Former Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart has a new piece of equipment accompanying him on his latest tour—a cap fitted with electrodes that capture his brain activity and direct the movements of a light show while he's jamming on stage.
The sensor-studded headgear is an outgrowth of collaboration between Hart and Adam Gazzaley, a University of California at San Francisco neuroscientist who studies cognitive decline and prevention.
The subject has been an interest of the musician's since the late 1980s, as he watched his grandmother deal with Alzheimer's disease. When he played the drums for her, he says she became more responsive. Since then, Hart has invested time and money exploring the therapeutic potential of rhythm. Thirteen years ago, he founded Rhythm for Life, a not-for-profit promoting drum circles for the elderly.
Hart first publicly wore the electroencephalogram cap he's sporting on his tour, including at a birthday show in Las Vegas, at an AARP convention last year. He wore it again while making his new album, “Superorganism,” translating the rhythms of his own brain waves into music. Hart's bandmates, with input from other researchers in Gazzaley's lab, paired different waves with specific musical sequences that were then inserted into songs.
When he wears the device while performing, audiences will see images of Hart's brain changing colors and lighting up on a screen. So far, the experiment has more entertainment than scientific value, but Gazzaley thinks that will change.
“This concept that rhythm might be therapeutic has been around for a long time; there's just really not studies that have carefully controlled a rhythmic experiment and looked for changes in the brain,” Gazzaley told San Francisco television station KGO.
Follow Outliers on Twitter: @MHOutliers