Sean's Patreon Intro video
"As a prolific improviser, composer, visual artist, poet, multi-instrumentalist, and singer-songwriter I have amassed an enormous amount of unseen archives (digitally, over 2TBs!) Through Patreon I hope to build a relationship with those interested in supporting me to create and share a steady stream of new art derived from these archival 'seeds' and/or from the new inspirations of the moment. I'm excited to use the vehicle of art to help encourage a new culture of reverence, attentiveness, kindness and gratitude. May we inspire each other to create a world worth savoring!"
3 string guitar, "Viennawaterfalls" (excerpt)
In the summer of 2000, a great beauty was born out of the most life-changing lemons-to-lemonade adventure of my life.
Here is the full story of my 3 string guitar "Tesa" and the composition / improvisation "Viennawaterfalls."
I HATED breaking strings. I greatly disliked any technical problem that arose while performing with my band, Honest John, but breaking strings was the absolute worst. Not possessing an adequate framework for improvised music, I'd be completely derailed and enraged when I would break a string—especially during a guitar solo!
Probably not the most terrible manifestation of my teenaged angst, but there it is.
Slowly, the idea of improvised music came into focus for me. Not everything needed to be written out and composed! I was finally introduced more deeply into the language and philosophies of American jazz music thanks to my friend Drew Brathwaite and our school band director Dominic Talotta. By 1998, I was exploring epic, free-form jam sessions in various basements with Honest John drummer Damon Flowers, and then later with the founding members of the bands Frankpipe and Spiritual Quest: Tommy Monaghan (drums,) "the Monsignor" Eric Rey (congas,) and Dave Ripley ("the pirate" on the bass.)
Yet I was not yet fully open to chaos in certain arenas of my music making. I was studying the finger-style intricacies of classical guitar and quickly discovered a new technical annoyance: breaking nails on my right hand. A week before my first guitar performance exam, I busted my thumb nail. An acrylic nail from the nail salon saved the day. I only got the one finger done but the kind manicurist who fixed me up asked, "Would you like me to paint just the one anyway?" Compelled by a new image I'd very recently seen on tattooed a friend's back, I grabbed a napkin and drew a squiggly sort of "3" with a half moon and a dot.
A few weeks later on New Year's eve '99 - '00, Spiritual Quest had a house party gig in the northern part of Vermont. Dave picked me up. A recent Christmas present to him, Ram Dass's seminal 60's tome "Be Here Now," was waiting for me on the passenger's seat. In awe, I thumbed through the famous "brown pages" and marveled at how the OM symbol on the bottom of each page matched the same symbol on my newly-painted, acrylic nail!
I started feeling some cosmic winks with all of synchronicities.
Improvisation was now a way of life for me, a whole new frame for living which inspired me to move away from a habitual reactiveness. The strength of this new perspective was soon tested and I passed with flying colors. Spiritual Quest was performing a set at Husky Blues in Storrs, CT. I was in the middle of an epic guitar solo and—wouldn't-ya-know-it—I broke a string!
I watched as my old pattern of anger and horror emerged, but the watching offered me enough pause for a choice point to emerge. I drove heart-first into a completely new direction: not only did I continue playing, but I grabbed the broken string, turned on the Wha-Wha pedal, and began whipping the open strings with the broken one!
The Birth of the TWO String guitar
I took a leave of absence from UConn and began following wherever the Music and my heart led me. Later that summer I hitched a ride to BerkFest music festival at the Butternut Ski resort in Great Barrington, MA. When we arrived we were parked at an abandoned race track and compelled to wait in long lines to catch a shuttle bus to the festival grounds.
Noticing that many of the travelers were getting weary of the long lines—and catching the eye of a fellow musician with some drums—I started playing rhythms on my guitar case. The high level of our musical chemistry was instantaneously apparent and so together Scott and I (known at the time as "Elijah B") Pied Piper-ed a large group of people back to the race track's enormous covered shelter, loudly promising via our improvised rally song a self-created music festival of our own to all who might join.
Many dozens actually followed us and a truly epic jam session ensued. Sometime during this evening of extraordinary music-making and instrument sharing, my beloved acoustic guitar—the guitar I'd given to myself as a birthday present my 15th birthday— floated off into the night with some strangers. When I awoke in the morning I discovered the guitar back in its case, but with lots of scratch marks from heavy picking and four strings missing!
Well-primed from the lemons-to-lemonade improvisatory way of living I'd been adopting, I was completely undismayed by this discovery even though I had no string replacements for the weekend. So I challenged myself to compose something very special with the two remaining strings. Instead of engaging with much of the festival I'd come to attend, I sat in the woods with just a low E and B string, and over the next two days the composition 'Two Threads' slowly emerged one note at a time. Even when a fellow guitarist offered me a pack of strings when I finally broke the B string, I only wanted the two!
The Birth of the Three String guitar
Later that year, I played on the streets of Nashville, TN, earning my living as a busker. By this point, I had added a 3rd string in the middle of the other two, making a balanced every-other-string pattern from the lowest note. With the inspiration of my favorite waterfall in mind (Bash Bish Falls), I began improvising a fluid, two-handed-tapping piece as part of my new 3 string guitar repertoire. When I performed this piece for a fellow busker, the often-raunchy elder bluesman Velvet Thunder, he listened carefully and reverently before strongly advising me to name the piece "Viennawaterfalls" and to "put a violin part in that middle section."
The Future of the Three String guitar
One example of what I hope accomplish with my Patreon support is to finally transcribe a sort of "ultimate" version of Viennawaterfalls and, once it's committed to the page, to finally get to orchestrating the piece to include Velvet's violin part and many other orchestral sounds! I have upwards of 75 unique recordings of "Viennawaterfalls," each its own snowflake of beauty. The first part of this task will include stitching together all of the musical moments from each version that move me emotionally the most. Then I'll have to learn my own piece, transcribing it by ear one note at a time.
As of this writing (2018) "Viennawaterfalls" has been evolving for almost 18 years, and yet I feel its only just getting started!
The other project I'm super excited about is to build a 3 string guitar from scratch using all of the years of experimentation to create an wholly new instrument that can more easily render the types of sounds I've been discovering. This may include a solid-neck version of a sitar-like fretboard or scalloped frets (for better bending) and a host of other innovations.