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Mysterium Tremendum

Hearing the Big Bang with Mickey Hart

By Jim Caligiuri, 2:20PM, Wed. Apr. 25, 2012

Sonificationist Mickey Hart
Sonificationist Mickey Hart
photo by Michael Weintrob

It figures. I spoke to Mickey Hart yesterday and learned something. The former Grateful Dead drummer, who's appearing with his band at La Zona Rosa Thursday night, used the word “sonification” to describe the music he’s making. Turns out he’s taking light waves and turning them into sound. And these aren't just any light waves.

Hart takes the light of the universe, from the Big Bang on, changes it into sound, then sets those vibrations to music.

“I’m not an astrophysicist,” he explains. “I’m not a mathematician. But I had a team of scientists, sonification experts. Every vibration in the universe has a sound and a visual component.

“When we get these sounds from space they come in as light waves, and we gather them using radio telescopes that gather the waves forms. Then I change them on my computers into sound. I play with it, put words to it, have a conversation with it.”

The results, heard on the new Mysterium Tremendum, are propulsive, tuneful, joyous, and feature lyrics from Jerry Garcia’s songwriting partner Robert Hunter. Reports from the road indicate that the shows are a don’t-miss. Hart’s assembled an octet that includes Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools, and the set lists have included surprises from the Dead’s catalog.

“In this kind of music,” states Hart, “when we’re playing with the sonification of the universe, I wanted to make sure that these players were equipped and really stoked to go after the songs of the universe. It’s not for every musician to play with the beginning of time and space, you know the Big Bang.

“I had to make sure they were ready for the journey. It’s a dance band – a trance band – and it’s playing at a very high level now.”

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