Art & Music | Music Interviews
At the Edge of the Universe with Mickey Hart
Author: Drew Moss | Published: Thursday, July 21, 2011
As a Grammy award-winning musician, author and ethnomusicologist, Mickey Hart is coming up on half a century “at the edge” of music, art, science and culture. It’s a journey that has taken the globally revered drummer/percussionist from the band room at Lawrence High School in the late 50s and very early 60s, to the deepest psychedelic grooves of the Grateful Dead for 30 years, to every corner of the world in the quest for global rhythm, to the sonic origins of the cosmos and now back to his home and recording studio in Sonoma County, California.
But for this long, strange trip to get started at all, Mickey Hart first had to be saved.
“Arthur Jones was my hero,” says Hart of his deeply influential high school band teacher and mentor. “He embodied the true spirit of music and he tempered it with compassion and a great dose of humor. He had to in order to put up with the likes of me.”
From the very beginnings of high school on Long Island, Hart was drawn to the call of the drum. So much so that everything else fell by the wayside—almost to the point of truancy. But Jones was there to catch him when he fell. It was Jones’ belief in Hart that allowed Hart to believe in himself, and to believe that his spirit and his instincts could take him wherever he wanted to go in music and beyond.
“He knew that I wasn’t going to be a mathematician, geography major or an English major,” said Hart. “He knew I was going to be a musician. And he fought the fight; he fought the battle for me. He put his reputation on the line for me many, many times. Arthur was the catalyst.”
Through these formative years and throughout his legendary career in the Grateful Dead and numerous other polyrhythmic projects, Hart has always been determined to push the boundaries of his own curiosity and capabilities. That sense of adventure and courage has manifested in his latest project—an extension of his “Universe of Sound” experiments, which started several years ago and have culminated in a new band, a new album and a new tour that will include stops this August in both Brooklyn and Patchogue.
“For a few years now, I have been ‘sonifying’ the epic events in the cosmos, starting with the Big Bang,” Hart shared. “We’re changing light waves into sound waves. I’m making music from—and having a conversation with—the cosmos. This band was built to play with the cosmos.”
Hart has enlisted long-time Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter to write words for these intergalactic soundscapes and he’s also been working closely with American astrophysicist, cosmologist, Nobel Laureate (and Deadhead) George Smoot to usher this incredible vision from dream to reality.
“It’s hard for me to stay in my own skin,” Hart said of the excitement he shares over this epic undertaking. “I wake up every morning and I cannot wait to get to it. Playing with the moment of creation of space and time is more than I can bear. Now we have a sound for the moment. I’ve always known it intuitively, but now we have a sound for the sun, we have a sound for the moon, a sound for Saturn and the stars and the pulsars. That’s what this band is about.”
Through his multiple sonic experiments and extensive travels as an ambassador, archivist, preservationist and conduit for the “world beat,” Hart has arrived at a sincere and assured understanding of the potential role music can and should play in our collective future consciousness.
“The entertainment value will always be there, but the medical uses of music are the most exciting frontier,” Hart asserts. “Whether it is to uplift the spirit or elevate the consciousness, or in treating dementia, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s…music is universal. There is no culture that does not have music. It is a necessity, not a luxury. It’s one of the things that make us human. Music therapy is science being used in music and music being used in science. That is the future of music.”
From this distilled point Hart eloquently draws the super helix from sound to cyber-syntax, effortlessly articulating the role that technology will play in our future, musical and otherwise.
“Noise, which is all around us—inner harmonic sound—is very dense and very complicated,” Hart explains. “It takes computers and it takes tools to be able to come to grips with the sounds of now and of the future because people are becoming more sophisticated. Computers are becoming more sophisticated. So in binary code we find the future, as well as in keeping our skills as musicians. Straddling those two worlds—that is also the future of music.”
With his heart, mind and musical sense firmly rooted in the present, Hart is reaching as far back into the past as one can conceivably go (13.7 billion years to be nearly exact). In that very same spark of inspiration and exploration of antiquity, Hart is also catching a very clear glimpse of the global future beyond the rhythm and the “vibrating membranes” of the universe. And while he believes in music’s intrinsic healing power, he is also acutely aware that any power in the wrong hands can lead to our collective undoing.
“The human state is very Draconian, it’s not a very pleasant thought,” Hart muses. “But music is one of the mediators of the future. With music, we can hear the hopes and dreams of the people. It’s the talking book. That’s why music has been put here. It’s the holder of the history of mankind.”
So with the inter-galactic power of the drum running throughout and around him, protecting him at all times, what is Mickey Hart afraid of?
“It’s the code wars,” warns Hart. “The new battlefield is code. He who has the code is the most helpful or the most dangerous. And he who uses the code for good or evil will be the person who will determine the fate of the planet.
“The world’s knowledge is now stored in the numbers,” Hart summarizes. “He who controls that knowledge will determine the fate, the destiny, of mankind.”
The Mickey Hart Band will perform at the Brooklyn Bowl on August 18 and a special show at the Blue Point Brewery in Patchogue on August 20. For all things Mickey Hart, including his “Universe of Sound” foray, his discography, bibliography, new project and tour dates, visit MickeyHart.net.