Michael Dessen is a composer/trombonist who creates music for improvisers and explores the artistic potentials of technologies including live electronics, telematics and networked scores.

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 2018.

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.


recordings as a bandleader-composer

Resonating Abstractions, by the Michael Dessen Trio. (Clean Feed Records, 2014). Michael Dessen (trombone, computer, composition), Christopher Tordini (bass), and Dan Weiss (drums).
CD from Clean Feed
Forget The Pixel, by the Michael Dessen Trio. (Clean Feed Records, 2011). Michael Dessen (trombone, computer, composition), Christopher Tordini (bass), and Dan Weiss (drums).
iTunes | Amazon | CD from Clean Feed
Between Shadow and Space, by the Michael Dessen Trio. (Clean Feed Records, 2008). Michael Dessen (trombone, computer, composition), Christopher Tordini (bass), and Tyshawn Sorey (drums).
iTunes | Amazon | emusic | lastFM | CD from Clean Feed
Lineal, by Michael Dessen (Circumvention, 2007). Michael Dessen (trombone, composition), Mark Dresser (bass), Susie Ibarra (drums), Vijay Iyer (piano), Terry Jenoure (violin), Bob Weiner (drums), and Jorge Roeder (bass).
CD from Circumvention

recordings as co-leader

virtual-tour-dvd-coverVirtual Tour (DVD): A Reduced Carbon Footprint Concert Series (pfMENTUM, 2016). A telematic 3-concert series featuring compositions/performances by Mark Dresser, Michael Dessen, Nicole Mitchell, Jason Robinson, Marty Ehrlich, Gerry Hemingway, Matthias Ziegler and Sarah Weaver, as well as performers Jane Ira Bloom, Ray Anderson, Min Xiao Fen, Matt Wilson, and Bob Weiner.
Eyes in the back of my head (Cuneiform Records, 2008). Jason Robinson (sax), Michael Dessen (tbn), Scott Walton (bass), and Nathan Hubbard (perc).
iTunes | lastFM | Amazon | CD from Cuneiform
III (Circumvention, 2005). Jason Robinson (sax), Michael Dessen (tbn), Scott Walton (bass), and Nathan Hubbard (perc), with special guest Al Scholl (gtr).
Tracks from Nimbit | CD from Circumvention
Syntaxis (Circumvention, 2002). Jason Robinson (sax), Michael Dessen (tbn), Scott Walton (bass), and Nathan Hubbard (perc).
Tracks from Nimbit | CD from Circumvention
Staring at the Sun (Circumvention, 2000). Jason Robinson (sax), Michael Dessen (tbn), Scott Walton (bass), and Nathan Hubbard (perc).
Tracks from Nimbit | CD from Circumvention

recordings as a sideperson (selection)

Glorious Ravage, by Lisa Mezzacappa (New World Records, 2017)

Sedimental You, by the Mark Dresser Seven (Clean Feed Records, 2016)

furiously dreamingFuriously Dreaming, by Nathan Hubbard / Skeleton Key Orchestra (Orenda Records, 2016)

entangledEntangled, by Kronomorfic / David Borgo and Paul Pellegrin (2014)

estadosAltIntruso Armónico, by Estados Alterados (2014; collaborator on track “Atonal”)

nate2014Encinitas and Everything After, vol. 4, by Nathan Hubbard (Castor & Pollux Music, 2014)

ehrlichTptA Trumpet In The Morning, by Marty Ehrlich (New World Records, 2013)

nourishmentsNourishments, by the Mark Dresser Quintet (Clean Feed, 2013)

Passages album coverPassages, by Didier Petit and Alexandre Pierrepont (Rogue Art, 2012)

Dear Annex, by Marcelo Radulovich (Titicacaman Records, 2010)


Fingerprint, by Jason Robinson (Circumvention, 2008)


Skeleton Key Orchestra, by Nathan Hubbard (Circumvention, 2003)


Hybrid Vigor, by Marcos Fernandes (Accretions, 2002)


Tandem, by Jason Robinson (Accretions, 2002)


Hello, by Marcelo Radulovich (Accretions, 2002)


Tania, an opera by Anthony Davis (Koch, 2001)


Fantasia for Flute, by Yusef Lateef (YAL, 1996)


Mystery is His Story, by Chris Merz (WP, 1997)