Praised as “a musician for this moment” by Downbeat magazine, 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 longest project as a bandleader, The Michael Dessen Trio, performs immersive sets that blend adventurous composing and improvising with otherworldly electronics. Collaborating with virtuoso improvisers including longtime trio members Chris Tordini and Dan Weiss, Dessen has released four critically-acclaimed trio albums on Clean Feed Records and has been recognized with composition awards from Chamber Music America, New Music USA and the Fromm Foundation. His compositions have integrated live sampling/processing as well as software-based “scorestreams” that display notations dynamically on screens for improvisers to interpret.
As a trombonist, Dessen’s original sound and broad skills have made him a valued sideperson and collaborator for many renowned musicians, and he has performed in recent years on projects led by Mark Dresser, Nicole Mitchell, Myra Melford, Anthony Davis, Joshua White, Stephanie Richards, Marty Ehrlich, and Lisa Mezzacappa among others. Dessen also performs solo on trombone+computer, and his solo electro-acoustic album Digibone Forest was released by indie label Accretions.
Active since 2007 in the field of networked music performance, Dessen has participated in over 30 telematic concerts, composing new works and co-directing large-scale productions in order to explore the possibilities of this medium. He has collaborated telematically with sites in South and North America, South Korea and Europe, and has produced widely consulted videos and other technical resources. He also co-directs Puentes Telemáticos / Telematic Bridges, a course connecting Latinx and Latin American youth in California and Colombia to introduce creative music making and explore the intercultural potentials of telepresent collaboration.
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 Eastman (BM). 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-created an MFA and PhD program in Integrated Composition, Improvisation and Technology (ICIT), served for four years as chair of the Music Department, and is currently Director of the Gassmann Electronic Music Studios.
Michael Dessen lives in southern California with his longtime partner, artist Mariángeles Soto-Díaz.