Recently I attended a performance from Michael Dessen, a composer-improviser who performed on the slide trombone and computer. When I first arrived, I was not sure what to expect from his performance. I was expecting some type of music looping or beat made from scratch with the trombone; just like other electronic bassist or guitarist that exploited this genre in the early 90’s. His introduction was done by one of the music instructors in Mesa College, and it was very interesting how she described the type of art Michael was trying to project. She mentioned that she saw him a couple years ago and that she really liked it, and never heard something similar to it. In my opinion, if a music instructor says that it means a lot because of the background they have. Of course, he was modest and denied those comments about him and stated “I am just a trombone player trying to make interesting music, and I don't want to live to those expectations that were just mentioned”.
From that point on, I was really looking forward to hear what he was going to play. Especially because of all the confusion and conceptions everyone was creating, I thought “This is either going to be really funny, or REALLY interesting”. It turns out that I kind of liked it, and it was very interesting. What I got from it was that he was just experimenting with sounds, trying to make everything work as a whole. He would process the signal from his microphone and his trombone mute to his laptop, and connected a digital controller and a pedal to modulate, loop or change every sound it was being created; very Sci-Fi in the end. But, what is great about this is that since it was improvised, and there was no telling on what he was doing or trying to do, everyone made their own interpretations of the sounds being played. There was a few times where I thought he was trying to imitate industrial sounds, nature, computer conversations, or even “Solo” on top of all this. To be honest, it reminded me of John Cage’s concept with his prepared piano or playing amplified cacti and plant materials with a feather.
After his performance I asked him if John Cage was an inspiration, and he confirmed it along with Cold Train and others. But I brought John Cage up since he was one of the first great composers that had the opportunity to experiment with electronics the way he was doing so. He also told me that he used “Ableton” and other software to create those interesting sounds, a lot of flangers, reverbs, delays, pitch shifters, etc. were used combined or separate to experiment and create this conversation between sounds with the trombone. I have seen other musicians that have tried this approach with music, and have the audience make their own judgment of what they are listening to, but not the way Michael did with his trombone. He describes his music as this creatures of sound that live in his head, and they like to come out and play. Sometimes they are very excited; other times they are shy and don't play too much. He explains that this happens because before performing he gets a feel of the audience and some creatures decide to play and others don't but he always tries to mix every sound together and make the most of it.
In general, I liked the performance and I would definitely like to see him play again but with the rest of the band. In his bio it’s mentioned that he has another project with an acoustic bassist and drummer. It would be interesting to see him work with his laptop and other musicians playing along and create a more musical ambience to his music instead of just Sci-Fi sounds. He is a very experienced musician and a professor at UC Irvine; I am sure the rest of the band also has similar experience as him and would be a very interesting performance to attend.