Forget The Pixel

by the Michael Dessen Trio
Michael Dessen, trombone/computer/composition
Christopher Tordini, bass
Dan Weiss, drums
Clean Feed Records, 2011
CD from Clean Feed Records
Listen on Apple Music, Spotify
Download score PDF (full album)

Forget The Pixel CD cover

“These guys don’t just play together—they’re playing. This playfulness, as much as their fluid negotiations of Dessen’s jagged rhythms and elaborate melodies, is the spoonful of sugar that make these rigorous improvisations go down easy.”
Downbeat review of Forget The Pixel, by Bill Meyer

“Fascinating work by an exceptional group of musicians, at times combining the cheery openness of song with a sense of underlying tectonic mystery.”
New York City Jazz Record review of Forget The Pixel, by Stuart Broomer

Sample track: Fossils and Flows (watch score video)


  1. fossils and flows
  2. three sepals
  3. and we steal from the silkworm
  4. forget the pixel
  5. licensed unoperators (for lisle ellis)
  6. herdiphany
  7. the utopian tense of green (for mariángeles)

Liner notes

Forget the Pixel is an hour-long cycle of music designed for this trio to perform in a single, continuous set. We recorded this CD in that same spirit, with minimal takes and no overdubs. The album title plays on the first line of the poem “Open Field” by Phillis Levin, in which a crow tells a passerby to “forget the comma.” Levin spins punctuation symbols into metaphors for a multileveled experience of time that for me is central to the practice of music. When we use so-called odd meters or “complex” rhythms, people often conclude this is the point: to be odd, or complex. This has never been a goal for me, or for most musicians I work with. If you open your ears to music traditions from around the world, you hear infinite varieties of temporal flow and structure. Music has long been a tool to change our understanding of time, to learn to feel its articulations in new ways. This music zooms in and out of different durational scales and pulse feels, stretching and savoring the grain of rhythmic counterpoint, and magnifying details of line, color and texture.

Sometimes my compositions respond to specific events, such as “fossils and flows,” which came together as a (loud) meditation on the BP oil spill of 2010. But usually the connections are more oblique, and most of the pieces simmered over several years as I brought fragments to gigs and expanded them with new material each time we performed. I’m grateful to work with Chris and Dan, virtuoso musicians who bring a deep and personal compositional sensibility to everything they play. My scores provide many details of rhythm, pitch and form, but they also depend on collective improvisation, often blurring the line between the improvised and the precomposed.

Electronics can easily take over a band. My interest in computers is to build upon what we already do as acoustic performers. Sometimes the electronic sounds are prominent, and other times they are subtle, almost imperceptible or just absent. I also use electronics in a very improvisatory way, but like the acoustic playing we do, that does not mean that nothing is developed ahead of time. To me, jazz histories provide inspiring models for thinking about what “live electronics” can mean. I’ve spent years practicing live processing and sampling the same way I practice improvising with harmonic and rhythmic forms on the trombone. From one performance to the next, live electronics can capture a creative tension of “difference and repetition,” just like the art of improvising over cyclic forms that evolved in jazz during the last century. We may be working with some new tools today, but at their core these ideas have been around a long time, and it’s humbling to look back at what we inherit.

Thanks for listening.

– Michael Dessen


All compositions by Michael Dessen (Cronopio Music, ASCAP)
© 2010 Cronopio Music
Recorded by Joaquim Monte at Namouche Studios in Lisbon on August 6, 2010
Produced by Michael Dessen
Mixed by Joaquim Monte at Namouche Studios
Mastered by Jim Hemingway
Executive production by Trem Azul
Design and Artwork by Travassos
Notes: The words “and we steal from the silkworm” are from the poem “And we love life,” by Mahmoud Darwish, translated from the Arabic by Fady Joudah. “The Utopian Tense of Green” is a series of abstract paintings by Mariángeles Soto-Díaz.