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Photo: Georges Lentz.

This water tank is also known as the Silver Tank because once upon a time it was painted in silver anti-rust paint. Read about a sound-art installation here that was a collaboration between the composer Georges Lentz and the architect Glenn Murcutt, in Cobar, Australia.

It’s always interesting to learn what inspires an artist. Inspiration from an old, rusted water tank may be unusual, but creative people are like that. It’s not really surprising.

Casey Quackenbush reported the story at the New York Times in January, “Life in Cobar was a delicate thing until the arrival of the Silver Tank.

“In the vast, red-dirt hinterland of Australia, over 400 miles northwest of the shores of Sydney, rainwater is scarce. ​​For thousands of years, the nomadic Aboriginal Ngiyampaa people excelled at the art of survival by creating natural rock reservoirs. But after European settlers discovered copper and gold in the area in the 1870s, enough water was needed to sustain a booming mining town. Reservoirs were dug. Water was trained in from afar. Then, in 1901, a 33-foot-high steel water tank painted silver, hence its nickname, was erected about a mile outside of town. While the threat of drought remained (and remains to this day), it turned dusty Cobar, a freckle at the edge of the Outback, into something of a desert oasis.

“Nowadays, Cobar pipes in its water from the Burrendong Dam, about 233 miles east, and the tank, whose silver finish long ago succumbed to rust and graffiti, is empty of water. It has, however, been filled with something new — music.

“On April 2, after two decades of work, it will be officially reborn as the Cobar Sound Chapel, an audacious sound-art collaboration between Georges Lentz, one of Australia’s leading contemporary composers, and Glenn Murcutt, an Australian Pritzker Prize- and Praemium Imperiale award-winning architect.

“For his reimagining of the roofless tank, Murcutt installed an approximately 16-foot cube within its cylindrical space, in which Lentz’s ‘String Quartet(s)’ (2000-21), a 24-hour-long classical-meets-electronica work, will play on loop via a quadraphonic sound system. Inside the chamber is a concrete bench that seats up to four, from which one can look out through the ceiling’s gold-rimmed oculus. Morning, noon and night, then, the otherworldly sonic stream will reverberate throughout the concrete booth. …

“Lentz has been consumed by questions of cosmology and spirituality ever since he was a child. Born in Echternach, a small town in Luxembourg that formed around a seventh-century abbey, he grew up attending classical music festivals and stargazing with his dad. Later, he studied music in Hanover, Germany. While riding the train to university in the fall of 1988, he happened upon a story in the German science magazine Geo about the creation of the universe. It threw the tininess of humanity into sharp relief for him. …

“Ever since, Lentz has devoted his entire body of work to exploring the questions of the cosmos, transforming his initial fear into a quest for contemplation, one that only intensified following his 1990 move to Australia and exposure to the Outback’s ocean of sky. Both a continuation and culmination of his work, ‘String Quartet(s)’ began as an attempt to translate that sky into a score.

“To do so, he collaborated with the Noise, an experimental string quartet that’s based in Sydney. They used a range of techniques; to mirror a starry night, for example, the musicians invoked the pointillism of the contemporary Aboriginal painter Kathleen Petyarre, plucking their bows at the top of their instruments to create contained bits of sound. …

“They ended up with about six hours’ worth of music, which, through digital editing, Lentz expanded into a 24-hour, techno-infused soundscape of terror, wonder and reverence. …

“Around 2000, Lentz began dreaming of a music box amid a copper landscape, a place where his music could live alongside its muse. But it wasn’t until he played a concert in Cobar in 2008 that he considered the town as a potential site.

“He pitched the idea to the Cobar Shire Council, which later proposed the hilltop bearing the tank, suggesting it be demolished to make room. ‘Absolutely not!’ Lentz said. Soon after, he called Murcutt, 85, who is celebrated for hand-drawn, landscape-specific designs inspired by Australian vernacular architecture. …

“Murcutt has always been drawn to the desert, whose sparseness resonates with the Aboriginal mantra — touch the earth lightly — by which he tries to abide. In keeping with that idea, he set out to design, largely thanks to governmental funding, a simple, solar-powered chapel that would unify sound, site and atmosphere.

“Two large slabs of concrete mark the entrance outside. Inside, the cubic space (which is slightly slanted to optimize acoustics) is stark, just like the desert itself. In the four corners of the ceiling, sunlight streams through windows of Russian blue glass painted by the local Aboriginal artist Sharron Ohlsen, who also employs pointillism in her work. And, over the course of each day, an ellipse of light traverses the floor and concrete walls.”

More at the Times, here.

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