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Classically trained musician is making music with her violin, taconite pellets and trumpeter swans

Sara Pajunen is performing at 9 p.m. today as part of a residency at Zeitgeist Arts. Photo courtesy of Pajunen.

Sara Pajunen has found deep bass percussion by pounding on the side of a shipping container. She's collected the patterned clacks of a train and the distant sounds of mining. She's used a hydrophone to record the 15 seconds it takes for a taconite pellet to drop to the bottom of a pit mine.

The classically trained musician grew up in Hibbing but moved away when she was 14. Now she's back — with her violin — to explore through visuals and sound, the changing region where her family has lived for more than 100 years.

"I just want to create a love song to the landscape and explore the history and the current climate," she said.

Pajunen has been sharing her findings as part of a residency at Zeitgeist Arts, which is billed as a time to workshop the sights and sounds she has collected and pair it with her instrument. She plays at 9 p.m. today and Jan. 10 in the atrium. It's free and open to the public.

Sara Pajunen photo courtesy of Pajunen. Pajunen's travels to violin lessons — from Hibbing to Virginia or, later, Hibbing to Buhl — are part of the reason for her project. She details the points of interest on her website, spots such as Ironworld and the Mahoning Pit.

At the time, she didn't consider the history of what she was seeing.

"Part of this project is a greater understanding of the place where I came from," she said. "The more I learn, the more I realize how phenomenally complex it is, our relationship to resources and livelihood."

"Mine Songs" isn't a song, Pajunen said, it's a sound piece and an exploration.

"One thing art can do is help everybody to see things in a different way," she said. "That's my desire with that, including helping myself do that."

It's the sound of a pair of loons on her favorite pit lake, or trumpeter swans as heard from her canoe. It's watching the James R. Barker, a bulk carrier, beneath the Aerial Lift Bridge, then later visiting the BNSF Railway dock in Superior and noticing a glitch.

"The drive belt was exposed due to expansion work, and it made a wonderful irregular squeak," she wrote on Facebook.

Pajunen's project is also about the visuals. She's spent time at the Iron Range Resource Center and she's collected taconite pellets. She studied old maps. On her website, there are videos limestone unloading and steaming taconite.

During performances, she plays along with the found sound. Sometimes she shows videos from her explorations and responds with her violin. In the future, she's envisioning looping sounds, or collaborations, maybe an installation.

"I feel a very, very strong connection to the Iron Range," she said. "It's really near and dear to my heart. This is the first project in my life that I feel really, really attached to."

To follow her project, go to