They call New Mexico the “Land of Enchantment,” and while nuclear secrets and alien evidence might sound enchanting, I once had an experience that did seem a bit out of this world in that southwestern state.
My wife and I were walking on a trail in the woods just past Los Alamos, and we decided to break trail and wander. It was a beautiful day.
But we crested a small ridge and dropped down, and everything went bizarro. All of a sudden it sounded like we were performing on stage and hearing ourselves over the PA speakers on the floor.
It was disorienting, and it took me a minute to realize we had walked into some sort of parabolic reflector-shaped patch of earth or rock or whatever, and all sound was being intensely reflected back to our ears. Just a natural wonder from the land of enchantment — and very cool.
The architecture of sonic spaces precisely built for sound reinforcement is an old art which sees little demand these days because modern concert and vocal spaces are now designed to absorb and soak up all sound except what is blaring over the speakers.
But before the days of loudspeakers and computers, musicians would seek out the best-designed, best-sounding spaces to perform in, because that’s the best it could get.
Some people are working to resurrect old spaces into sonic marvels, like Bruce Oddland and Lois LaFond and the good folks of The TANK in Rangely, Colo.
The TANK was a giant old water tank that sunk a bit into the earth at an even rate, creating this parabola type of thing in the steel floor and a ridiculously long echo decay.
The right person found out, and a few years later, we have YouTube videos of children’s choirs singing in there and it’s becoming a real spot on the sonic map. Visit tanksounds.org for the whole backstory and more info.
Well, I’m another dude who believes in the special qualities of a rare acoustic space. Not long ago, the Colorado Music Festival and the Center for Musical Arts in Lafayette asked me to resurrect a concert series and to talk about doing recordings there. At their headquarters, I noticed a small chapel that had sat unused for some time.
The music nonprofit paid for the carpet to be stripped and the floors to be refinished at my request, and all of a sudden, utter sonic magic returned to this hall.
Last month, the concert series and the recording project coincided when a scheduling mishap forced us to have the Bella Betts Trio soundcheck in the refinished recording space instead of the main hall, and our jaws collectively dropped when we heard it. It was sonic rarity. Music from two instruments filled the space like no PA ever could.
We moved in chairs and decided to have the group perform with no mics or wires at all. It was like a house concert with Red Rocks sound — unbelievable.
So we’ll keep doing more shows in there. Next up is bluegrass hotshots Masontown on Jan. 6. Look up Invisible Audience Presents on Facebook for the event info and tickets.