Michael Dessen is a composer/trombonist who creates music for improvisers and explores technologies including live electronics, telematics and networked scores. For over two decades, he has composed and performed across a wide array of contexts, garnering critical praise and collaborating with leading artistic innovators.
Dessen’s longest-running ensemble, The Michael Dessen Trio, performs immersive live sets that blend adventurous composing and improvising with otherworldly electronics, and has been recognized with awards from Chamber Music America, New Music USA and the Fromm Foundation. The band’s four albums on Clean Feed Records include Somewhere In The Upstream (2018), a work dedicated to Yusef Lateef and featuring longtime trio members Christopher Tordini (bass) and Dan Weiss (drums). With both the trio and other groups, Dessen’s compositions have included networked “scorestreams” which display notations dynamically on screens, an evolving exploration of interactivity in which the score (software) can function like a member of the ensemble.
On trombone, Dessen’s original sound and broad skill set has made him a valued sideperson for many renowned musicians and interdisciplinary collaborators. He also performs concerts on digibone, a custom trombone-computer performance environment that is documented on his trio recordings and on Digibone Forest, a 2019 solo album on the label Accretions.
Active for a dozen years in the growing field of telematics, Dessen has participated in over 30 concerts that use cutting-edge networking tools to enable live performances by musicians in different geographic locations. In addition to composing works that explore the potentials of the networked stage, he has co-led large-scale telematic projects including Virtual Tour 2013: A Reduced Carbon Footprint Concert Series, one of several co-directed with Mark Dresser and featuring Nicole Mitchell, Myra Melford, and Sarah Weaver among others. Dessen has collaborated telematically with artists in Colombia, Korea, Europe and North America, and he has co-taught graduate telematic music seminars as well as intercultural courses connecting youth between Colombia and California.
Dessen grew up in North Carolina and in addition to freelance trombonist experiences across numerous musical genres, his education includes degrees in Performance (BM Eastman), “Jazz Composition” (MM, UMass Amherst) and Critical Studies and Experimental Practices (PhD in Music, UC San Diego). Especially important were his graduate studies with mentors Yusef Lateef, George Lewis, and Anthony Davis. His published writings have addressed topics including the Asian American creative music movement and intercultural African diasporic collaboration, and he also wrote a Preface to Yusef Lateef’s Songbook. Since 2006, Dessen has been a faculty member at the University of California, Irvine, where he co-founded a new PhD program in Integrated Composition, Improvisation and Technology (ICIT) and served for four years as chair of the Music Department.
Michael Dessen lives in southern California with artist Mariángeles Soto-Díaz.