høle in the skY

zeitgeist new music quartet & kathy mctavish

last passenger pigeon she slipped away forever into sky through iron bars into blue ...

^ past events

Gimaajii Mino Bimaadizyann Community Center

installation in old gymnasium, Duluth, MN

September 27, 2014 7:00 pm

St. Paul's Zeitgeist New Music Ensemble, composer Kathy McTavish and artists:

  • Julie Gard
  • Rocky Makes Room
  • Kathy McTavish
  • Katelynn Monson
  • Sheila Packa
  • Kathleen Roberts
  • Richie Townsend
  • Jake Vainio

Studio Z, St. Paul

May 16, 2014 7:30 pm

May 17, 2014 7:30 pm (double feature with ørigin of birds)

May 18, 2014 2:00 pm

^ about the project

I created an early sketch of this work for the 2013 Zeitgeist Composer Workshop funded by the Jerome Foundation. This opportunity "is a five-day workshop designed to give emerging composers the opportunity to develop creative ideas and stretch their artistic boundaries in an environment that celebrates exploration and experimentation."

With further funding provided by The American Composers Forum JFund and the Minnesota State Arts Board we have expanded the early sketch into a larger work that was first shown live May 16-18 at Studio Z. This work was also released online in early May. A Duluth performance and workshop were held at the end of September.

With this score for Zeitgeist, my goal was to create an immersive sound / video story world - to create a landscape for them to wander, resist, narrate, change. Zeitgeist has over 30 years of experience bringing new music to life. They are experienced improvisational musicians and they often work with non-traditional scores. The Composer Workshop provided an experimental space for exploring new forms and developing new work. It provided time and space for collaborative exploration in which the piece could evolve / transform / distill. I am grateful to Zeitgeist for sharing their creativity and rich soundscape with me. I took sound samples / core samples from our initial time together that I layered back into the larger fabric of the piece to create a geologic record / layered memory. This is an animated, open, shifting story created by our collaborative process. Various iterations are available online.

For the live performance of høle in the skY, I created a text / video / minimalist sound installation - a landscape - that encloses the 4 musicians. The core story revolves around planetary climate change / extinction. Specifically, the core text comes from a book I wrote in 2012 called: "night train / blue window" about the last passenger pigeon, Martha, who died in the Cincinatti Zoo September 1, 1914. Another text is laced throughout the piece in counterpoint. It is the story of a girl growing up on the Iron Range of Minnesota. This text is from the book: "Night Train Red Dust: Poems of the Iron Range" by Sheila Packa. It provides an intimate human voice in a sea of rapid climactic change.

As a composer, improvisational cellist and installation artist, I am interested in the ways we stain each other. I am drawn to episodic stories, evolving myths, wandering installations, shifting landscapes, phantom exhibits, street music, ephemeral / improvisational / vanishing spaces, inarticulate languages, loose collaborations ... the infinite between. høle in the skY is part of a larger wandering, episodic journey I took for about a year called radiø plutø / the schøol of impermanence. I think of this as a collaborative story caravan. I drew inspiration for the form from things like the Arabian Nights / Canterbury Tales or from loosely structured grassroots movements like idle no more. This journey was enriched by collaborations with cross-disciplinary artists that I worked with along the way. I kept thinking about story looms, the act of weaving ... or graffiti.

^ generated film sample

screen recording

» view album on vimeo

høle in the skY / graffiti angel recording 2014 09 20

^ video ingredients

digital maps

video landscapes that are shown beneath the live text and data & projected around and across the performers

høle in the skY: the bridge

digital map #32

digital map #30

digital map #34

digital map #31


^ book ::: night train / red dust


These poems are about the Iron Range in Minnesota, the Vermilion Trail, and they are stories of travel and derailment about mining, radical politics, unionizing, accordion music and strong women. The book brings together history, geology and the community of people with iron in their veins.

Sheila Packa, the granddaughter of Finnish immigrants, grew up near Biwabik on the Iron Range. She has three books of poems and has edited an anthology of seventy-five Lake Superior regional writers. She has been a recipient of two Loft McKnight Fellowships, one in poetry and one in prose. She has also received fellowships and funding support for projects from the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council. She served as Duluth's Poet Laureate 2010-2012. More information is available at sheilapacka.com.

"I excavate these words from a vein of iron….” these poems are “test drills and core samples” — a weave of memory, archive, dream, song, story — drawn from the history and people of the Iron Range of northeastern Minnesota. These pages sound the whistles and roar of the mines, the dust in the lungs, the dangerous crossings into a new language, the accordion’s breath. Culled from violence and tenderness, bone and ash, ore and light, they map a place, a time, a journey through love" --Pamela Mittlefehldt, PhD and co-editor The Heart of All That Is: Reflections on Home Holy Cow! Press

Available in bookstores.
ISBN 978-0-9843777-7-0
Distributor: Ingram

To purchase Night Train Red Dust online see: amazon.com

For more information about the book, see Sheila's blog

^ book ::: night train / blue window

the score

This book is a companion to an abstract, experimental film also called "night train / blue window." The abstract film and text both center on the ill-fated efforts of a bird named pullman to turn back time to before that day in 1914 when the last passenger pigeon, Martha, died in a cage in the Cincinnati Zoo.

Gary Boelhower writes: "Part of my meditation this morning was night train/blue window. This book is a searing song of loss, grief flame, black hole whole and somehow, somehow, somehow hope. In the reading and seeing, your body may become cage bound, zoo lost, saddened with each dry seed to keep the body's light flying against the dark. You may come to remember that you are holy flame holy wheel holy holy holy. You may learn to say the name of Martha as the sun breaks or moon shines, to say the name of Martha for all of us who are carriers. McTavish gives us the story, the hymn, the lamentation, the praise song, the train, the blue window. This train will take you... "

Available in bookstores.
ISBN: 978-0-9843777-6-3
Distributor: Ingram

To purchase night train / blue window online see:

or: amazon.com

To download night train / blue window click:

the interior text

the cover

^ text: science

^ thank you

The høle in the skY project is funded in part by the American Composers Forum JFund.

Kathy McTavish is a fiscal year 2014 recipient of an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. This activity is funded, in part, by the Minnesota State Legislature from the State’s arts and cultural heritage fund with money from the vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008.