Composer and trombonist Michael Dessen creates highly interactive, improvisatory music and collaborates with leading artists, while also working as a university professor to expand institutional spaces for cultural innovation and exchange.
His compositions often blend abstract, immersive soundworlds with lyricism and groove, and have integrated technologies such as live sampling/processing and dynamic, algorithmic “scorestreams.” Dessen’s releases as a composer-bandleader include four critically-acclaimed albums on Clean Feed Records, and his music has been recognized with awards from Chamber Music America, New Music USA and the Fromm Foundation. He has also worked extensively since 2007 in telematic music, composing and performing on dozens of networked concerts with international collaborators, and co-directing many projects that have enabled diverse composer-improvisers to experiment with this emerging medium.
As a trombonist, Dessen’s original sound and broad skills have made him a valued sideperson and collaborator for many renowned musicians. He has performed with a wide range of artists including Mark Dresser, Nicole Mitchell, Myra Melford, Anthony Davis, Geri Allen, George E. Lewis, Joshua White, Marty Ehrlich, Lisa Mezzacappa, Dan Weiss, Christopher Tordini, Steve Lehman, Fay Victor, Kei Akagi, Yoon-Jeong Heo, Bae Il Dong, Stephanie Richards, Wilfrido Terrazas, Jason Robinson, Nathan Hubbard and Ivan Trujillo, among many others. He also performs solo on trombone+computer, and his solo electro-acoustic album Digibone Forest was released by indie label Accretions.
Dessen 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. He is a Professor at the University of California, Irvine, where he co-founded a PhD program in Integrated Composition, Improvisation and Technology (ICIT), served for four years as chair of the Music Department, and is currently the Director of the Gassmann Electronic Music Studios and (beginning summer 2023) the Jazz Program Coordinator. As part of an ongoing partnership with Santa Ana High School, he also co-directs Puentes Telemáticos / Telematic Bridges, a program that connects high school students in California with peers in Colombia to explore the pedagogical and intercultural potentials of musical telepresence.
Michael Dessen grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and his music training includes diverse freelance experiences, graduate studies with Yusef Lateef, George E. Lewis, and Anthony Davis, and degrees from UC San Diego (PhD), UMass Amherst (MM) and the Eastman School of Music (BM). He lives in southern California with his longtime partner, artist Mariángeles Soto-Díaz.