The resonance from the Native American flute is so deep and beautiful, it's hard to imagine it achieving a richer sound.
But James Marienthal found a way. The founder of Boulder's Grammy Award-winning label Silver Wave Records, specializing in world, New Age and Native American music, recorded his new album inside an empty six-story steel water tank.
" Alive Inside The Tank," was released March 2 by Marienthal under the moniker Mysteries of the Night with vocalist Sarah Gibbons. They'll celebrate with a release party at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at Nevei Kodesh, 1925 Glenwood Drive, in Boulder.
The Tank is a legitimate recording studio in Rangely where dozens of musicians have created albums inside the looming tower tagged with "Rio Grande." Its organic acoustic qualities, stumbled upon by musician Bruce Odland in 1976, made for an unofficial recording site for a group of musicians until 2012 when it was on the block for scrap. That group of musicians formed the group Friends of the TANK to save the space, raising money and preserving (and updating with electricity and a door) the giant chamber, which is now open to the public.
Marienthal jumped on the opportunity to enhance his sounds, so he and Gibbons spent some time in early June of 2017 using this vast industrial resource.
"It's amazing to play music inside there, it's really a three-dimensional experience," said Marienthal, whose record label's catalog has earned five Grammys. "You play one note and it starts to vibrate all around you."
Adding more notes on top of the reverberation creates elongated and rich sound, he said.
"One note can turn into numerous notes with overtones, so you start playing with the overtones," he said. "My music partner was doing vocal harmonies and the combination of the improvising adds such a unique sound the album."
The first three flute notes on the first track, "To The Earth (Mama Quena)," reverberate for nearly 30 seconds as Gibbons chimes in with soothing vocals followed by smooth earthy percussion. The pacifying sounds generate a trance-like calm with natural melodic swirls. The Native American flute was born for this type of venue.
Marienthal said he went into the tank with pre-composed score ideas, but he ended up improvising for nearly the entirety of the album.
"We recorded about five-and-a-half hours of music just letting it roll, so to speak," said Marienthal. "We just played and recorded everything and we didn't stop. There were no second takes. It was mostly being able to improvise with what the Tank has to offer. It's a very different recording experience."
Marienthal calls "Alive in the Tank" an intimate and moving journey that explores industrial soundscapes. He said that after the experience, he had no idea if he had enough material to fill out an album, expecting to pad it with composed pieces.
"The intention was to get a few pieces that would be worth saving and sharing in some form or another," said Marienthal. But after editing and mixing, he only supplemented the album with two tracks. "Things went really well."
Marienthal said the only downside to the experience is its organic nature. He couldn't use a couple "stunning pieces" they recorded because nature chimed in with unforseen noises or booming sounds that were out of the musicians' control.
Since the cylindrical Tank has musicians encased in a non-insulated steel vessel, the weather affects the comfort conditions, too. Midday in mid-July can be way too hot, just as winter months require layers. Marienthal said he and Gibbons recorded the album in early June, but did it in two morning slots and one night slot to avoid high heat.
The release party will include a reception followed by a performance of flute and vocal harmonies with a different vocalist, as Gibbons moved out of Boulder, Marienthal said. But don't expect a live rendering of the album.
"We can't duplicate the sounds of the Tank," he said. "But we've been rehearsing and coming up with some fun things to create a nice vibe for the evening."
Marienthal is donating all album proceeds to the nonprofit The TANK Center for Sonic Arts.
"They do great community outreach and I'd like to help support promoting the arts in that part of Colorado," he said.