Dessen’s electro-acoustic trio features bassist Christopher Tordini and drummer Dan Weiss, and has been praised by critics for its unique blend of otherworldly electronics, dynamic improvisation and wide-ranging compositions. His compositions for the trio have been supported by awards and commissions from New Music USA, Chamber Music America and the Fromm Foundation, and he has released three trio albums on Clean Feed Records, the first featuring Tyshawn Sorey on drums. Dessen’s most recent work for the trio, Somewhere In The Upstream (2014), is a concert-length composition dedicated to Yusef Lateef that will be released in 2017.
Both with his own trio and many other collective projects, Dessen has focused on creating works for improvisers, including networked “scorestreams” that are displayed dynamically on screens for performers to interpret. As an improviser, he collaborates with diverse bands in addition to performing solo on digibone, an animistic world of slide trombone and live electronics. Dessen has also been involved in numerous telematic concerts that link performers in distant locations via high-definition networking technologies. He has composed new works specifically for the telematic stage, and has co-directed many large-scale telematic projects, including Virtual Tour 2013, a 3-concert series recently released on DVD that Dessen co-directed with Mark Dresser, featuring a core quartet in California with Nicole Mitchell and Myra Melford performing with other renowned musicians in Zurich, New York and Massachusetts.
Dessen’s teachers include Yusef Lateef, George Lewis, and Anthony Davis, and he is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music (BM performance), the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (MM jazz composition), and the University of California, San Diego (PhD in Music, Critical Studies and Experimental Practices). His writings on music include articles in The Other Side of Nowhere: Jazz, Improvisation and Communities in Dialogue (Wesleyan University Press), the online journal Critical Studies in Improvisation / Etudes Critique en Improvisation, and Musicworks magazine, as well as a Preface to Yusef Lateef’s Songbook. His publications have focused especially on the role of African American traditions within late-twentieth century experimental music worlds. 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).
Michael Dessen lives in southern California with visual artist Mariángeles Soto-Díaz and their son.
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