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 Dr. Symeon Waseen, BHSU assistant professor of music
 Jesse Dunaway, music major from Rapid City

Composers can find inspiration in nearly anything, a world event, book, past composers or a unique sound. Black Hills State University student Jesse Dunaway and music professor Dr. Symeon Waseen are digging a little deeper for their inspiration – nearly a mile underground.

Dunaway, music major from Rapid City, and Waseen, assistant professor of music, are creating compositions focusing on different facets of the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead and its former life as a gold mine. The music program is just the latest in collaborations between BHSU and the Sanford Lab that includes a variety of disciplines. 

“Composers are always searching for new sources of inspiration, and the Sanford Lab project will be an exciting way to blend the musical arts with local history and cutting-edge science,” Waseen said.

Dr. Rachel Headley, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) liaison at BHSU, has been working with the Sanford Lab to make the former gold mine and historical landmark more accessible to BHSU students of all disciplines. Headley initiated the program for Waseen and Dunaway. The two have had the opportunity to go to the 4,850-level where researchers are exploring some of the most challenging questions facing 21st century physics including the origin of matter, the nature of dark matter and the properties of neutrinos. 

Waseen and Dunaway are currently working on compositions which they will perform this fall. 

“We are approaching the composition process from very different angles,” said Dunaway. “I am hoping to write a multi-movement piece dedicated to each of the organizations that have invested in this mine.” He plans to write four movements: one on the miners and their history, one on the space itself, one focusing on the physics and one on the geology. 

Dunaway plans to have each of his movements drastically different with the instrumentation changing between each movement. “For the miners themselves and the culture I may use some folk instruments, banjo, mandolin. For the movement dedicated to the physicists it may be mostly ambient instruments – ones that create atmospheric sounds.”

Waseen’s composition will emphasize the scientific research that is being done with the LUX Project, an experiment to detect dark matter. “I am planning an electro-acoustic piece for piano, percussion, and octophonic speakers. The work will be structured, in almost every way, according to basic principles of dark matter. Even the rhythm will be determined by the frequency of dark matter events.” 

Both Dunaway and Waseen said it has been amazing to work on such a culturally and scientifically significant project. “Opportunities like this don’t come around very often,” Waseen said.

Dunaway added that having the opportunity to go underground will add to the depth of his compositions. “While we had our own preconceptions on what we’d like to write about until you get down there you can’t really know for sure,” he said noting that it was inspiring to talk to the different scientists about their perspectives, see the layout of the mine and how miners navigated, and to see the   site for the BHSU Underground Campus. 

In February, BHSU President Kay Schallenkamp along with a group of staff and students met with Mike Headley, director of the Sanford Lab, to visit the site and discuss the opportunities the underground campus will create for students and faculty. 

Dunaway said hopes to have an opportunity to go underground again before his composition is complete. Currently he is deciding what kind of instrumentation is both available and whether or not there are musicians in the area that are able to play the specific instruments. 

A date to premiere the pieces has yet to be determined, however, the hope is to have two performances, one at BHSU and one in Lead.