‘the dharma at big sur,’ written by contemporary composer john adams, is a sometimes lulling, sometimes violent piece that requires a violin to enter cello range. that’s two extra strings: low f and low c. an electric six string like that is extremely expensive and rare. sean riley knew this, but instead of leaving the library with another, more obtainable piece by adams, he walked by a room with 3D printers. he got this idea. 

3D printed violin
all images courtesy of UT news



he walked by the foundry, ‘a makerspace in the fine arts library.’ according to the university’s online publication, UT news, the foundry holds ’laser cutters, 3D printers, textile machines and computers with design software — pretty much any equipment you would need to bring a creative project to life.’ it was here that sean riley met mechanical engineering senior, daniel goodwin.

3D printed violin
goodwin, riley, and milton (left to right) brainstorm ideas



goodwin was quoted by UT news, saying, ’sean came in wanting to make this six-string violin. I asked him what his background was. he said, ‘I’m a violinist.’ I said, you’re crazy.’


sean’s logged over 30,000 hours on traditional violins. he’s played for prince charles. he holds a master’s degree in violin performance from the julliard school and his personal instrument is 240 years old. some might call all that crazy. in this case, it was just the right amount. daniel goodwin was on board, and after enlisting one more member to their team — sculptor and studio art major, rebecca milton — they were ready to begin what has now become a successful, year-long journey.

3D printed violin
stringing the 3D printed violin



take a break. actually go listen to the dharma at big sur. then google: big sur coast california. at first the two-dimensional thumbnail of a coast won’t mean much. but the unimaginably winding landscape, the tides that pull sand back and forth — listen to the full piece a few times and you, like sean, might feel a beautiful sliver of what john adams felt.


now, after a year of brainstorming and execution, sean can finally play the low C and F. with every note, one can hear sean’s 30,000 hours getting the better of him; this new instrument — engineered by daniel goodwin, molded out of driftwood, bones and seashells by rebecca milton, inspired by john adams, this 3D print — should be a rewarding instrument for sean to master alongside his newest favorite, the dharma.

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