The Austin Chronicle

SXSW Panel: The Rhythm & the Brain

By Thomas Fawcett, March 13, 2014, 11:40pm, Earache!

On a somber day in Austin there was something healing about Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart expounding on the big picture of why music matters. “Music is not a luxury. It’s a necessity,” he proclaimed. “It’s part of our DNA.”

Hart and UC-San Francisco neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley were on hand to discuss how rhythm relates to the brain and the great beyond.

“Let us go into the infinite universe,” Hart began. “In the beginning there was noise. Noise begat rhythm, and rhythm begat everything else.”

Gazzaley gave the science lecture while Hart translated into terms Deadheads could understand. He cut through the professor’s explanation of rhythmic entrainment with zen-like clarity: “It’s really about the groove.”

The real magic happened when Hart entered a virtual reality, donning what looked like a swim cap covered in wires and electrodes scanning brain activity. A screen on one side of the room showed the video game Hart was experiencing, requiring him to drum along with a complex composition while at the same time zapping virtual asteroids. A second screen showed a kaleidoscopic visual representation of his neurological activity, which was also translated into sound.

“It’s hard to not think of what you see as art, but it’s data,” Gazzaley observed.

This cutting-edge science and technology has therapeutic potential, and Gazzaley hopes it could one day be the world’s first prescribed video game.

“Talk about a jam band! That’s what the brain is all about,” quipped Hart. “I was just having a party in my brain!”

Far fucking out, man. Far fucking out.

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