am, Odland confirmed.
“Get in,” the guy said. Odland obliged, looking out the back window to see the truck bed piled with two-by-fours. Uh-oh, he thought.
“It turned out to be one of the most wonderful accidents of my life,” Odland recalled.
The guys drove him to a tank on a hillside on the way out of town, and instructed him to crawl in through the drainage hole. They told him to turn on his recording equipment, which he did, then stood expectantly inside the dark old water tank.
Then, these two guys hit the outside of the tank with the two-by-fours and Odland, inside, was hypnotized and speechless, mesmerized by this sound like nothing he’d heard before. It engulfed him, swallowing him. If there had been an “11” on his recording equipment, the needles would have jumped to it. The reverberation went on and on, 10 seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds, pulling him under and lifting him up.
The guys tossed rocks at the outside of the tank, and it was a different sound entirely, an eternal, swirling rain of sound.
“It’s an experience that’s more than music,” Odland said. “To me, the sound moved around in there almost like a dolphin moves in water, you can almost watch it, your head moves right around with the sound. Sometimes the sound spins in a ball up by the ceiling. It’s so physical, and the fact that this water tank just happens to have those magic proportions, purely by accident, is miraculous.”
He calls it a Taj Mahal of sound, a wonder of the world.
Odland went back that night with a friend from the tour, and they brought instruments. Revelation followed. Over succeeding months and years, Odland brought other friends, Stanwood among them.
“I once blew a conch shell inside it and the sound lingered for 40 seconds,” Stanwood recalled.
They made music and recorded albums, and before they worried about getting caught, they strung an extension cord from the tank to the Wades’ house for electricity.
“They’re just really nice people, the one’s who’ve come to play music,” Barbara Wade said. She’s fed them and, on occasion, housed them for the weekend. They know her family. They ask after grandson Blake, who has spina bifida, and granddaughter Sammi.
“I’ve been going up there most of my life,” Sammi said. Being in the tank, hearing the music, helped her find her voice. She sings and her boyfriend, John Cottrill, 23, plays music inside the tank.
It’s instinctive: They shimmy through the drainpipe, now covered and locked after a long time exposed to high school partiers, and stand in the darkness — illuminated only by sunlight that funnels in from a drainage pipe about 2 feet in diameter that’s bigger than it looks but smaller than you’d think.
From ground level to about 7 feet up the 60-foot walls is a grubby white with the occasional graffiti. Above that, a deep maroon. Looking straight up is to lose any sense of proportion and size, to wobble a little on firm ground and stand somewhere in the universe.
The only thing to do, then, is sing, and Sammi offers a high, clear note. It circles the tank and rises, joined by a note in harmony from John. The two strands twist and dance up and around, lifting to the conical ceiling, lasting and living far beyond anything that should be possible.
So, the tank needed saving.
Odland and a coterie of tank faithful took to the Internet, to Kickstarter, to raise enough for taxes and maintenance and, down the road, solar panels and some sort of storage area, plus a more navigable entryway.
“People from around the world responded,” Stanwood said. “Anybody who’s been inside knows what a special place it is.”
Plans are still being formulated, but Stanwood said he’ll sign the tank and five acres over to whatever controlling interest for the tank, probably a nonprofit, is formed. A county survey will be necessary at some point, because according to Rangely officials, Stanwood and two other men own the land in that area and there’s been some recent dispute as to who owns what.
Stanwood bought it in 1999 after discovering, with a friend, that it was in a sorry state, but knows very little of its provenance. In fact, a history of the tank is hard to come by. A lady at the Rio Blanco County Historical Society and White River Museum will refer inquiries to “The Reality of Rangely,” an exhaustive history by Robert A. Haag, but it contains no glossary items about the tank.
Stanwood said he knows it was brought up to the hill in pieces in the 1950s and welded together there, and the words “Rio Grande” are painted high on the side, but the railroad doesn’t run through Rangely. So, it’s a bit of a mystery, just like the perfect qualities of sound and reverberation inside it.
Odland said he wants the tank to be a resource for musicians and sonic experimenters from around the world, as well as an educational resource for Rangely and Rio Blanco County.
Cheri Perry, owner of the Main Street Coffee House in Rangely, said she thinks it could benefit the town as an attraction and destination for artists and educators.
And it is saved. With the rusty outlines around the steel panels from which it’s constructed and the inexplicable rust outline of a house on its back side, with “Love one another” spray-painted in blue and “Cord loves Lynea” spray-painted in white, with an outside ladder that’s too high to reach, with a ring of weeds and wildflowers, it is saved.
So, inside, the music swirls. It dances and drifts, twisting higher and bigger, filling a never-used water tank with undying sound.
For information about the tank, go to http://www.tanksounds.org or http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/513552603/save-the-tank.