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Grateful Dead drummer rides sound waves through himself, universe

By , - Last modified: August 29, 2013 at 4:38 PM

To quote what is notably the Grateful Dead's most popular song, Truckin', “what a long strange trip it's been.”

As a fan of the Dead since I was 10, flipping through my dad's record collection and thinking American Beauty was the best thing I've ever heard, I couldn't have been more excited to interview legendary drummer Mickey Hart. Talking over the phone from California, Hart called me to discuss his new album "Superorganism" and his band's upcoming show at Bethlehem's SteelStacks on Sept. 26. The longtime drummer for the Dead now leads the Mickey Hart Band.

"Superorganism was made with a new breed of instruments that have the ability to map the brain, DNA, heart and stem cells," Hart said. "The brain is the master clock where everything is working 24/7. Using cutting edge science, I'm able to see my brain in real time using sensors on the screen, where you can see all the sounds and the lights."

Hart always has been known for his polyrhythmic excursions with the Dead, and since the group's ending after Jerry Garcia's untimely passing in 1995, Hart hasn't missed a beat in exploring the rhythms of the universe and creating spiritual music.

"This is us … this is what we sound like inside," he said of recording the vibrations of his organs. "You have to take something that's invisible and link it to something tangible. The mind is the conscious part of the brain and it's a really important thing to investigate … how the brain reacts to different kinds of rhythms."

Hart's overarching story of this album was to tell about the complex systems of the mind.

"To sonify electrical impulses into sound and transfer them to another form," he said.

"I want to know what it looks like and sounds like from the beginning of time until now," he said. "It's [the brain] the thing that makes you you, and I want to know what's going on. I want to get in tune with it.

"Light, you can see it, and you can hear your brain talking. I'm trying to have a rhythmic dialogue with it … and these rhythms aren't the same as someone playing a musical instrument. They come from inside of you."

It was about 25 years ago when scientists really started to understand the complexity of the brain.

"Aristotle thought the brain was a cooling system for the body," Hart said. "Those sound waves are us, and we now have very discrete machines than can tell us these things."

And while Hart was teaming up with scientists to "sonically map the universe," a profound lineup of musicians backed him on this album.

Known for writing some of the Grateful Dead's most memorable lyrics, Robert Hunter was by Hart's side in the studio for this album.

"I can't even describe how great it is to be working with him [Hunter]," said Hart. "Nobody writes like him, and I'm so glad we're still working together."

Supporting the Mickey Hart Band on its "Superorganism" tour are members of the band Tea Leaf Green, a San Francisco based progressive rock band, representing as Tea Leaf Trio.

"The bassist for Tea Leaf, Reed Mathis, is the bassist in the Mickey Hart Band," Hart said. "We've been having a great time on this tour."

Several special guests will be joining Hart on this tour.

When asked if Steve Kimock would be making an appearance at Hart's Bethlehem show, Hart said. "If I told you that, then it wouldn't be a surprise, would it?"

A native of Bethlehem, Kimock was the guitarist for the Rhythm Devils, a continuation of the Grateful Dead after Garcia's passing, in which Hart was the drummer.

During each night of his tour, Hart performs a piece featuring the sounds of his own brain while wearing an EEG cap so the audience can visualize his brain activity in real time.

To see an example of how this works, watch Hart and neuroscientist Dr. Adam Gazzaley of University of California San Francisco in New Orleans last November here.

For more information, visit the ArtsQuest website or www.mickeyhart.net.

Tickets for the show are $49/$39/$34. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., with the show starting at 8 p.m. SteelStacks is at 101 Founders Way in Bethlehem.

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Christopher Holland

Christopher Holland

Christopher Holland is a researcher for Lehigh Valley Business and blogs on arts and entertainment in the region.

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