Mickey Hart's music explores the cosmos, his brain
If anything, the end of the Grateful Dead only accelerated the musical explorations of drummer Mickey Hart.
He composed a drum segment for the Opening Ceremony of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, expanded his studies of percussion styles around the world with the Global Drum Project, wrote soundtracks for movies and television, organized a 5,000-person drum circle, and wrote four books on the history and mythology of music.
And in the past couple of years, Hart has turned friendships with San Francisco-area scientists into musical examinations of sounds and rhythms large and small from those emitted by the creation of the universe to ones generated by the thoughts racing through his own mind.
"I have this problem, this vision thing," Hart half-jokingly said in a telephone interview promoting the Feb. 26 appearance of his Mickey Hart Band with The African Showboyz at The Depot.
"I didn't ask for it, but I've got it. I've got it bad," he said of his insatiable search "to find out what the rhythmic vibration of the Earth is, and what it means to us, and how we can dance with it."
In many ways, Hart said his current musical venture "has that Grateful Dead attitude running right through its veins. â¦ It's able to change on a dime, to morph."
While several Dead songs will be mixed into the playlist, the show will feature music from his 2012 album, "Mysterium Tremendum," as well as songs that will come out soon on an album highlighting (and providing funding for) the Rhythm and the Brain Project at the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF).
"Mysterium Tremendum" was inspired in part by Hart's association with George Smoot, the Nobel laureate who advanced understanding of the Big-Bang Theory. Smoot and other scientists converted light from that explosion 13.7 billion years ago into sound waves, which Hart fashioned into the music of solar winds, pulsars, sunquakes and cosmic background radiation.
"That's the macro, and now I'm down to the micro," Hart said of his rhythm-and-brain work with UCSF neurology professor Adam Gazzaley, research that could increase the use of music to treat Alzheimer's and dementia patients.
"We wired my brain and now I'm performing my own brainwave music. I'm qualifying the sounds of personal creation," he said. "This is where art meets science, finding out what rhythm does for the brain. â¦ It's not just Mickey raving or anecdotal stuff. It's validating what we already know as musicians that music is a healing power, a medicine. It's like a rhythm genome project."
Hart was in Utah for the 2011 Sundance Film Festival premiere of the fictional film "The Music Never Stopped," which was adapted from a true story written by British neurologist Oliver Sacks. The film tells the story of Gabriel, a young man who suffers amnesia after brain surgery. A sensitive music therapist later observes how the man comes alive when listening to the music of the Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, and especially the psychedelic notes of the Grateful Dead. "They play what's in the air," the young man later explains to his father. "They play the moment."
Lyrics for seven of 12 songs on "Mysterium Tremendum" were penned by longtime Grateful Dead wordsmith Robert Hunter. "He's one of those spirit guys, too," Hart said of Hunter. "We have a great rhythm going between us. Normally, I give him the music and he writes to the music. It's great to see what he reveals. It's like getting a treasure."
Hart also is effusive about his band, which includes Widespread Panic bass player Dave Schools, longtime percussion partner Sikiru Adepoju and Tony Award-winning vocalist Crystal Monee Hall.
"The band plays good when they have their teeth into new meat," he said. "The band's hungry. The band wants to dance. The band knows how to pulse and how to throb getting into new musical space I find exhilarating."
The former Grateful Dead drummer's band will perform with The African Showboyz on Tuesday, Feb. 26, at 8 p.m. at The Depot, 400 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City. Tickets cost $36.
An East Coast native, Mickey Hart has released a song, "Jersey Shore," to benefit Hurricane Sandy relief. The song may be downloaded for a minimum donation of $3 at http://www.mickeyhart.net/jersey. All proceeds go to Clean Ocean Action, a coalition organizing volunteers for cleanup efforts.