Mickey Hart • What is that? – “The Beam”


Russ turned to me on the floor at Solider Field on the Fourth of July, “What is that thing?”. He was, of course, referring to Mickey Hart’s “The Beam” during “Space”. As a musician, most of you know we try to act like we know a bit more than we do about gear sometimes than we actually do, I quickly found myself running in circles with that answer. Then I began to wonder, what exactly is that “thing”?

In a piece published on June 25, Mickey Hart explored all the details of his novel contraption in a piece aptly titled “All About the Beam Baby.” Read the full story here.

An unusual percussion instrument built for the sessions, variants of which have been built and later used in Grateful Dead concerts and Mickey Hart’s solo touring bands, was “The Beam”. This is a large (8 foot in length) aluminum I-beam (actually a “C” shaped beam facing down with the strings across the flat outside-top surface) strung with 13 bass piano strings all tuned to the note of D (a Pythagorean mono-chord at various octaves). The Beam has a heavy-duty bridge and string anchor at one end and a nut with tuning hardware at the other end. It has a movable magnetic pickup block to facilitate capture and transmission of various tonal qualities. The pickup block feeds a volume pedal and various audio effects units, which route the signals through an amplifier or sound system. The Beam generates a large variety of low frequency primary tones and harmonic overtones, and is played by hitting the strings with a percussion mallet, plucking the strings by hand or with a plectrum, scraping them with various implements (fingernails, plectrums, metal bars), or by pounding on The Beam frame itself to induce a bell-like resonance of all the strings simultaneously.

Hart tuned “the Beam” to the Key of A for Night 1 in Santa Clara, Key of E for Night 2, Key of D for Night 1 in Chicago,=he Key of E for the Fourth of July and E again for the final Sunday show.

Oh man, the Rhythm Devils did have some fun during “Drums” > “Space” every night of Chicago. At the end when they’d slow down and smile at each other, that was cool. Sure, some folks don’t like the lengthy jam, but while it may appear a bit drawn out on a webcast, in person it kind of grew on me each night. Afterall, how many more times have we recently heard Billy & Mickey play a drum solo to 70,000+ people?

This is what the cosmos sounds like.
Pythagoras found the secrets of the universe, the rhythm of the universe, the mathematics of the universe through just a long string which vibrated. If I had any guru, it would have to be Pythagoras, and of course rhythm is the god. – Mickey Hart

Recently Mickey Hart took to his website to explain the actual science behind the beam. For musicians, this is a gear heads type of thing. This interview below is rather interesting. Read the full transcript here.

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