Mickey Hart at 70: Transforming Spirit Into Sound (From The Archives, 1999)
DB: A bit later you talk about the Grateful Dead’s sound and you say that over time, with the technology that evolved, the “silences were quieter.” What do you think is the value of silence?
MH: It is essential. When you take away that auditory signal, the ears perk up, The ears can only take in so much at one time, so the spaces in between the notes become the most important. In the Grateful Dead that certainly was the case. It’s called dynamics but it’s also called taste, you get a good taste. When you give something and then take it away, it becomes a conversation, because the ear is listening. It also gives you a moment to gather your thoughts and start a new musical idea. I think of it as a sentence with commas, exclamation points, periods, semicolons. All of these are the silences.
DB: How about this Miles quote “It took me twenty years of study and practice to work up to what I wanted to play in this performance. How can she expect to listen five minutes and understand it.” That doesn’t seem like the ethos that you bring to a show.
MH: I can understand what Miles was saying, because sometimes you just can’t understand music. It isn’t necessarily supposed to be understood. This woman was looking for answers and music doesn’t always give you the answers you want to hear. Music is a mystery, and that’s what Miles is saying: this is mysterious even to me, how can you understand it in five minutes, it took me twenty years to get here and I don’t even understand it. It’s not supposed to be understood, it’s supposed to be loved, appreciated and used as an energy to make the world a better place. It’s not an analytical thing where every vowel and every consonant has to be accounted for.
DB: You quote Bill Kreutzmann the book who describes entering a state of 100% bliss through performance. How often does happen?
MH: It used to happen at least once a night, most of the time. There were moments when I would get into some kind of bliss state. We were able to find that bliss but it was fleeting, always fleeting. It never lasted all night.
DB: You include a Cecil Taylor quote in the book which describes music as “the magical lifting of one’s spirits to a state of trance…It’s not to do with ‘energy’ It has to do with religious forces.” I would like to hear your comments on this.
MH: It’s the sacredness of music. Music transcends reality. It heightens your awareness and brings you to an altered state. When you go into an altered state, you leave behind your pains and aches and the business of the day so that new priorities may appear. That’s what some call the sacred dimension, and it is what you might call religion. It is the sacred within each of us, as you start thinking about the higher things in life: love, compassion, your children, your wife. There’s a new heat in your body which is filled with the feelings that you usually have when you walk down the street. Music is that kind of energy that releases some kind of fluid or maybe it’s adrenaline. We don’t know what it is but science is about to find out.
DB: So you think there’s a physiological component?
MH: Absolutely. It’s vibration and it works on the brain. What part of the brain, what frequency, what rate, how is the brain different after a musical experience, all of this is being studied. Melody, harmony, rhythm. The big science is now looking at that. We know that rhythm has to do with trance, ecstasy and rapture, and the more interesting auditory driving studies have to do with rhythm.
DB: Here’s a final one which ties in with the with the title of your book: “Music is not an escape from reality, it is an adventure into the reality of the world of the spirit.” So let me ask you, how hard is it for someone to turn spirit into sound?
MH: It is easy. All you need to know is that it can happen. Once you realize that you are toying with a very powerful energy then you can use that. Once you realize it can be used in healing and that it has therapeutic qualities, then you can use this feeling to uplift and make a better would for yourself and others. You just have to realize that this is not a gift to be squandered. It is not a luxury, it is an necessity . It is one of the prime forces of the evolution of the brain and of us as a species. If you use it to practice trance and ecstasy, you will evolve and contribute to a better world. You just have to know what it is. Most people don’t. Musicians know, and some great listeners and lovers of music might know. The general public isn’t really aware of its power but I hope this book and other projects like to will focus them.
DB: To what extent do you think it matters if the music is live versus on tape?
MH: They both have their good points and bad points. Listening to well-recorded music at home on your $20,000 speakers in a beautiful environment is terrific. But it is also great to be sharing air with 20,000 people vibrating to a giant p.a. with a real live band in front of you, and participating in that ritual. They both have their ups and downs. You have to get in your car, drive, get searched, go into a cold coliseum, finally make it out, buck the traffic…At home you don’t see other people enjoying the music and have that visual hit of the band, and the smell of the amplifiers. They both are different and they both are fulfilling.
DB: What role do you feel the internet can play or will play in terms of people’s interaction with sound?
MH: It’s the giant octopus which can relate everybody to everything. It is a gift from the gods I think. The internet will allow people to hear the most obscure music and fall in love with it, music that has no place in Tower Records. How much Pygmy music does Tower Records carry? The internet was made for indigenous music, the music of cultures from around the world, and I see it as a savior for the world’s music. That goes back to the Library of Congress which will be available in a digital domain over the internet, eventually.