Going deep with Mickey Hart
CRYSTAL BAY, Nev. – Former Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart’s new music, sonification, featured on the album “Mysterium Tremendum, mixes trace, dance and science. A tour with his band starts Friday in the Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room. Here he talks with Lake Tahoe Action’s Tim Parsons about his new sound and a new song, “Jersey Shore,” which benefits Clean Ocean Action, which has organized 3,800 volunteers since November to help Superstorm Sandy relief.
Q Tahoe is the first show of the tour. Is the opening night important to figure out everything?
A We’re pretty prepared, but there’s nothing like being on the road to break things in for real. We’ve learned a lot of new songs, some Grateful Dead songs and some new songs for the next CD. The band has gotten better. We played 100 shows last year and it really tells when we get on stage, so I have a lot of confidence that we are going to play beautifully in Tahoe. The band is on fire. It’s ready to play and this is going to be a great year for us.
Q Blake Beeman, the sound man, used to work for the Grateful Dead.
A This is a whole different ball game. He’ll have a lot on his plate. A lot of this is processed in very exotic ways. I am looking for a new sound so it’s very important how the sound gets to the people. It’s not just how we play but the delivery system. What I am trying to do is usually done in the studio but we’re going to be doing it live. It’s a complex organism. But we have it dialed and it flows beautifully.
Q You call the music sonification.
A That was really the challenge, to be able to sonify the universe. We’re taking pieces of the universe. The Big Bang and the epic events of the universe and the mind, stem cells. All of the micro. We were at the macro we’re now in the micro. So we’ve traveled from the beginning of time and space last year in the macro now we’re moving to the micro, stuff you can’t see down into the brain. Stem cells, DNA, finding out what the dance is between rhythm and life. That’s part of what the band is after. It’s not just entertaining. We’ve put a lot of science into this new work.
Q What has been the response?
A It’s been overwhelming from all sectors, but scientific sector is very interested, from the astrophysicists who never have really listened to the universe, they just plotted it but they never really heard what it sounded like until my sonifications. And then, the same with the mind. You’ll be able to hear my theta, beta and alpha waves live. It’s the neurology of rhythm, the neurology of sound is what we’re after here. What does rhythm or sound do to the brain and how do you do it? And how do you repeat it a second time the next day? We don’t really know what triggers different emotions, reconnects different neuropathways like in dementia, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. We are now on that threshold of music is medicine. What you see is the most exciting frontier of the century for music, how music can be used as a healing agent. We know it works. We don’t know how to repeat but that’s what I am doing with all the scientists to find out how the vibratory world works with us because we’re vibrations. We were born of vibrations. … That’s the food. That’s the nourishment. That’s the essential of all life is vibrations so music is a way of controlling vibrations. It just kind of led me here. Of course, I like fun. I like entertainment. I like to dance. So the idea is to bring these two worlds these world of trance and dance and the science of it together to find out how it works. We’re skilled at playing an instrument. That’s one thing. We have professional instrumentalists. That’s the musician. This is slightly different because now we’re probing. Circumnavigating a new musical direction.
Q Can you explain the special effects with singer Crystal Monee Hall?
A Sure. Crystal again is moving into a new frontier were she can take her vocals and process it and add a choir to it or add some kind of special effect to make it sound magical. Getting away from just the sound of the word. Now were getting into the sound of the envelope of the whole enhancement of the word which makes it really sexy and fun. You can delay her voice now. Here only limit now is her devise and her imagination. She sounds amazing.
The same thing goes for Joe Bagale. The whole band is experimenting with this entrainment, which means unity, union. When they play something, they all pulse together exactly. So it’s more of a pulse and a throb kind of direction that we’re going as opposed to your standard musical offering you would normally play. It’s a different kind of music. It’s a combination of popular music, music people can whistle to improvisational music and it kind of spins a web during the night and here you are and we go off on some kind of adventure and three hours later we end up safe and sound at home. That’s the was I see a musical experience rather that dotting the landscape with songs, which is good, too, but just not where we are now.
Q Has this new invention re-energized you, or have you always been this fired up?
A I’ve always loved this. The Grateful Dead did this. We actually got paid to do this. It has the same formula as early Grateful Dead. Not Grateful Dead as you’ve gotten to know it. The Grateful Dead, it became a little codified. We knew what we were going to do after 20 some odd years. There’s only so many places you can take so many things and this band is not like that. This band is at the beginning of its journey. So as it was for us for the first bunch of years is was a real adventure going on the stage not knowing really what was going to happen exactly. That was really fun. I thought here are all these wonderful musicians ready to go anywhere. They’ll follow me down a dark alley. They believe in this vision and that’s why I chose them. Because they’re of the willing. There’s no hangups anywhere. They love each other, a great band. Not a lot of baggage. Everybody’s looking forward to really new music.
People can expect to hear Grateful Dead music played the way I think it should be played and you’ll be hearing all this new music by Robert Hunter and myself that is really edge stuff. It’s exciting and it’s new, fresh. So I like all of that in a band. I love to group. I like grouping. I’m a groupist. The whole Grateful Dead was groupist. We all loved that so the ensemble grew really powerful. I don’t want to compare it to G.D. but it has that some kind of adventure-ness to it even though it doesn’t sound like it but the spirit is in tact. That’s the most important thing, if you have good material and you can play it with emotional content. After you’ve played 3,000 or 2,000 shows, it’s really hard. You know what I mean? It’s harder to get into it as opposed to if you’ve played 100.
Q It sounds inspiring.
A The spirit is alive. It’s young. It’s like a new relationship. It’s like when you fall in love, it’s really powerful at the beginning. Then you deal with the other kind of love that comes after the initial love. This band is really passionate about the music and they come to play. I like it. It’s really good. Good enough for me to go on the road and come to Tahoe and travel around and play the music seriously.
Q I read the song “Jersey Shore” came to you quickly.
A I saw Bon Jovi and Brian Williams and all the faces of the people on the NBC broadcast after the storm. It was in their eyes. It was just a tragedy. Their memories of sense of place just wiped out. So it just popped out. It was perfect. A song of hope a song of survival. The idea was to give it to the people, let them download it for free or if they had some change or serious money put it down and it goes to an organization on the ground that does the work. The real cleanup. It’s not over, tragedies like that. Now is the time when they really need help. Hopefully this might just do some good. My expectations are totally wide open on it. If the people like it and they embrace the song and they like what it’s for, they’ll get behind it. But it was an emotional few minutes for me.
Q With climate change, we can expect more of this.
A This is that kind of heads up. Everything by the coast is vulerable with the change of climate and this song also makes note of that, tandentially. It’s not a preachy song. It’s not supposed to be a sermon. There should be a lot more songs about these kind of things cropping up. That’s what artists do. They try to reflect what they feel what’s going on in the word. That’s what music and dance and art in general is all about. It’s a sound mark. It’s this is what happened. There’s reason to rebuild. Because it’s a loss of sense of place, a sense of home, a place …, shore towns are different. When you go to a shore town usually they’re about people coming to them from outside who like the boardwalk and having fun as a community and having a beer and walking with kids on the boardwalk and smelling the fish and the wind and the sand and the surf and enjoying life. It’s a community thing and when you tear that away it’s not like tearing a house down. And also there confidence for those people to know that there are people who care. There is someone out there who took time to create a song for them. That goes a long way for those people to hear a song for them. If it gives them hope, I’ve done my job. So far, the money is really coming in. It seems like people got behind it. If you don’t go to aid of something like that, that ain’t right. It’s not like you can help in Iran or Afghanistan or nuclear weapons or world peace. You don’t have any real direct influence on that like that but when you can help on something specific, I know I can contribute whether it’s a song or some money or help rebuildi ti yor self. Then it’s the right thing to do.
Q Isn’t Jo Bagale from the Jazz Mafia?
A Yes but he’s not doing Jazz Mafia here. This is a whole other kind of jazz. It’s not a jazz band but he’s terrific. I got all their heads in another place so they can think outside the box and they just love it. They are all really skilled. We’ve got Dave Schools on the bass. You can’t go wrong with Dave. Sikiru Adepoju on talking drum, Gawain Matthews on guitar. … It’s a magical band. I am really proud to be a part of it.