Cee Haines — or CHAINES — is a composer, multi-instrumentalist, and multi-media artist. With a background in classical composition, as well as in contemporary electronic and electro-acoustic production, their music is deeply idiosyncratic. At times peculiar, bewildering, and haunting, and at other times demonstrating a bizarre sense of humour, its layered orchestration is built upon a dreamlike sonic architecture. In 2019, CHAINES received the PRS Foundation’s Oram Award for innovation in music and sound technologies, while their 2018 album The King won praise from the likes of FACT, The Wire, The Quietus, and Boomkat. Last year, they premiered an orchestral/electronic arrangement of 1990s gaming music entitled Tribute to Pokémon, Ecco, and Secret of Mana for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the BBC Proms’ first ever Gaming Prom. In April 2023, CHAINES participated in Studio Richter Mahr’s artist-in-residence programme.
Tell us a little about yourself and your music: My name is Cee Haines, which is quite a fortunate name, as the moniker CHAINES was right there waiting for me. I’m currently based in the Greater Manchester area. I write and perform electronic and electro-acoustic music. My education is very classical in nature; I’ve been able to write for orchestras and ensembles, and I’ve been doing things with the London Contemporary Orchestra and other projects with their conductor, Robert Ames. That’s been really fun. They’re a classical ensemble based around string players, but with a futuristic vision, so they’re down for electronics and the intricacies of designing sound for a live setting.
What made you first want to make music? The first instrument lesson I ever got was on an electronic keyboard. The right hand had the melody and played like you’d expect, and the left hand controlled the chords. As a kid, I found the keyboard fascinating, that you could make a fully fleshed out piece of music with just your two hands. I’ve always loved instruments — if I can get my hand on an instrument, I’ll try to play it. My main instrument is flute, but I’ve also used keys, voice, guitar, recorder — and a bit of violin in the past, though not so much these days. I owned an accordion for a brief period of time, which is harder than it looks! It had a gorgeous finish — I can only think of it like a bowling ball, that marbled plastic look. I’ve always been intrigued by things that are esoteric or peculiar. I love coming across artists who are so particular that there’s nothing like them, like the first time I heard Björk on Radio 3.
Where did your interest in sound first develop? I started to get into it at sixth form, when I was seventeen-ish. But that was surface scraping. When I was twenty, I fiddled around more, both with sampled sound and just with tweaking things and learning a little bit more about methods of synthesis. Often the computer feels like a partner in crime. The more au fait you get with software, the more in control you feel of the situation, but there’s always something else to surprise you. Growing up, I lived out in the country, so going to concerts wasn’t a thing I did. Music came to me as CDs, and it was very much about the private listening experience. It’s only in the past seven or so years that people have said ‘Your record is cool, can you play it live?’ and I’ve had to figure that out.
How did you get to where you are today? I trained at the Royal Northern College in Manchester. After I left, there was a charity called Brighter Sound in the Greater Manchester area who ran a number of residencies that I ended up going on. They were hugely instrumental in bridging what was just on the computer to actually practising with other instrumentalists, in an actual room, making actual live things. More recently I’ve had support from Sage Gateshead, where I did another studio residency. It’s been the strength of those charitable bodies that helped. Frankly, there’s also a really friendly electronic music community in Manchester. There’s a thriving DIY community here. Music writing is potentially very lonely — you do a lot on your own in your bedroom — so being able to meet up and have some solidarity together really helps. There are so many venues in the Manchester area, whether larger places or little bits and pieces places that rent themselves out for cheap. Organising gigs is a headache, and I’m grateful for people who are enterprising and go for that, because it lifts everyone up.