Is there a connection between noise and money? Which sounds are healing to us as humans, and which are damaging? And what does an abandoned water tank in Colorado have in common with the Taj Mahal or a Gothic cathedral?
These are questions that sound artist and composer Bruce Odland has been pondering for decades. While Odland began his career in the traditional music world—one that emphasized Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms—Odland discovered that his academic training didn’t correspond with his own experiences in the American landscape. While traveling in the mountains out West, he began to invent a new musical language—one based on the random sounds of nature instead of the repeated sounds and rhythms found in both Western music and in man-made machines.
Odland is known for his large-scale, public space sound installations which transform city noise into harmony, realtime. In 2004 he and collaborator Sam Auinger altered the harmonic mix of the World Financial Center Plaza in New York City, using the moon, tides, harmonic tuning tubes, and cement loudspeakers. Together they have changed the sonic character of many public spaces around the world. His most recent project with Auinger involves transforming Switzerland’s oldest mental hospital into a space filled with healing sounds. Odland has also worked with artists like Laurie Anderson, Dan Graham, Andre Gregory, Wally Shawn, Peter Sellars, and the Wooster Group.
Bruce recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to save an abandoned water tank in Colorado. The Tank is considered one of the sonic marvels of the world within a certain circle of composers and sound artists. The group, called Friends of the Tank, has started a nonprofit to preserve the unique structure as a space for community gatherings, music events, and recording sessions. The group needs to raise $42,000 in order to preserve the space, and they won’t receive any donations if they don’t meet their goal by March 31st.
A few weeks ago Bruce and I had an in-depth conversation about the Tank, sonic space, and the political and personal implications of the sounds we encounter each day.
As Bruce explained during our interview, “We won’t understand ourselves as a culture until we also understand the sounds we make.”