Welcome! I’m a composer-improviser, trombonist and educator focused on live, highly interactive forms of music. I’m especially indebted to African American traditions and teachers, and I’ve made music in many contexts throughout my life, from salsa bands to symphony orchestras to intercultural collaborations.
I’m fortunate to work with countless inspiring people on and off stage, continually learning from my peers, mentors and students. I’m also lucky to be employed by a public research university, and in that spirit, I share many materials here from my work, including scores, writings, technology resources, and course syllabi. Thanks for visiting.
Michael Dessen is a musician and professor based in southern California. He composes for improvisers, performs on trombone and computer, explores networked music technologies, and works to expand educational spaces for artistic and cultural innovation.
As a composer-bandleader, his longest project is the Michael Dessen Trio, which 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 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 and North America, South 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 Chapel Hill, 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 networked music, the Asian American creative music movement and intercultural African diasporic collaboration, as well as a Preface to Yusef Lateef’s Songbook. A faculty member at the University of California, Irvine since 2006, Dessen co-founded a MFA and PhD 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.”