NASA & Grateful Dead Drummer Mickey Hart Record Cosmic Sounds of the Universe on New Album

Yes­ter­day we fea­tured UC San­ta Cruz’s new Grate­ful Dead Archive Online. There you’ll find a wealth of mate­ri­als about the band from their incep­tion in 1965 until their dis­band­ment in 1995. But over the past 17 years, the sur­viv­ing mem­bers of the Dead have pur­sued all sorts of fas­ci­nat­ing projects, musi­cal and oth­er­wise. Mick­ey Hart, the group’s drum­mer between 1967 and 1971 and again between 1974 to the end, has put out a par­tic­u­lar­ly unusu­al new album that takes its basic mate­ri­als from the heav­ens. As both a musi­cian and musi­col­o­gist, Hart has estab­lished a prece­dent for such son­ic exper­i­ments. Craft­ing his 1989 album Music to Be Born By, he record­ed his yet-unborn son’s heart­beat with­in the womb — the most nat­ur­al of all per­cus­sion, you might say — and record­ed tracks on top of it. For his lat­est record, Mys­teri­um Tremen­dum, he lis­tened not to the core of a human being but as far in the oth­er direc­tion from human­i­ty as pos­si­ble, col­lect­ing and com­pos­ing with “cos­mic sounds” made in out­er space.

To make music like this, you need some unusu­al col­lab­o­ra­tors. Hart went to NASA, Penn State, and the Lawrence Berke­ley Nation­al Lab­o­ra­to­ry, work­ing with sci­en­tists like George Smoot, win­ner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics with John C. Math­er. They helped con­vert light, radio waves, and oth­er elec­tro­mat­ic radi­a­tion into sound waves that Hart and his band could put to musi­cal use. After get­ting a sam­ple of the result­ing extrater­res­tri­al grooves in the videos above, you might con­sid­er lis­ten­ing to this recent inter­view with Hart on KQED’s Forum. Why go to all the trou­ble of sam­pling the bil­lons-of-years-old sounds of the infi­nite uni­verse? Because the Big Bang, Hart thinks, marked the very first beat. “Four words: it’s the rhythm, stu­pid,” he explains. “That’s what I always say to any­one, and myself as well. It all goes back to that. We are rhythm machines, embed­ded in a uni­verse of rhythm.” Spo­ken like a true drum­mer.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Sound­track of the Uni­verse

UC San­ta Cruz Opens a Deadhead’s Delight: The Grate­ful Dead Archive is Now Online

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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Comments (4)
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  • Ron Gower says:

    There is sta­t­ic on the record­ing.

  • Ron Gower says:

    There is sta­t­ic on the video at Open Cul­ture.

  • Dr. Jatila van der Veen says:

    But this is real­ly wrong. The Big Bang did not make any sound, as there was, no medi­um in which acoustic waves could prop­a­gate. Cos­mic sounds were gen­er­at­ed slow­ly, dur­ing the first 380,000 years of the uni­verse by the ‘slosh­ing’ of pres­sure waves in the pho­ton-bary­on flu­id. The fun­da­men­tal had a half-wave­length of around 220,000 light years, and would have made a sound of around 47 octaves below the low­est note on the piano. The sounds of the ear­ly uni­verse, if you could hear them, would sound like a great swoosh­ing noise. The Big Bang was not the down­beat; if any­thing, it was the pre-acoustic pos­si­bil­i­ty in which all fre­quen­cies exist for an instant, but over time those which actu­al­ly res­onat­ed in the grow­ing uni­verse devel­oped into acoustic waves. I am all for using art to teach sci­ence, but please get the sci­ence right!

  • Barry says:

    Dr. Jati­la, You don’t need to be so lit­er­al about “mark­ing the first beat”. To quote Mick­ey Hart. Thank­ful­ly, we have true artists and inno­va­tors with a bent toward using a lit­tle bit of sci­ence to explore such fun­da­men­tals of life thru the medi­um of audio record­ing. How­ev­er slow­ly the Cos­mic sounds were gen­er­at­ed dur­ing the first 38,000 years of the Uni­verse, the rythym that even­tial­ly evolved would NOT have evolved had there NOT been a Big Bang, so I’m with Mick­ey on this.

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