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Two Thousand Meters Underground : music, poetry and the search for dark matter


The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) defines research creation as “An approach to research that combines creative and academic research practices, and supports the development of knowledge and innovation through artistic expression, scholarly investigation, and experimentation. The creation process is situated within the research activity and produces critically informed work in a variety of media (art forms)”. ( It is within this research optic that Laurentian University artist-researchers, Dr. Thierry Bissonnette (French Studies) and Dr. Robert Lemay (Music/Composer), have undertaken the first phase of their multidisciplinary arts project, Two thousands meters underground, in partnership the with the world renowned underground neutrino research laboratory, the SNOLAB. This project is funded through a grant from the Ontario Arts Council.

The project consists of literary writings, a contemporary music composition and recording which will take place underground on two separate occasions. In late July, as part of the first phase of the project, the two artists made their initial decent into underground observatory to analyze the possibilities regarding sound recording.

During the second phase of the project, after the final composition has been completed, Bissonnette and Lemay will make a second descent in the laboratory, accompanied by two saxophonists and their instruments. The musical piece will then be recorded underground.

The final phase of the project will be dedicated to promoting the musical compositions, which will be issued digitally on iTunes. A few months after that, a complementary project will consist in a literary book exploring a network of metaphors around the underground laboratory, involving a possible website or CD interface. Ambient sounds and noises recorded during the descent and inside the lab could also be processed, and then used in the context of a spoken word piece that will accompany the book and the featured composition.

When asked about his interest in the SNOLAB and its importance for this research-creation project, and the synergies and interactions between different forms of art and different disciplines, Bissonnette responded: “I believe in the power of metaphor and free association to give rise to new contexts of understanding. Crossing science and arts can only benefit each side, and stimulate intellectual surprise, with unintended results. In my view, the interest for the core elements and the obscure parts of the universe is shared by poetry and music as well as physics. Even if their objects are different, there is a human, mental bridge where they touch.”

About the artists

Thierry Bissonnette

Thierry Bissonnette is an associate professor in the Department of French Studies at Laurentian University. His book Le milieu de partout, published at Prise de Parole (Sudbury) under his pen name Thierry Dimanche, is a collection of essays, poetic prose and poetry, on which was bestowed the Champlain Prize in 2015.

Robert Lemay

Robert Lemay has composed many works and received numerous international awards. Among recent honors include the second prize from the International Competition Prize Luxembourg 2007 and the second prize from the Kazimierz Serocki 10th International Composers’ Competition 2006. Other international prizes include the first prize from the 2004 Harelbeke Muziekstad Wind Ensemble Competition in Belgium. The first prize was given by the city of Harelbeke with 10,000 Euro for his piece, Ramallah for saxophone alto and wind ensemble. In addition, Lemay received three prizes from the CAPAC (presently SOCAN). Presently, Robert Lemay teaches music theory and music analysis at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario. He is the President and the Co-artistic director of the 5-Penny New Music Concerts in Sudbury.