Michael Dessen, trombone/computer/composition
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Sample track: The Usual Suspects:
Sample track: Mensural Refractions:
1. The Usual Suspects
2. Ginger Flanger
6. What Will You Think Of Next
8. Percolating Time
9. Wiggliness Quotient
11. Mensural Refractions
About this music
As musicians like Tricky Sam Nanton long ago showed us, the trombone is very simple in construction, but offers infinitely gradient possibilities of sonic expression.
Today our lives are saturated in algorithms running on machines that are incredibly complex, but binary at the core. How can a slippery, gradient instrument like the trombone animate the computer? How can the magic of software extend the sound of the trombone? My foot on a pedal modulates a rapid stream of data, just as my handslide movements modulate the air vibrations set in motion by my lips. I send the trombone’s sounds into the software realm, then bring them back out as a flock of imaginary creatures, a melodic line’s shadow, a detritus cloud of tinkling artifacts.
This is mostly live, trombone-sourced music, with some exceptions. I think of this album as a collection of sonic poems, each with its own character and form, all coming through this encounter of air and machine.
Like most of the tracks, the opening pair, The Usual Suspects and Ginger Flanger, are improvisatory performances that use live sampling and processing of the trombone, sometimes with a custom mute-mic that isolates just the electronic sound.
Bonegaggle is an algorithmic composition in which the computer plays with gaggles of pre-fabricated trombone gestures, while I improvise in response. Crustard is another improvisation with live sampling and processing, somewhere between a crust and a custard.
Limbo:Mafia includes voices excerpted from a video made by Timothy Burke for Deadspin.com using samples of 2018 news broadcasts mandated by the Sinclair Media Group. That track and Limbo:Neurosis are both named after a series of drawings created by artist Mariángeles Soto-Díaz, part of a conceptual project she describes as a “readymade bilingual dictionary.”
What Will You Think Of Next and Wiggliness Quotient are improvisations that use an interactive software component, developed in collaboration with Alex Lough and Mark Micchelli, which gives my digital toolkit enough “artificial” intelligence to react to sounds I create rather than to buttons I push with my fingers. Percolating Time was made as its title says, layering cycles of pre-recorded improvisations to create a soundworld that is then stretched and manipulated live by me (with a foot pedal) and the computer (with algorithms), while I join on trombone.
Jackrabbits is a trombophonic collage built around a recording of renowned poet Juan Felipe Herrera reading his poem “Jackrabbits, Green Onions & Witches Stew.” The final track, Mensural Refractions, is an homage to the music of Guillaume Dufay (1397-1474), weaving through his counterpoint while stretching it into new fields of sound.
My musical circles are heavily indebted to African American creative music traditions in which people place a strong value on developing one’s own, original music. Many of the musicians I admire not only compose for bands, but also create solo concerts to develop their individual expressions. I’ve been fortunate to hear powerful solo concerts by diverse composer-improvisers over the past few decades, and this album may not sound like any of them, but is inspired by them in spirit. A partial list includes Alvin Curran, Andrew Hill, Andrew Cyrille, Billy Bang, Bob Ostertag, Cooper-Moore, Craig Taborn, Dana Reason, Elliot Sharp, George E. Lewis, Gerry Hemingway, Henry Threadgill, Jason Robinson, J.D. Parran, Jen Shyu, Jon Jang, Laetitia Sonami, Le Quon Ninh, Leroy Jenkins, Lisle Ellis, Miya Masaoka, Mark Dresser, Marilyn Crispell, Muhal Richard Abrams, Nathan Hubbard, Nicole Mitchell, Pamela Z, Pauline Oliveros, Ran Blake, Roscoe Mitchell, Scott Walton, Steve Lehman, Susie Ibarra, Val Jeanty, Vijay Iyer, Wadada Leo Smith, and William Parker. I thank them all.
Thanks also to the following people: Juan Felipe Herrera, Alex Lough, Mark Micchelli, Omar Costa Hamido, Chris Dobrian, Carole Kim, Marcos Fernandes, Accretions, Kai Soto-Dessen and Mariángeles Soto-Díaz.
All music composed and performed by Michael Dessen on trombone, computer, and midi controllers
All tracks © 2019 Cronopio Music (ASCAP)
“Jackrabbits, Green Onions & Witches Stew,” by Juan Felipe Herrera, was recorded in 2015 as part of the American Academy of Poets Dear Poet project, and is used with permission of the American Academy of Poets, 75 Maiden Lane, Suite 901, New York, NY 10038. This recording can be found at Poets.org.
Producer: Michael Dessen
Production Assistants: Alex Lough and Mark Micchelli
Recording Engineer: Alex Lough
Mixing: Michael Dessen and Alex Lough
Mastering: Rich Breen
Recorded April 6 and 7, 2018 at the University of California, Irvine
Cover image: Mariángeles Soto-Díaz and Michael Dessen
Released October 15, 2019 on Accretions