Welcome! I’m a composer-improviser and trombonist focused on live, highly interactive forms of music and technology. I am especially indebted to African American traditions and teachers, and I have made music in many diverse contexts throughout my life, from salsa bands to symphony orchestras to intercultural collaborations.
I am fortunate to work with countless inspiring people both on and off stage, continually learning from my peers, mentors and students. In addition to music making, my activities also include technological exploration, teaching and university work, and research/writing.
If you came here looking for technical information about networked music performance, it’s on this page.
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3rd person bio
Michael Dessen is a composer/trombonist who creates music for improvisers, often integrating technologies such as telematics, networked scores and live electronics. For over two decades, he has composed and performed across a wide array of contexts, garnering praise from critics and collaborating with leading innovators, while also helping build new spaces in higher education for creative musical exploration.
His longest project as a bandleader, the Michael Dessen Trio, performs immersive sets that blend adventurous composing and improvising with otherworldly electronics. The trio features bassist Christopher Tordini and drummer Dan Weiss and has been recognized with awards from Chamber Music America, New Music USA and the Fromm Foundation. As a trombonist, Dessen’s original sound and broad skills have also made him a valued sideperson and collaborator for many renowned musicians, and he also performs solo concerts on digibone, a custom trombone-computer environment.
Active since 2007 in the field of telematics, Dessen has participated in over 30 networked concerts, composing new works and co-directing large-scale productions to explore the potentials of this medium. He has collaborated telematically with sites in South America, Korea, and Europe, and with musicians including Mark Dresser, Nicole Mitchell, Myra Melford, Geri Allen, Sarah Weaver, George E. Lewis, Mario Valencia, Matthias Ziegler, Gerry Hemingway, Bae Il Dong, Black String Ensemble and numerous others. Dessen has also co-taught intercultural courses connecting youth between Colombia and California, and university seminars on telematic music making.
Dessen grew up in North Carolina, and his training includes diverse freelance experiences, graduate studies with Yusef Lateef, George E. Lewis, and Anthony Davis, and degrees from Eastman, UMass Amherst and UC San Diego. He has published writings on the Asian American creative music movement and intercultural African diasporic collaboration, as well as a Preface to Yusef Lateef’s Songbook. A professor at UC Irvine since 2006, Dessen co-founded a graduate 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.
“In an era where technology erases old truths about our world at a blistering pace, Michael Dessen is a musician for this moment.”