Experimental drone/ambient composer finds freedom in boundaries on new 24-hour piece 'Tetracosa'

Over the past few years, experimental musician Mike Shiflet grew increasingly frustrated with multiple recording projects. Eventually, he scrapped them completely.

“I was driving myself insane,” Shiflet said recently at a Downtown coffee shop. “I'm kind of a perfectionist. I couldn't let things go, so I kept overworking material until it didn't even resemble the starting point. It wasn't fun anymore.”

To reclaim the fun part of creating ambient and noise music, Shiflet took inspiration from contemporary composers who generate predetermined frameworks for their improvised compositions. In order to free himself up to create, he began employing random number generation to arrange recorded sections.

In fact, within the imposed boundaries of such a rigid structure, Shiflet found he could undertake a giant project with relative ease, which led him to create Tetracosa, a 24-hour piece that Shiflet will release in eight three-hour installments throughout 2018. (Volume One is now available digitally on Bandcamp.)

To compose Tetracosa, Shiflet recorded nearly 83 hours of audio consisting of more than 1,300 sound objects (guitars, synthesizers and more) layered throughout the eight volumes, then used the random number generation to alleviate any potentially stressful decision-making as to where each object should go.

“When you work on an album you start thinking about how the pieces fit together. It's probably the biggest part,” Shiflet said. “I don't have to think about that at all with this. … I think of each [object] as a little Lego, and it doesn't matter if a red one is sitting next to a yellow one and ends up looking like a weird Jackson Pollock thing. I record them all, and they just fall where they fall. It helps me not stress about what it could or couldn't be. It's been fun.”

The first three hours of Tetracosa drift between soothing gray fuzz and dissonant squalls, never surrendering completely to one extreme for too long. “In all my music I want to walk a fine line between beautiful ambient music and things that are grittier and chaotic,” Shiflet said. “That's life to me. I don't want to make New Age music, and I don't want to make harsh noise, either. I want to find that nice middle ground.”

For a live performance at It Looks Like It's Open on Friday, March 2, which is part of Fuse Factory's monthly Frequency Fridays series, Shiflet will be joined by longtime collaborator Joe Panzner, Eve Lenker and Larry Marotta to perform a half-hour segment of Tetracosa.

“I don't know how it's going to go at all. We're probably not even going to rehearse, which I kind of like,” Shiflet said. “I want to be surprised by my own thing.”