Mickey Hart has tapped into the sounds of the universe and the heart of the Grateful Dead for his latest band's first album, "Mysterium Tremendum."
The percussion virtuoso tells Billboard.com that he built the songs from the 12-song set from celestial sound waves captured by scientists at Penn State University, the Lawrence Berkeley Labs and Meyer Sound. "This is a mixture of songs from the sound of the universe and the whole Earth, the world's music," Hart explains. "I mean, the Big Bang, the beginning of everything, that was the first beat, beat one, the downbeat, where everything started. So I started to transfer light waves from radio telescopes into sound waves and changing their form from radiation light into sound using a computer alogorhythm, turning it into music and composing with it. I built all the song forms around that."
Hart says he started exploring this idea while touring with The Dead in 2009. "Every night I went to a different part of the universe, but I was just f***ing around back then," he recalls. "I stay scientifically current, but I'm not a scientist or an astrophysicist, so it took about two and a half years to learn the science of changing these wave forms and being able to be facile in playing with them and turn them into musical sounds. I didn't want to make this into a scientific experiment. This is music. I wanted it to be fun and... really as good as it could possibly be."
Bringing all that to life, meanwhile, is the Mickey Hart Band, what he calls "an amazing group of players...who totally get what this is about." The corps includes Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools, longtime Hart cohort Sikiru Adepoju and vocalists Tim Hockenberry and Crystal Monee Hall. "I only wanted the willing, people who could take this seriously and could really play and could jam and had a real passion for this project," Hart explains. "It wasn't just like hiring musicians; I wanted to find people who really WANTED this, people who were really hungry and skilled. I went on a search for them and it took a long time." Frequent Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, who's also worked with Hart since Jerry Garcia's death in 1995, came on board to co-wrote seven of the album's songs.
"Normally when I work with Hunter, I give him the music and he writes the words. This was different," Hart explains. "I told him what the theme was; I said, 'This is man and universe,' so he went away and pulled himself away and really focused on that and just delivered the motherlode. He came through in a big way."
Hart and his band are currently on the road, with North American dates booked into mid-May as well as an appearance at the Gathering of the Vibes festival on July 21 in Bridgeport, Conn. Hart plans to book more shows, and he also intends to keep tapping into the celestial influences in the future. And he doesn't think he'll be alone in that, either.
"I assume there will be others wanting to taste the fruits or hear the sonorous sounds of the universe," he says. "I imagine others will be attempting something like this -- at least I hope so. That's why they call it the infinite universe; I could never cover all the ground, so I assume there will be others. Maybe it will even be its own genre of music one day. Wouldn't that be cool?"