Sonic Artist Bruce Odland: Money Makes Noise, A Water Tank Creates Art


The Tank at night (Photo courtesy Friends of the Tank)

The Tank in Rangely, Colorado, is considered one of the sonic marvels of the world within a certain circle of composers and sound artists. (Photo courtesy Friends of the Tank)


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.


Composer Bruce Odland recording at The Tank in Rangely, Colorado (Photo courtesy Friends of the Tank)

Composer Bruce Odland recording inside the abandoned water tank in Rangely, Colorado (Photo courtesy Friends of the Tank)



Bruce Odland-Switzerland 1

Bruce Odland making recordings for Hearing View, a project involving the oldest mental hospital in Switzerland. The project is a collaboration with Sam Auinger. (Photo courtesy Bruce Odland)



Blue Moon at the World Financial Center in New York City (Photo courtesy Bruce Odland)

For Blue Moon, O + A (Sam Auinger and Bruce Odland) created an installation that transformed the environment of the World Financial Center Plaza in New York City into an ambient soundscape activated by the rising tides of the river, docking commuter ferries, helicopter and jet traffic, car horns, waves, bird song, and breezes off the Hudson. (Photo courtesy Bruce Odland)


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 glimpse inside The Tank (Photo courtesy Friends of the Tank)

A glimpse inside The Tank (Photo courtesy Friends of the Tank)



The Tank in Colorado (Photo courtesy of Friends of the Tank)

The Tank in Rangely, Colorado is in danger of being lost. (Photo courtesy of Friends of the Tank)



Light inside The Tank (Photo courtesy Friends of the Tank)

Light inside The Tank (Photo courtesy Friends of the Tank)


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.”

Bruce opened my eyes to the connection between noise, money, and energy. “Noise is the sound of all of the power that we’re using at this moment,” he said. Our surroundings are “resonating with the sound of the wastestream of our economy and we have to walk through it and wade through it, and it affects what we can think that day, it affects our potential connection to the ecology, to the environment, to ourselves as people walking about with connections to other things on the planet.” In other words, almost anything that makes money is allowed to make noise. An “ultra-quiet” Cadillac is quiet for the owner, not for the person walking down the sidewalk when the car passes.


Bruce Odland-Switzerland 3-River

Bruce Odland making recordings in Switzerland (Photo Courtesy Bruce Odland)



Jeremiah, Bruce, Mark, and Max recording at The Tank (Photo courtesy Friends of the Tank)

Jeremiah, Bruce, Mark, and Max recording at The Tank (Photo courtesy Friends of the Tank)



Bruce Odland at The Tank in Rangely, Colorado (Photo courtesy Friends of the Tank)

Bruce Odland at The Tank in Rangely, Colorado (Photo courtesy Friends of the Tank)


We live in a visual cultural, and we have lost our “hearing perspective,” a term coined by Odland and his collaborator Sam Auinger. While an architect like Yoshio Taniguchi, can design a breathtaking new space at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the design, like so many contemporary structures, doesn’t take sound into consideration. The end result: a beautiful space that is an acoustical nightmare. But as Odland explains, we don’t teach architects the nuances of sound. Our disciplines are too insular and not always as collaborative as they could be.

According to Odland, we have repressed our sonic skills as a survival mechanism. There are no repeating tones in nature, unlike the repetitive hum of a jet or car engine, or the whine of a refrigerator. Such sounds “freeze us in time and space,” Bruce says.

Odland’s work attempts to resurrect our buried aural senses. During my interview, you’ll hear a number of Bruce’s compositions, including a water and snow harp (created and recorded outdoors), recordings made at The Tank in Colorado, and elaborate artworks that transform noisy urban landscapes into deeper experiences.

You can listen to the interview below or choose download to listen on your i-Pod or phone or in i-Tunes.

(If you’re reading this article in an email and can’t see the interview below, click here to listen on the Gwarlingo website.)

The above sound file has better quality, but if you want to download a smaller MP3 version of the interview to listen on your i-Pod, computer, or phone, click this link.




To learn more about the sounds of Bruce Odland, visit his website. You can contribute to the Friends of the Tank Kickstarter campaign and help them reach their $42,000 goal by March 31st by visiting the Save the Tank Kickstarter page. You can explore music from The Tank here. Bruce’s collaborations with Sam Auinger can be found at the O+A website.


An Update on the Gwarlingo Membership Drive

Thanks to all of the readers who have contributed to the Gwarlingo Membership Drive. Instead of selling out to advertisers, I’m “selling out” to my readers instead! 100+ Gwarlingo readers have contributed so far and $10,800 of the $15,000 goal has been raised. If you haven’t donated yet, you can check out my video and all of the member rewards, including some limited-edition artwork, here on the Gwarlingo site.

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By | 2016-11-11T21:50:22+00:00 03.21.13|Events, Greatest Hits, Performance, Sounds, Spaces|1 Comment

About the Author:

I’ve spent almost 20 years helping thousands of successful artists of all disciplines and working to make the arts more accessible. (One friend likes to call me “the arts enabler.”) From 1999-2012 I worked at The MacDowell Colony, the nation’s oldest artist colony, but I've also done time at an arts magazine, a library, an art museum, and a raptor rehabilitation center. In May of 2012 I left MacDowell to pursue writing, speaking, curating, and creative projects full-time. In 2015 I was named a “Top 100 Artist, Innovator, Creative” by Origin magazine. I've appeared as an arts and culture commentator on New Hampshire Public Radio, and in 2017 I was the recipient of the Wampler Art Professorship at James Madison University. I am the founder of the Gwarlingo Salon series, which connects artists like DJ Spooky with rural audiences in the Monadnock region. In 2017 my collaborator Corwin Levi and I will publish our first book, Mirror Mirrored, which combines Grimms’ fairy tales with vintage illustration remixes and the work of contemporary artists like Kiki Smith, Carrie Mae Weems, and Amy Cutler. I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, but have called New Hampshire home since 1999. My studio is located in the historic, mill village of Harrisville. I miss fried okra, the early southern spring, and restaurants that stay open past 9:00 p.m., but rural life agrees with me. In New Hampshire I can see the stars, go kayaking or snowshoeing, watch bald eagles fish in the lake, and focus on my creative work in silence. I no longer have to worry about traffic jams; deer, wild turkeys, and frost heaves are the primary road hazards here. Although I live in the country, I’m fortunate enough to be part of a vibrant arts community that extends beyond this small New England village. The quiet days are punctuated by regular travel and frequent visits to museums, theaters, readings, arts events, lectures, and open studios around the country. (You can read my full CV here.) Thanks for visiting Gwarlingo. I hope you'll be in touch.

One Comment

  1. Robert Sheets March 21, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    Thank you Michelle for this beautiful word picture on Bruce Odland. I was first introduced to the “Art of Odland” back in 1974 as a young man imbued with the creative spirit that became infectious to a community of arts leaders constrained by tradition and pedagogy. He became a mentor for me to connect afresh with the universe of sight and sound. As the first Executive Director of the Colorado Council on the Arts and Humanities, I was blessed with his participation in the gypsy band of artists and performers with our Colorado Touring Chautauqua Company. For the 1976 Celebration of Colorado’s Centennial and the Bicentennial of the United States, I was in Rangely when, as Bruce writes, he was kidnapped by some oil workers to go with him to hear sounds in a tank. They had attended a worksop he had conducted on the power of sound to inspire and entertain. There began his journey in the Rangely Tank which today, thirty-seven years later has become on of the most inspired projects which can redefine the historical and artistic nature of North Western Colorado. Through the arts, specifically the art sounds, Bruce and his partners have found a temple where the angels sing. To Save The Tank, is to preserve the purist of sound which can be a lesson for all humanity to stop where we are and listen. To many people who have looked at the “old tank” for years as a hunk of metal they will now have a chance to hear The Tank sing and the sounds of the artist Bruce Odland will transform their walk upon this planet earth. Thank you Bruce. Now, let’s SAVE THE TANK.

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