Electronic duo EOTO to improvise in Old Town

Posted May 06, 2010, at 5:22 p.m.

The human brain lights up like the Griswold family’s house at Christmas when it listens to, or plays, music. All those happy chemicals racing around, neurons firing, creative juices flowing. Who needs drugs when you’ve got music?

The brains of drummer Jason Hann and multi-instrumentalist Michael Travis must be exceptionally active when they perform as EOTO, a live electronic group. The pair, who will perform at 9 p.m. Sunday, May 9, at The Dime Bar in Old Town, never play the same show twice. EOTO is entirely improvised, from the beginning of the set to the end. One night can span the gamut from chilled out dubstep and trip-hop beats to high-energy house and bubbly Bollywood dance mixes.

To make it work, you’ve got to be one hell of a musician. You’ve also got to have a huge knowledge base of multiple genres. Fortunately, Hann and Travis have both in spades.

“If you’ve never tried it, it can be a real mind twister. It took us over a year to get our sound to the point to where we wanted to play shows,” said Hann. “Once you figure out the basics of getting a groove and a rhythm down, you have the brain room to try new things, and get more complicated.”

Hann and Travis met in 1995 at the High Sierra Music Festival in Colorado, where Travis’ other group, the beloved jam band The String Cheese Incident, were headlining. After the show, Hann and Travis jammed on hand drums and exchanged numbers before parting ways. It wasn’t until 2004 that they seriously began per-forming together.

“It came out of Michael and I just setting up instruments at his place and playing ’til like five, six in the morning,” said Hann. “We’d add more pedals and started messing around with electronic music and let it develop until we started listening back to it and were like, ‘Let’s do this in front of people.’”

Six years on, EOTO — which stands for “End of Time Observatory” — is an ever-evolving musical project that is only limited by how far the pair wants to push it. Hann and Travis have released three albums, including the 2006 debut, “Elephants Only Talk Occasionally,” 2008’s “Razed,” and their most recent, 2009’s “Fire the Lazers!!!” All were written in the same way their live shows happen — spontaneously.

Both musicians are relentless musical wanderers, soaking in all music they can. Travis has performed with artists ranging from the late Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji to blues rocker Warren Haynes. Before EOTO, Hann performed in the late Isaac Hayes’ live band. He spent years studying the traditional music of Ghana, Mali, Korea and Haiti not just by listening — but by traveling there.

“I’ve been studying traditional music ever since I got out of high school,” said Hann. “It’s just the best education you could ever have. You really are immersed in the music, and the language, and the culture. It’s way more encompassing than any class or workshop I could take here.”

An improvised show could go anywhere. The only thing that predicts what direction EOTO goes in on a given night is what the audience is giving out. If they want a party, they’ll get a party. If they want a deep, intense musical experience, they’ll get that too.

“We read the crowd pretty instinctively,” said Hann. “It totally depends on the energy of the crowd. If they’re pushed up against the stage and the vibe is really there, we’ll start with dubstep, which is probably the style we’re most known for. Maybe some hip-hop. It all depends. The other week, during the set break, the house was playing breakbeat, so we started in with something really upbeat that worked with that. It’s all about what the crowd gives us.”

EOTO will perform at 9 p.m. Sunday, May 9, at The Dime Bar in Old Town. The event is for those 21 and older, and admission is $15 in advance or $20 that day. Opening for EOTO will be Orono DJ Alien Journalism, a.k.a. Les Rhoda.

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