Grateful Dead drummer Hart’s brain part of 70th birthday show in Las Vegas

September 9, 2013

Using science and music, former Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart will don an EEG cap and create a rhythm using nothing but the sounds of his brain. Hart, stopping in Las Vegas with his band as part of the Superorganism tour, is convinced that if science can break the human brain’s rhythm code, we can then harness its healing power.

During the Mickey Hart Band concert at the Hard Rock Cafe on Sept. 11, Hart’s brain will be displayed on a large screen. In real time, the audience can watch his brain respond to various stimuli. Hart is working with Dr. Adam Gazzalley of the University of California, San Francisco, in this research project.

Hart spoke with about the tour, his Rhythm & the Brain Project and his experiences since first putting on the EEG cap almost two years ago.

Tell me what the audience will see when you do the EEG cap.

What they’ll see is a large screen and they’ll see my brain outside the crania. They’ll just see the brain rotating, or sometimes it will be standing still, and I’ll be wearing a cap with electrodes and you’ll be able to see different parts of the brain. It changes color and movement, because the alpha, the beta, the gamma, the theta; they all have their own little dance they’re doing.

The brain is like rhythm central. It’s very complex, very much like the root system of a tree, like that goes out all different ways and rhythm patterns and when some electricity, some thought pattern or something fires them, you can see them reactivated. It’s actually another kind of rhythm, which I am learning how to read and be able to sync with, be able to influence what I see and for that to be dynamic and engage with me as well.

When you’re trying to influence it, can you feel it?

Oh, of course. That’s where I’m going – entrainment. See, once you see it, once you hear it … you’re bringing two senses together. Sight and sound. That’s powerful. You’re able to see it and hear it and it really gets you deep into whatever you’re doing. …That’s what this is really all about – to be able to heighten your awareness, be able to interact with your brain, dance with it and have some kind of conversation to figure out what does what. We want to know what the brain looks like before, during and after. … If you can figure out what your response is, then you have your code.

Are you playing the same song every time?

No, we are not. There are some things that are similar. The sounds, of course, are coming from my brain.  They’ll sound similar because it’s just like what my brain sounds like.

Isn’t it responding to rhythms from music that you and your band are creating?

Yeah, that I’m creating. The electrical signals, that’s how you measure these things, it’s not like in sound, This process is called sonification, when you change a form, whether it be light, or electrical stimuli into another form, in this case, sound. In the case of the cosmos, creation, life. There’s no sound in space, it’s a vacuum. We capture those vibrations with electrical-radial telescopes around the world. That’s how we tell what’s going on out there. And then I take that and a computer and make sound out of light. It’s just a matter of changing its form. It’s just an algorithm.

Have you had any ‘A-ha!’ moments since you’ve been wearing the EEG cap? Has anything just blasted out to you and you’ve learned just that much more?

Yes, I did. There was a moment we were out there on tour about a week and a half ago and it all came together. And I could feel it. I could see it, though I didn’t know how I did it and I don’t know if I can do it again, but for the first time I really felt some kind of definite connection that I could see with my movement. To see you, the brain represents the will and the will is everything. The will to live, the will to die and the body is a physical representation of the self. To see the brain, which controls everything, which is rhythm central, (that’s) huge. Life or death, right there. I say, (sing-songy) a happy brain’s a good brain! I try to keep that brain nice and happy now that I can actually see it and know that it exists and see its rhythms and try to learn its patterns. I work on it every day. I’ve made friends, but with my brain, and have some fun, reasonable and informative dialogue and find out what the hell is going on. If (the brain) controls everything, tell me about when you play music for people that’s lost the rhythm connection, like Alzheimer’s and then when you play music, sometimes you get reconnected.

You said that about your grandmother.                                                                                                  

Yeah, and the neuropathways are reconnecting, the synapses are firing and then all of a sudden, someone comes out. A moment you’re alive. … I need to know about that. That’s what this is all about.

How is the Superorganism tour going?

Its right up there (with touring with the Grateful Dead) in spiritual payload, for sure. It’s fresh, it’s new. It’s an experience every night. When things are new, they’re really special. Now we’re getting telepathic and once we’re able to communicate like that, that’s where you find the music magic. You know, the magic in the music.

The Dead was the Dead, you know. We played like only we could play. But this band, you really can’t compare, because (The Grateful Dead) were playing for years and years, living together, it’s a different kind of brotherhood. And of course, that affects our music, but as far as feeling goes, and being able to get what music gives after the show, how I feel when I see the audience, it’s the same kind of reaction.

Are these all Grateful Dead fans or are you reaching a new audience?

Both. They are out there to get into the trance and to go on some kind of a journey. In the case of this particular band, we’re investigating the sound waves from the universe and using them in the music and also now we’re going into the brain, the mind, and using those brain waves in the music. Being able to dance with your own brain, in real time, be able to see your brain — my brain, specifically, because I’m wearing a cap of sensors that is transferred to a digital signal and you can see the brain on the screen and you can see what part of the brain is firing … I’m dealing now with the master clock. I’m trying to have some kind of dialogue musically with rhythm central, with the brain, and using science.

Tell me about breaking the rhythm code and using it for medicine. It seems like you’ve already moved beyond the physical, but you’re going even more so. Is that a stretch?

Not a stretch at all. That’s what plot, the idea. Music is made of vibrations. The universe is made of vibrations. The most essential ingredient for life. Music is controlled vibrations. Music is just like a miniature of what’s going on in the universe, with the planets revolving, gravity, all of the circadian rhythms, the great cosmic rhythms.

You can’t see music, you can’t smell it, you can feel it, you can hear it, but it’s invisible. If you knew what these vibrations were doing, then you’d be able to prescribe for it. What does the brain of an affected Alzheimer’s patient look like compared to one that isn’t affected, sonically, rhythmically.

These are the things that are behind all of this and I’m working with serious scientists down at (the University of California, San Francisco) and the Gladstone Institute – at the top of their field. They have the instruments now, just recently in the past year, to be able to measure these brain waves and DNA and playing with stem cells and heart rhythms.

Your singer/guitarist described your music as experimental music from outer space.

First, some of it is from outer space. Some of it is from the Big Bang, from the beginning of time, and the planets. We go to the sun sometimes. I can travel through that universe using the sounds of that universe in our music. But now, we go into us. Now we’re exploring – the brain, the mind. Now what youre seeing here is a sonic timeline, from the beginning of time and space. The moment of creation. The Big Bang. The singularity to here, now, us. So that’s the composition and we’re rockin’, and we’re having fun and we’re pulsing and we’re throbbing and it’s a blast. It’s not a science project necessarily. It’s science and art.

When you’re on stage, do you have transcendental experiences?

Oh, of course! Absolutely! That’s what it’s all about. Trans. That’s where I go. For me, it’s not the beginning or the ending to songs. It’s what the groove does to you. What the music does. It’s all about affection. Trans is courted, absolutely. Once you reach that dimension of, whoa, you’re talking about entrainment. The word they use in science, to synchronate with the music, with people, with ourselves all coming together in this glorious moment.

You become larger than yourself sometimes, because you’ve been transformed by the music. That’s what music does. It heightens your sensitivity, your sensibilities. It certainly elevates the consciousness, like gets you high. That’s the word we use, and it’s addictive.

That’s the other part. You get too much of it, like me, I’m a total addict (laughs). I am a rhythmist, I guess.

Do you have any expectations for playing in Las Vegas, especially on your 70th birthday?

It’s always great to be there. Some special friends are going to show up there, so it’s going to be a real hoot. We’re gonna burn it down. Some of the great drummers from around the world. It’s going to be a moment. I’m looking forward to it and I’ll go over and see how my baby is doing over there at the Mirage, the volcano. I did the volcano (music). I haven’t been to the volcano since I burst it. I’m going to go over there and check the baby out, maybe play it two or three times (laughs). It should be a fun night.

-By Nicole Lucht