It’s not often that you get to see someplace as cool as the Soudan Underground Mine. And it’s really not often that you get to witness a private concert performed at the 27th level of the mine, 2,341 feet below the surface. On a clear, brutally cold February afternoon the Classical MPR crew met up with their Artists-in-Residence, Cantus, and took the three-minute, pitch-black ride down to the comfortable 51-degree depths to make just that event happen.
Accessing one of the richest deposits of iron ore in the world, the mine sits just up the hill from the sleepy town of Soudan, Minnesota, just between Virginia and Ely.
The Classical MPR crew arrived early, winding past “Soudan’s Only Store” towards Mine Road. A short jaunt up slippery hills, and we were at the surface of the old mine, inactive as a production mine since 1962.
There wasn’t really much mine to see at the top. A few beautiful old buildings housing the giant engines and 3/4 of a mile of steel cables, a warming house (now visitor center), and the powerful A-Frame. The frame, covered in mid-winter ice, straddles the relatively small shafts that lead down, offering leverage to move the lift cars to the appropriate level.
Our guide, James, helped us load into one of the old cars, packing everything, including people, into 2 closet sized cages, one on top of the other.
With a few beeps to the engine house on the communicator, we started to drop.
Without James shining his head lamp out at the mine shaft walls there would have been no light at all. The noise was impressive – a constant, roaring clang that was so loud that James had to yell to tell us to pop our ears from the pressure change by pretending we were chewing gum.
After a 3 minute ride, we reached the 27th level at an impressive depth of 2,341 feet.
Another 5 minutes on an old mine train (think Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – just the song that Cantus sang on their trip in an hour later) we arrived at the stope, the part of the mine last worked in 1962 when the mine was shut down.
We grabbed our gear, and started to set up.
Rob, our audio engineer, set up a DTS surround sound rig to capture the unique sounds of both Cantus and the mine.
Upon arrival, Cantus started to warm-up, setting in frantic flight a single bat who stayed with us through the rest of the recording session. We also had the company of some of the Soudan Underground Mine employees who made the train ride out to see the performance.
We spent several hours underground with Cantus singing several pieces – including Dave Matthews’ “Gravedigger” and old (appropriate for the setting) union songs. The audio and video will both be available on the Sonic Architecture section of the Classical MPR Artist-in-Residence page.
After our thank you’s to our gracious hosts at the Soudan Mine, we headed into Ely and made straight for dinner.
In true romantic February form, Cantus member Adam Reinwald and his wife, Trisha, our companion in the mines, shared a plate of pasta. As soon as it was set on the table they were promptly regaled by the remaining members of Cantus with This is the Night, the pasta “kissing” song from Disney’s The Lady and the Tramp. The perfect end to an amazing session.