Grateful Dead Drummer Helps Brain Research
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 headwear is the result of a collaboration between Hart, and Adam Gazzaley, a University of California, San Francisco neuroscientist who studies cognitive decline and prevention.
The musician has been interested in the subject since the late 1980s, when he saw his grandmother grappling with Alzheimer’s disease. Hart has invested time and money exploring the therapeutic potential of rhythm. Thirteen years ago, Hart founded Rhythm for Life, a non-profit group promoting drum circles for the elderly.
He wore the electroencephalogram cap 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. Hart has told US National Public Radio that the device “allows me to see my brain in real time and to hear the electrical stimuli of the brain”.
When Hart wears the device while performing, audiences will see images of Hart’s brain changing colours and lighting up on a screen. So far, the experiment has more entertainment than scientific value, but Gazzaley thinks that will change. Gazzaley hopes to build on his work with Hart to develop ways of capturing brain data in real-time and using it to provide feedback on how performing certain tasks improve brain functions.
“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 has told KGO in San Francisco.