Q&A: A Far Out Conversation With Rhythm Devils' Mickey Hart

Have you ever been curious about the voice of Mars, the sonic feel of Vela Pulsar, or the infinite other songs of outer space? Mickey Hart is. Hart, who spent much of his life exploring the rhythms of fellow Grateful Dead members and other Earthlings, has now ventured out into the cosmos using instruments slightly more sophisticated than the ones the Dead used for their space travels. In a project called Rhythms of the Universe, Hart has teamed up with Nobel laureate astrophysicist and cosmologist George Smoot to record the rhythms of deep space and translate them into sounds which can be perceived by human beings (even the ones who aren't flying on acid).

County Grind had the good fortune of talking with Hart about this amazing project as he prepared to set sail on Jam Cruise. When the boat returns to Fort Lauderdale on Sunday, Hart and fellow Grateful Dead alumni drummer Bill Kreutzmann will play Revolution with their ongoing project the Rhythm Devils. With black holes and the nature of being to discuss, we didn't have time to chat about the band. But, we've heard that this time around the Rhythm Devils are working more Grateful Dead material than they have in the past. Now, with a more developed understanding of the creation of the Universe, we're sure "Bertha" is gonna be rockin'!

New Times: I was just listening to your recording of the Sphere of Io.

Mickey Hart: Oh, great man!

Yeah, I've always had a thing for Io, 'cause it's this volcanic situation which is always turning itself inside out, and I can relate to that.

Oh, terrific! That'll wake you up in the morning.

Yeah, it's a beautiful way to wake up. I did the same thing yesterday. It's some of the most beautiful music that I've heard. You can listen to samples online, but is it available to buy or download anywhere?

We're going to be doing that this year. That's on the agenda for the new year, for 2011. It's very exciting. It brings in new rhythms, new ideas, and that's one of them that we are going to pursue. I'm getting into the space project quite heavily now, and there's much more since [the samples which are online]. I haven't released any of it yet. One of the main projects I have for this year is my Rhythms of the Universe project which contains the sounds of these epic events from the Big Bang, you know, 'till now. All of the radiations and all of the vibrations that are coming from space have sound. And I've been building a library of these sounds. What you were listening to was the very beginning.

Okay, so we begin with the Big Bang, and we are still interacting with rhythms that were set forth at that event. And, as human beings, we're interacting with the rhythms all the time, even though they aren't necessarily able to be perceived by our senses. Is that right?

That is correct. Absolutely correct. These are light waves, radiation, radio waves, that are changed. It's called sonification. That's the term we use for it. In most cases, they are brought down, way down, into our limited range of hearing. These things are way too fast to even see, but they are wave forms. And so I change the form of these waves from light waves to sound waves and then interact with them. And these waves are affecting us all the time, we're just not aware of it.

We know that the Big Bang happened 13.7 billion years ago, that was the moment of creation that blew this whole blank page into existence, and so forth and so on. The planet revolving, all the planets and stars, the tides, the moon, all of these things are the larger planetary rhythms. So, that's what's got me totally riveted. That's what my next major project is, is reading these waves.

We know that the cosmic low end of the universe, the Big Bang, when you bring it into our hearing, is a B-flat. So, the seed sound of the universe, the thing that created us, is a B-flat. That's an interesting little factoid. It's actually located fifty-two octaves below middle C. In this case it's below our hearing. It is such a huge cosmic event. The wave forms are very, very long.

So, always, throughout our daily lives, when we're sleeping, everything, we're always interacting with it. So, what are we doing when we're playing music?

What we are doing is trying to entrain. Entrainment means to be in sync, in resonance, or aware of it, in tune with it. That's what yoga is all about, and all of these holistic arts. It is tuning yourself into these larger rhythms. First of all, being aware of yourself, and your own personal rhythms, and having those rhythms align with the vibrations that created us. That's the art, that's the science. And, art and science are starting to come together now, because I'm using science in my art. This is an interesting intersection between science and art because all the sounds that I'm using in the next composition are celestial sounds. Real sounds, not science fiction. Not like Holst supposed back in his symphonic days or what you see in science fiction movies. It's really what's happening up there, what's moving us, and what's effecting us. Like you said earlier, perfectly.

When I've got my guitar, and I'm playing, I feel like I'm revealing rhythms and vibrations that weren't perceivable to me before they were channelled, or filtered, through that instrument in the same way that the space rhythms are channelled through the high tech telescopes that you're using. Does that analogy make sense?

Yes it does. Absolutely. Total sense. Because now you're connecting directly to the vibratory world.


You actually have an instrument in your hands. You're vibrating, the instrument is vibrating, the note is moving at a certain rate, whether it be four-forty or eight-eighty, or any of the octaves, the fifth, the seventh... Pythagoras laid this all down in about 400 B.C. He called it the music of the spheres. He gave numerical equations to the Moon, the Sun, the stars, the orbiting bodies. He saw this as octaves, and then the fifths and the sevenths, and he became the father of the science of music. And so all of this comes from Pythagorean theorem. I mean, he was right.

So, if you look at the cosmos as a giant instrument, which it is, it's a heavenly clockwork. And so what you're doing is...the guitar is tuning you in. Totally. I mean, as soon as you vibrate with that Universe, you become more aware that it exists. Somehow. You're in the vibratory world with both feet, both hands, and your mid-brain, and your head is being stimulated. So, it all comes down to neurologic function. It all comes down to brain waves. How the sound, the vibrations, effect your cognitive senses, your brain. And how it moves the neurologic functions. And, that's what this is all about. So, you heighten your experience. It's a heightened feeling, and you're able to make contact with a more conscious level of perception. That's really what's happening when you pick up your guitar. I mean, simply put.

And am I contributing, shaping the rhythm from there?

Yeah, you're making it personal. This is your personal vibration. It's like a fingerprint. No two fingerprints are alike. Not two DNAs are exactly alike. Why would you vibrate exactly like someone else? You become entrained with your personal, specific, chi, whatever you call it, your genetic, your DNA vibrations. Really, it's like your having a conversation with your DNA now. And then that heightens your senses and you feel like you're making contact with a's something other than what it seems to be. You know how that is. It's something much larger than you, than what you see and what you hear. That's the feeling you get when you play music. That's why it's so popular and people come back to it over and over again. And we just can't let it go. And I think being a musician is the most important thing, and certainly in my life, to be.

I always used to think that, in your life, will you be a drummer, then maybe the president, on and on and on, a fireman and whatever... In all my lists when I was a kid, it was always about music and drumming. And it's still the same way.

It's been something that I've always been intuitively drawn to myself. I'm sitting next to this painting that was done of me when I was four years old playing a Lego guitar.

When you're that young, and you're lucky enough, you just might fall on a great passion. It's about connections. What you're conversation is saying is that you're conscious. You're a conscious person and you tuned into yourself somewhat and you feel this power when you do certain things--if you meditate, or do yoga, or play guitar, and you're really into it, and your spirit is into it, you get that feeling. There's no way around it. That's why there are so many crazy musicians. (laughs) You know, chasing the feeling, chasing the sound, they don't know what they're doing. They're just out for the feeling. It becomes addictive, very much like an opiate. So, you do crazy things. You go half way around the world, you lose sleep, you practice thousands of hours to get up on stage for a couple of hours, you stay in cheap motels, you fly in dangerous weather. God, that doesn't sound very sane! That sounds insane. Who would do that? Except if you were after the grail. Then you do anything. And that's what music is about, is the grail.

Ahh, the grail. And then through you playing music you bring others into it, yeah?

Yeah, well that's it. If you have it, you can give it away. Then it becomes viral. That's what happens to an audience. When they get taken away by a moment, a musical moment, it becomes viral right there in front of them. And, it becomes something of great beauty and great value. It becomes what you might call very potent spiritual material, very powerful spiritual material in the right hands. And that's also one of the great mysteries and powers that are contained in the vibratory world, music especially. I mean, I'm not a scientist, I'm a musician. But, now I'm playing with scientists.

George Smoot is a partner of mine. George Smoot is a Nobel laureate. In 2006 he discovered the Big Bang. He got the Nobel for it. So, George and I are personifying the universe. That's part of this project. So, he's the scientific side of all of it. He keeps me totally informed and correct. There's a lot of space out there and a lot of contamination. And there are a lot of things that happen that might get in the way of these signals that we're picking up. So, you need someone like George, someone who is a world class scientist, if you're actually going to do this stuff. So, it's a real process, and it's fun, really fun. And it's also fun to make rhythm to it, and drum to it, and play music to it. And that's what's happening this year. Actually, we're going to have the first presentation at the Smithsonian in IMAX theatre in Washington, D.C. in June. That will usher in that project.

Through this project have you felt like you've come into closer touch with that rhythm when you're playing?

Oh, absolutely. See, my books all went back there. Drumming at the Edge of Magic, and Planet Drum. All that stuff all started with the first beat. You know, the down beat. Beat one. And then beat two. And it all started 13.7 billion years ago. Back when I wrote those books, there was no sound that you could attach to that. It was just a theory back then. Now it's proven scientific fact. And now we have the wave form that comes from these ancient, primal, epic, events. Singularities, it's called.

So, I started going back. What you're listening to, Pulsars and all that stuff, that was my first, and that was your first, exposure to this. Because I was trying it out at that time. That was my first cosmic experience was laying it out on Dead tour [2009]. But since then I've been working continuously on it, and honing, making it into much finer sounds where I am able to make it music that we can relate to. When it comes to me, it doesn't sound like music, it sounds like noise. Then I have to cell design it and do things to it, and add some special spices. And ring it's neck a little bit, and do evil things to it. But no, as I transpose it I also mess with its form. But I'm dealing with the original source material. So, everybody can enjoy it. Because, listening to space, you wouldn't call it music. What you hear is processed. When you're listening to all that stuff, I've run that through my computers, my reverbers, and different kinds of processing to make it sound almost like music. Sometimes it does sound like music. But, there's a lot of buzzing up there. There's a lot of other kind of chatter that wouldn't be a rhythmic form that you could really sit and listen to and enjoy it. but once you grab it and turn it into something, it's transforming the form. You're changing form, which is great. It's really synesthetic. I mean, you're seeing colors, specific colors, specific tones.

All the ancients and mystics in history have dealt with this; the Hindus, Shiva dancing, drumming the Earth, the cosmos, into creation. This is common mystic thought, but now science has kind of connected the dots and said "Yeah! This is why they were talking about..." Pythagoras and the Buddha, and pretty much all ancient thinkers. Plato, Galileo, Confucius, it goes on and on and on. How to go through vibration, sound, in order to explain the infinite Universe. For the first time now, we're actually able to have a peek. Just like the Hubble allows us to see into deep space, radio telescopes now are these amazing satellites that allow us to see back billions of years. And, fairly accurately.


Yeah, it's amazing. So, that's what consumes my days and nights now. I'll be rolling it out here in a couple of months you'll be staring to hear about all this stuff. But, I'm really glad that you like those sounds.

Mickey, I love them, man. Thank you so much for all that you've done to contribute to all of this. In the deepest way, thank you.

Thank you very much. I appreciate the questions.

Rhythm Devils featuring Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart. With Donna the Buffalo. 8 p.m. Sunday, January 9, at Revolution, 200 W Broward Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost #38.05-$43.20. Click here.

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Travis Newbill