Michael Dessen, trombone/computer/composition
Christopher Tordini, bass
Dan Weiss, drums
Clean Feed Records, 2011
About the Music
Forget the Pixel is an hour-long cycle of music designed for this trio to perform in a single, continuous set. We recorded this CD in that same spirit, with minimal takes and no overdubs. The album title plays on the first line of the poem “Open Field” by Phillis Levin, in which a crow tells a passerby to “forget the comma.” Levin spins punctuation symbols into metaphors for a multileveled experience of time that for me is central to the practice of music. When we use so-called odd meters or “complex” rhythms, people often conclude this is the point: to be odd, or complex. This has never been a goal for me, or for most musicians I work with. If you open your ears to music traditions from around the world, you hear infinite varieties of temporal flow and structure. Music has long been a tool to change our understanding of time, to learn to feel its articulations in new ways. This music zooms in and out of different durational scales and pulse feels, stretching and savoring the grain of rhythmic counterpoint, and magnifying details of line, color and texture.
Sometimes my compositions respond to specific events, such as “fossils and flows,” which came together as a (loud) meditation on the BP oil spill of 2010. But usually the connections are more oblique, and most of the pieces simmered over several years as I brought fragments to gigs and expanded them with new material each time we performed. I’m grateful to work with Chris and Dan, virtuoso musicians who bring a deep and personal compositional sensibility to everything they play. My scores provide many details of rhythm, pitch and form, but they also depend on collective improvisation, often blurring the line between the improvised and the precomposed.
Electronics can easily take over a band. My interest in computers is to build upon what we already do as acoustic performers. Sometimes the electronic sounds are prominent, and other times they are subtle, almost imperceptible or just absent. I also use electronics in a very improvisatory way, but like the acoustic playing we do, that does not mean that nothing is developed ahead of time. To me, jazz histories provide inspiring models for thinking about what “live electronics” can mean. I’ve spent years practicing live processing and sampling the same way I practice improvising with harmonic and rhythmic forms on the trombone. From one performance to the next, live electronics can capture a creative tension of “difference and repetition,” just like the art of improvising over cyclic forms that evolved in jazz during the last century. We may be working with some new tools today, but at their core these ideas have been around a long time, and it’s humbling to look back at what we inherit.
I hope you enjoy the music. Thanks for listening.
– Michael Dessen