A Trip to Saturn and a Dance on the Sun with Mickey Hart
Photo by Vernon Webb
After giving Mickey Hart’s new album, Mysterium Tremendum a good listen over the past few months and seeing he and his talented ensemble band in at a show in Missoula, I had the opportunity to ask some questions surrounding what one would could say is Mickey’s busiest year since the days of the Grateful Dead. Talking with Mickey is more than an honor, it’s a leap of quantum proportions, and the insight I gathered from this grounded yet very cosmic musician was truly out of this world.
Mickey’s latest album Mysterium Tremendum came out on April 10th 2012. Hart and his band will resume the Above The Clouds Tour on June 30th at San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium. The tour includes 20 + stops on the way to Camp Mysterium which will take place in upstate New York at the Full Moon Resort in Big Indian, NY -between Sept 3-6.
So far in 2012 you’ve released an album, performed at the opening of The Grateful Dead’s “Long, Strange Trip” Exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, you mic’d up and then played the Golden Gate Bridge for its 75th anniversary celebration, toured extensively, and now announced a festival, Camp Mysterium. It’s been quite a half-year.
Yes it has been a very busy year, and it’s been a work in progress over many years. I have been putting the album together for a while now and so far, I couldn’t be happier. It’s been a fantastic tour and voyage, and it’s really come together the way we wanted it to.
Can you talk about the process of interpreting the album in the live setting?.
Well the album is incredibly free-form and we are a jamband, so what occurs on any given night isn’t the album. Yes the material comes from the album but we play off of each other and a jam can form at any point and it really takes a different shape every show. So yes we are playing songs from the album but they come across very different each night as we improvise as a band to produce this music from the cosmos.
You have some amazing talent in your band. Dave Schools on bass, Crystal Monee Hall on vocals and guitar and Gawain Mathews on guitar, to mention a few. How did you pick your players?
Very carefully (laughs). It took a lot of time and basically when I found a musician I wanted to work with I had to make sure they weren’t afraid to come with me to Saturn and dance on the Sun.
So you not only picked them for their talent but they had to be like minded, they had to have the same vision as you.
I picked musicians who could see my vision and help it come together the way I intended and hoped and we’ve turned out to make an amazing group.
I spoke with Ben (Yonas) before the show in Missoula and he said that he helped produce the album, and that he was also performing with you, but when it came show time he was hardly on stage. What exactly does Ben do?
Ben did produce the album with me and he is incredibly talented. During the shows he works as the man behind all of the instruments that you see me playing. So he’s working a synthesizer and channeling different sounds from different planets and stars that I’ve put together and he sets the music to be played through any instrument that I might be playing. So he’s actually orchestrating the sounds that you are hearing. He is kind of at side stage, right next to me so he reads everything that I do and then complements it, adds the sounds to the instrument.
*I saw you playing the theremin during one of your jams, I believe it was on your latest rendition of “Djinn Djinn.” it was ethereal and mesmerizing. *
What you are hearing when I play the Theremin is actually the sound of our Sun. That’s the sound that is being channeled through it. And I pull the different sounds out and build and create a rhythm with it (the Theremin), or a background with and the band plays off of it. But as for my favorite instrument, right now it has to be the Monochord, also known as the beam. It’s incredibly challenging to play, and has a long history as it goes back to 300 or 400 B.C. It right now is my favorite instrument to play.
On the topic of unusual instruments you recently played the Golden Gate Bridge. Where did you get an idea like this?
This goes back. Well you know history says that Pythagoras could actually hear the planets, and the music of the universe. Similarly in the early 70’s I thought I could hear the bridge.
By hear it, do you mean the wind passing through it like a harp or the metal in the bridge?
Both. I could hear it as the wind passed through it and I could hear it twisting and bending and making what I heard as music, I could hear its rhythm. So imagine me as a hippie, in the middle of the night, with my microphone and large recorder trying to get this sound down on tape. Of course at that time I was escorted off the premises. I tried on a few occasions. So fast forward 40 years and now I’m not a “long haired hippie” and I have these amazing scientists from Berkeley and Penn State working with me. So what we did was over a period of time we put microphones all over the bridge and recorded the sounds that it was making. Mark Ballora from Penn State helped me gather these subtle and obscure sounds. Then we had a 24 foot version of the bridge built and during the 75 year anniversary I actually got to play this scaled down size of the bridge. It was quite an experience.