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. For over two decades, he has steadily garnered critical acclaim for his imaginative composing and trombone playing, while forging powerful ties with fellow improvisers in a wide array of settings.
Dessen’s trio has been recognized with awards from New Music USA, Chamber Music America and the Fromm Foundation, and is especially known for its unique blend of adventurous improvisation, intricate composition and otherworldly electronics. The trio has released four albums on Clean Feed Records, including Somewhere In The Upstream (2018), a concert-length work dedicated to Yusef Lateef that features Christopher Tordini (bass) and Dan Weiss (drums). Dessen’s compositions also include networked “scorestreams” in which notations are displayed dynamically on screens for performers to interpret, an evolving exploration of interactivity in which the score itself can function like a member of the ensemble.
Dessen is also active in the growing field of telematics, participating in over 30 concerts that use cutting-edge tools and high-bandwidth networks to enable live performances among musicians in different geographic locations. He has composed numerous works specifically for the telematic stage, and has co-directed many large-scale telematic projects including Virtual Tour 2013: A Reduced Carbon Footprint Concert Series, which Dessen co-directed with Mark Dresser. Those concerts, later released on DVD by pfMENTUM, featured a core quartet in California with Nicole Mitchell and Myra Melford performing with other musicians in Zurich, New York and Massachusetts. More recent telematic projects include collaborations with musicians located in Korea and Colombia as well as sites in North America and Europe.
Dessen grew up in North Carolina and studied at the Eastman School of Music (BM performance), gaining diverse freelance experience as a trombonist and later pursuing further education at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (MM jazz composition) and the University of California, San Diego (PhD in Music, Critical Studies and Experimental Practices). Especially important were his studies with Yusef Lateef, George Lewis, and Anthony Davis. Dessen’s writings on music include articles in The Other Side of Nowhere: Jazz, Improvisation and Communities in Dialogue (Wesleyan University Press), the journal Critical Studies in Improvisation / Etudes Critique en Improvisation, and Musicworks magazine, as well as a Preface to Yusef Lateef’s Songbook. Since 2006, he 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.