Music’s effect on the brain intrigues Hart |

Music’s effect on the brain intrigues Hart

Former Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart and his band will bring the "Superorganism" tour to Park City. The percussionist is currently studying how music affects the brain. (Photo by Tamarind Jones)

Former Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart has something on his mind.

He believes the brain is the ultimate rhythmic instrument in the universe.

Not only does it function through movement and synapses that are triggered from visual and audible stimuli, it also can work internally to reason and cause movement and speech, he said.

"We do a lot with the mind," Hart said during a phone call to The Park Record from Sonoma County, Calif. "It is used when we talk or use time or waste time, passing time, which all has to do with rhythm. I want to be really aware of our place in the universe, but also know that I need fixing constantly and that’s why I play the drums."

That is also why he came up with the idea of mixing science with art for his band’s album "Superorganism."

The project utilizes the hidden rhythms in the human body, especially in the brain, to be used as the foundation of the music.

Hart, who turned 70 this month, said the idea was to "figure out what rhythm does to the brain and how that can be turned into medicine.

"The brain is rhythm-central and where everything happens," Hart said. "We have the technology, sensors that can read the brain and see what it looks like while I’m playing music.

"That’s the most exciting frontier in music for me now," he said. "I have to create a language or a code to be able to use music as medicine."

The mysteries of rhythms have always fascinated Hart.

"We know there are things in music that we can’t explain, but music hits us on a vibratory level," he said. "The essential [element] of life is vibration. Without it, you die. So, it stands to reason that music had medicinal properties."

Through modern-day technology, scientists can read DNA, stem cells, brainwaves and heart rhythms.

"The idea is to analyze those findings and learn what the rhythm of a normal brain is," Hart said. "[Through that], maybe, eventually, we can heal dementia and other sicknesses of the mind."

In making the album, Hart wore an electroencephalography (EEG) cap that contained a number of sensors on it that connected to his scalp.

"It read the different brain waves that are firing in my brain in real-time," Hart said. "You could see what was happening to my brain on a monitor and saw the movements in different colors. It was very snakelike."

To further the research, Hart hooked up with scientists and neurologists including Dr. Adam Gazzaley from University of California San Francisco, who have studied the brain throughout their careers.

Gazzaley provided information to Hart, who said the movements looked like how music sounds to him.

"This is about us," Hart said. "We’re complex organisms and we want to figure out what happens before, during and after a driving, auditory experience through science and art.

"So, we take the rhythms that we analyze and then make music around them, because we don’t want to just sit and listen to these rhythms that are basically just noise," he said.

When Hart comes to Park City with his band this weekend, he will perform a live version of the experiment.

"I’m looking to this stuff to find out more about the brain and rhythms, but if anyone wants to come pay $20 to see someone’s brain on a big screen and rock their socks off all night listening to the vibratory stimuli of the universe embedded in some really cool music with Robert Hunter’s cool words, this is for them," he said.

However, the show is not for everyone, Hart said.

"It’s just like what Jerry [Garcia] used to say about the Grateful Dead," Hart explained. "It’s like licorice. There are many people who don’t like it, but if you do, you really like it."

Still, anyone who is interested in how music affects the human body on the sub-atomic level will enjoy the show.

"Everyone is a pumping, throbbing and spinning rhythm machine," Hart said. "I’m so excited to bring this to Park City, because the band is on fire."

The Mickey Hart Band will play Park City Live, 427 Main St., on Friday, Sept. 13, at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $30 to $40 and are available by visiting

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