Mickey Hart's Cosmic Inspiration

August 29, 2012

After decades of drumming with the Grateful Dead, a band known for being intrepid onstage explorers, Mickey Hart recently looked to the skies for inspiration.

But rather than simply contemplating space, Hart sought to actually incorporate it into the recordings of his latest release, "Mysterium Tremendum."

"The whole album is a concept around sonification of light waves coming from deep space and changing them into sounds, and then using those sounds as sound sources for the composition of the songs," said Hart, speaking while traveling through Colorado. "So we're actually having a conversation with infinite space, with the cosmos, on this particular record."

Considering his work apart from the Grateful Dead, it seems only natural that Hart would be eyeing new realms of rhythmic challenge and revelation.

Along with creating Grammy-winning albums such as 1991's "Planet Drum" and 2007's "Global Drum Project," the percussionist has also preserved and studied indigenous recordings for many years.

Last fall's Smithsonian Folkways' release, "The Mickey Hart Collection," collected 25 albums spanning Hart's and other artists' work as well as recordings from the "Endangered Music Project," a collaboration between Hart and the Library of Congress' American Folklife Center.

Hart sees rhythm as an elemental component incorporated into very nearly everything.

"The universe is vibratory. You are made of vibrations: heart, pulse, blood, walking, blinking. Everything is a matter of rhythm. That's the bottom line for the whole universe; it all has to be resonant. Move in sync or else it's chaos," he said.

"Music is a way of putting all these vibrations in an entertainment form where you can identify with it, dance to it, celebrate to it, but there's also different meanings. Music is a miniature of what's happening in the whole infinite universe. It's not just for you to dance to, but it's also here to be able to tune us to our environment, ourselves, and what's around us."

If Hart's approach sounds largely scientific or philosophical, "Mysterium Tremendum" puts it all into a musical context to connect with his audience.

"That's what this is all about, is being able to rock and roll with it," said Hart. "Robert (Hunter, lyricist for the Dead) and I wrote some beautiful songs based on man and the universe."

Hart spent roughly 2½ years gathering information regarding the light waves, writing songs, and assembling the band that joined in pursuing his celestial muse. With a lineup that includes two Richmonders — Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools and vocalist Crystal Monee Hall — he feels good that everyone is on board and in sync.

"It's a fierce band, actually. It's a trance band," he said. "We don't just hang out on Saturn all night, I can assure you. They're truly on a mission. I chose them very carefully. I want them to take this seriously, and they do."

By - Hays Davis

Richmond Times Dispatch