Checking Out an Acoustical Hidden Gem

Photo: Courtesy The Tank

Photo: Courtesy The Tank

Families and Grammy veterans alike are making music and magic in The Tank

By Natasha Lovato

Just a hop, skip and a jump from the Utah border lies an unparalleled music studio known as The TANK. In a town of some 2,000 people, Rangely attracts visitors from around the world wanting to experience acoustical perfection within a restored railroad water-treatment facility.

Photo: R. Carlos Nakai and William Clipman, Courtesy Carlos R. Nakai

Photo: R. Carlos Nakai and William Clipman, Courtesy Carlos R. Nakai

“The natural reverberations within the hollow tube met our performance expectations exactly,” said Carlos R. Nakai, a Native American flute player with 11 Grammy nominations.

Nakai first discovered The TANK while on his way to nearby Dinosaur National Monument. “To say the least, my accompanist, William Clipman, and I were bathed in calm stillness and peaceful bliss as if we’d just finished a truly magical sauna of sensual pleasure,” he said.

Although now a musical utopia, The TANK Center for Sonic Arts was not always known as such. During the mid-1960s, it was supposed to be used as part of a fire-suppression system for trains. But the unstable shale beneath it proved unable to support the tank when it was filled with water. In 1976, sound artist Bruce Odland became engrossed with the remarkable acoustic resonance caused by the subsiding floor that was pushing down into the shale, which made distinct reverberating sounds.

The stumbled-upon treasure originally built in the 1940s was brought to life with funds raised by Kickstarter campaigns. Donations covered the costs of electrical service, ventilation, lighting, accessible roads, sanitary facilities and other modifications. The old water vessel was transformed into a full-blown recording studio and small concert venue.

Along with visitors from around the world, groups like the Grammy-winning a cappella group Roomful of Teeth, jazz trumpeter Ron Miles, Nakai and many others have experienced the auditory pleasures of performing at The TANK.

James Paul, executive director of The TANK, emphasized the inclusive ideology that allows anyone to experience or record their own songs in the unusual setting. With free hours on Saturdays, anyone is welcome to observe the experience or book a recording session themselves.

Photo: Courtesy The Tank

Photo: Courtesy The Tank

“We are first and foremost a recording studio,” Paul said. “Often times when families record, it’s a Christmas song or something to do because it’s fun and it’s cool. Professional artists show up from around the country too but it’s a natural and very specific reverberation,─ a powerful experience they’re seeking.”

The acoustics change the sound of every instrument and voice. “The TANK is very much about the spiritual experience from all genres, like a cathedral of music,” Paul said. “For instance, when we have country sounds, the beautiful and nostalgic slide guitar echoes throughout. The general experience is to have people slow down and use The TANK as an instrument,” Paul said.

Visitors from around the world make the trip to Rio Blanco County to visit the source of sounds that can’t be produced anywhere else. So, maybe next time you find yourself on your way to Dinosaur National Monument, you’ll stop in for an experience at The TANK, where anyone can become a recording artist.

Colorado native Natasha Lovato will soon graduate from MSU Denver with a degree in Integrative Written Communication in the Arts.