Anticipation spewed from the crowd like a thick fog rolling in from the sea as the words from Dr. Dre’s the Chronic reverberated throughout the venue. Then there was a moment, as Michael Travis and Jason Hann stepped onto the stage and we, the audience, prepared for the coming ascension. The stage set up was more simple than that of last year’s lotus tour, but when Travis told us that he had a mad scientist of a lighting director working on the visual mapping, he was not lying. What looked like crystal shards lined the front of the stage and behind the two musicians was a huge projection backdrop. Jason Hann addressed the crowd asking, “Philadelphia, what is up?” and telling us that we’re in for “two sets tonight.” After the duo got settled in, the audience prepared for take-off. Multi-colored lights combined with background imaging projected the audience into a control room of sorts filled with a variety of buttons and pressure gauges. Imagining a cross between an airplane, submarine, cruise ship and spacecraft, I picture a retro-futuristically dressed flight attendant prepping the crowd for take-off…
Ladies and Gentleman, welcome aboard the premier flight of EOTO’s 2014 nonstop to the land of throbbing bass and thudding beats. Please pay attention to your captains, Michael Travis and Jason Hann, as we prepare for take-off. To fasten you seatbelt, place the metal tip into the buckle and tighten the strap. To release your seatbelt, lift the top portion of the buckle… on second thought, forget about the seatbelts… this is going to be a wild ride with or without them and we want you to have a full range of motion since we expect that you will be dancing all night. Mind the two emergency exits, one on either side of the stage, and the exit towards the front of the venue. In the event our powerful electronic equipment and massive bass causes temporary loss of electrical power, emergency LED gloves will be thrown into the crowd and glow in the dark pathways along the floor will illuminate leading you to the exits… We thank you for choosing to fly with EOTO tonight, and remember to stay hydrated and dance your ass off!
5, the bass…4, Travis’ drums…3, the chaos pad…2, the lights…1 “enjoy the journey” … Hann’s “let’s do this!” echoed throughout the venue and you could feel the excitement in the air. With both hands on the bass, Travis recorded the first loop of the evening as Hann started out with a loose high-hat breaking into the percussion, followed by a preview of ensuing tonal elements that crescendo into a collision of bass and the beats of the snare. The crowd erupted with enthusiasm as dancing spread among the venue like a contagion.
Watching an improvised, instrumental-electronic musical masterpiece unfold right before my very eyes was hypnotizing. The dynamic duo of Travis and Hann truly took the entire audience on a unique journey that night. With the rising popularity of electronic music, EOTO has taken the forefront by creating right on the spot, in front of live audiences, what music producers strive to put together in their studios. With diverse cultural influences among their dubstep/breakbeat/house/drum and bass/trip hop – an EOTO concert is the preeminent electronic dance party infiltrating the states from coast to coast.
I consider Michael Travis and Jason Hann to be the pioneers of a new era and even futuristic genre of musical performance. Hann rocks a souped- up EQ’d drum kit riddled with multi-touch screens, MIDI controllers, with ingeniously placed microphones to elicit his unique and thudding percussion. Meanwhile, Travis takes the stage boasting his hardware synthesizers, electric guitar, bass, drums, and computer tech software, which includes the reason and Ableton Live. Their music pushes the boundaries of technology, encouraging Apple to speed up its updates on its laptop technology. Who wouldn’t want to witness this sensation live?!
It is astounding how Travis and Hann have evolved from their roles in the renowned jam band, The String Cheese Incident. Having played together for years, what began as experimental jamming has evolved into this nebulous beast of real time inspired, live-sets. It’s an audience-encompassing dance marathon, radiating a wave of euphoric energy throughout the venue.
Rebecca: Seeing you and Hann play in EOTO is such an incredible and personal experience, especially for those aware that each show is improvised live on the spot. Your silent communication and the resulting collaboration remind me of a musical, mystical “whose line is it anyway”… How would you describe the process that is unfolding on stage at your performances?
Travis: It was a lot of interesting development. I mean it was a flow thing, and we used to have a lot more hand signals than we do now, cause a lot has kind of gone to telepathy or just knowing each other so well. So the process is we just step up, look for a position where the tempo or mode that we might go into and then he either agrees or says “how about this?” And then we watch and then we never talk about anything after that. We just go. He has his way of figuring out what key I am in cause he has his own silent keyboard over there geared up so he can sync properly. Then we flash hand signals to each other. So it’s a recipe for what we want to do. Like let’s take the tempo up or cut out, it’s all gonna go to me for a second, let’s hit some dub step or house… We have symbols for all of these things. Keep the same vibe but let’s move on from this idea… All of these hand signals that keeps up against thenavigate. It’s just up to our intuition and what we are feeling is the right thing.
R: That reminds me of musical baseball signaling… (Steal third!)
T: Yeah, it is kind of like baseball signaling. Now we’re so in the flow with each other and we have very similar musical languaging. Over the years we have developed this sense of where each other is probably gonna go and so it’s just kind of happened more and more with less hand signaling.
R: Recording and looping your music live creates a multi-textural sound that allows you to add layers of different instruments into one song, essentially creating a live master piece that many producers strive to create over time in the studio. How did you guys come up with this brilliant idea of bringing electronic music to the next level, live and in real time?
T: As musicians first we were both inspired by and appreciative of electronic music. In the jam and world improv is extremely important. It’s the current that made the grateful dead, the grateful dead. It’s this place where they go out of the ends of songs and go into this uncharted territory where everyone could be present in the room because I have this sense that when musicians don’t know what is going to happen, the whole audience joins them and it becomes a very elevated state. So we wanted to infuse that feeling into the electronic music and thought that we knew how to do it. It took a lot of work to get to get to where it got convincing, that’s for sure!
R: I think it’s great. I saw you guys play in the String Cheese Incident long before I saw EOTO at Bonaroo in 2011. It was probably one of the coolest jam band experiences of my life.
T: Oh nice.
R: Just from that it is such a different feel to see you guys play in the String Cheese Incident where you have the pre-composed jam music as opposed to EOTO where it’s all improvisation. How does it feel coming from a long standing jam band, to have that freedom to just make it up as you go along?
T: Oh, it’s so relaxing. I mean now that we figured out the rig it’s pretty effortless for Jason and I to go into this world… This language. You know, I love drumming and it was my first love, it really got me into the music world. But it’ is hard (laughs). It’s hard for my type of person to get out and then all of these loops and — that you have to jump through, all these incredible arrangements, concepts and cues, hundreds of songs and everything. It’s a totally different animal and I do have to say that EOTO is a lot more relaxing in several areas because I am not being the skeleton that is holding the whole thing together because drumming is…
R: The backbones.
T: It hurts, it’s hard to always keep it right on the line and always be managing the sign of the band and everything. So to not be in charge of that and to be able to play tonal stuff and just making it all up is very awesome.
R: That leads me into my next question … as a drummer for the String Cheese Incident, why did you choose the role of multi-instrumental melody in EOTO? Is this so you can go out there and play the other instruments that you love? Why did you choose that?
T: Basically, that’s it, yeah. I really felt like I had a lot to offer as far as melodic structure and all of these things and really wanted to share them and practiced for many years to get up and running on the instruments enough that I could play them out. And a lot of them were on stage with EOTO working out all of the different things. It was interesting because I had this whole other arm of love for tonal stuff and melodies and I love bass and I just wanted to express it.
R: So, out of all of the different instruments that you play on stage in EOTO, which is your favorite?
T: The bass guitar is definitely the most fun. It has giant cables, and you just grab one and this monster sound comes out of an actual string that’s vibrating back and forth. It’s very compelling and exciting. I really love to play the bass.
R: So, I know you have a lot of electronic equipment up there- electronically what would you say is your favorite piece or pieces of equipment?
T: What I would consider to be the instruments would be the bass and guitar, and then the chaos pad, a bunch of hard synthesizers, 3 hardware synthesizers and reason as a software synthesizer all feeding as audio into the AD converter. So I would count those as instruments as opposed to tech, but the middle of the band is this program called Ableton live which is very popular in the DJ world, but most DJs are using it as a tool for sequencing their previously recorded clips where they have chunks of music that can be up to four minutes, five minutes… it can be as long as you want, even an hour if you wanted a chunk to be. There are all these little rectangles and they just make one little rectangle feed into the other, hopefully gracefully. (Laughs) And all of these little chunks of pre-recorded music create a set. With us, we start with our Ableton set totally empty and we start making stuff up and recording it and creating clips as we go. I think as far as tech piece of gear, Ableton has to be the most valued piece of equipment as far as software and where Apple computers are these days and laptops. You know when we started the band we practiced for a whole year before we played our first gig and we wanted to make sure that it was convincing when we stepped out on stage. 6-months in we realized that we could not play in front of people until Apple invented a faster computer, and then they did. Then they invented an even faster one, and then an even faster one and another faster one. It was fun to be pushing Apple. You know the way laptop computers are now with Ableton it would have to be my favorite tech part in the whole world.
R: That’s really interesting! It blows my mind, how you guys can start with it blank and just record everything on the spot and play it throughout the concert.
T: Yeah, well thanks for appreciating what we consider our most profound asset as a band because there are lots of amazing producers out there making incredible music in any genre we’re attempting. But the fact that we’re just… when I am making up a bass part I try to start playing and record it the next round, so it’s literally 15 seconds to think of a bass part and record it and be moving on to the next part. That’s the part that we’ve really leaned on and spent a long time honing out so when somebody like you appreciates the intricacies of that, that’s awesome.
R: So, next to the musical part, there is also an artistic and aesthetic part that comes with your performances. Are also very exciting. We were all really impressed with the beauty and passion that was evoked through the visuals on your lotus stage last tour…
R: I heard that there is a new stage coming out that will be debuted at your Theatre of Living Arts performance this Saturday…
T: Yeah, it’s going to be debuted this weekend. We call our mad scientist of a lighting director Devon Bryant is going crazy on this whole vision that we kind of came up with together and we’ll see. We don’t even really know exactly what it’s going to look like. It’s exciting he’s just going to toss it in the middle of this whole thing.
R: We’re really excited about that. Also, I was wondering if you know if there is going to be a light show at your performance this weekend? I know that they said that your light show at the Theatre of Living Arts last year was one of the best that had gone on in Philadelphia.
T: Oh, wow. It was the lasers too maybe? There will be a light show and there will be a big stage set up with projections, so there will be a lightshow at the concert. It should be pretty grand.
R: Can you tell us a little more about who is handing your lights on this tour?
T: Yeah it’s this guy named Devon Bryant and he is the housmate of Zebbler who was the famous lighting guy that worked with us for a number of years and is now working Shpongle and other projects. They all live together in this incredible, artistic household that’s kind of like this family of artists keep springing out of this one ridiculous fun house in Boston, bringing us all kinds of super heroes.
R: It’s an artistic city, they even have art hanging in their subways.
T: Yeah, this house is kind of miraculous. It’s amazing. It’s like a 5 story old office building that the landlord just turns the other way lets people do whatever the hell they want in there. And these guys are like drilling holes in floors and putting psychedelic rainbow ladders up to other levels, playing in ball pits, floating DJ tables and secret doors.
R: Oh my gosh!
T: So it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen.
R: It sounds like another world.
R: Now that you’ve evolved as a group, what would you say that some of the artists and musicians are that influence your music, especially in the terms of live performance?
T: Well, I have been inspired by sector 9 for a lot of years, I think they’re great and what they have done for the melding of electronic music and live music is always been exquisite. And the New Deal I feel the same way about, you know they are the two biggest, “electronic can be made live” influences. As far as what we do, we don’t really have any peers, there is nobody to look up to in live improvised electronic looping. There is one cat named Kid Beyond, who does a very similar thing, a live looping thing through Ableton, but he is all predescribed… he knows what he is gonna do. He was a big Ableton looping influence. Imogen Heap is another amazing artist who does a lot of looping shows sometimes, she’s very famous. Lotus, we love Lotus. But as far as taking the tech stuff of using an Ableton based set-up and doing live looping and doing it all improvised and doing it all with heavy electronic idioms…
R: That’s all you guys!
T: We don’t have any peers in that, that we know of. We’re the only ones that have taken it this far.
R: You guys are forging the way in electronic music right now.
R: So, our last question is about your performance. We believe that a live EOTO performance takes the crowd onto a journey into this crazy dancing universe where everyone gets so energized and into the music, but then is delivered safely back with a sense of peace. What is it that you would ideally like the Philly crowd to take home from your show this Saturday?
T: Well, my favorite moments with String Cheese and they happen with EOTO sometimes but it’s more rare is where the entire room lifts off and it just becomes so suspended that there is this ripple that goes across the whole audience and everyone forgets themselves a little more and remembers the broader identity of everybody in the room or everyone on the planet even, and uh kind of that lift off feeling is always my favorite to wish upon a show.
Boy was he right… That night at the Theatre of Livings Arts was a truly out-of-this-world musical voyage! The 3D mapping and light show was grand and the musicianship displayed on stage was exceptional. If you’re looking to lose yourself in some fantastic live music- be sure to check out EOTO on their 2014 tour! Grab some Red Bull and wear comfy shoes because it will truly be an epic live EDM dance marathon… and don’t forget that the whole performance is live and improvised so the composition unfolds step by step right in front of your very ears! Some of the band’s upcoming performances include March 6th at the Wonder Ballroom in Portland, Oregon, March 7th at The McDonald Theater in Eugene, Oregon, March 8th at The Crocodile in Seattle, Washington and then back on the Northeast coast just in time for April 20th at the legendary Toad’s Place in New Haven, Connecticut (what better way to celebrate?!)
Review written by Rebecca Wolfe
Photography by Rebecca Wolfe
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