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In Residence
Cee Haines — or CHAINES — is a composer, multi-instrumentalist, and multi-media artist.

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.


Can you tell us about your writing process? Often it starts with the sound of the main instrument. I like a strong sense of story in my head. If composition is a series of things told through audio and time, I want to know: ‘Does it start with high energy? Is it something that’s going to grow, or something that’s going to shrink? Will it go faster or slower? Can I get a sense of what the emotional impact will be?’ Then, gearing it towards how I like to do things. Things should be as distinct as possible; if I want something funny, or I want something upsetting, then I may as well do that to the nth degree to create that in the listener. As time goes on, I’m doing more in the way of collaboration. When it’s my own stuff, I get quite particular and micro in my approach, but with a further emphasis on live performance and performing with other people, it’s nice to loosen up.

Can you pick a recent project and tell us how it came together?
Zubin Kanga is a pianist/keyboardist; I appeared on [his album Machine Dreams, with the track ‘Escape TERF Island’]. It’s largely composed of fart noises. I sat at a mic and arranged that. I also made a piece [titled ‘so smol (hewwo)’] with GBSR Duo, which is George Barton and Siwan Rhys. George is a percussionist and Siwan is a keyboardist. That one was a combination of sounds made by a friend’s toddler, and my cat meowing. In both of these, I was interested in making something that was so on-the-nose, it kind of jumps the shark and comes back around.

In the past, my album The King was quite dark and portentous, which I still vibe with, but there’s more humour in my work these days. I tried to write ‘Escape from TERF Island’ from a place of disdain, which you can probably tell from the title. It still ended up being a deeply sad piece. Similarly, with ‘so smol (hewwo)’, it’s got an irreverence about it, but it goes into a strange 3am space. I’m interested in pulling the meaning of stuff around. I do still think The King gives a good grounding of where I’m coming from, but maybe these new ones tell you something about where I’m at right now.

How did you first get involved with Studio Richter Mahr?
  I performed and wrote for their Free and Equal release. I met Rebecca from SRM after the Free and Equal gig, and she said they wanted to have artists-in-residence there. My time there was lovely. It’s a beautiful environment to create in. You can let your concerns go whoosh. I was there for ten days. Quiet, lovely food, nice people, beautiful environment and weather, a whole studio to yourself, a studio engineer on-hand who helped me try some piano stuff and was very up for that. I must admit, it really made me think about my working space. While I’m not able to emulate SRM for myself, as nice as that would be, it definitely made me tidy my office up a lot, I’ll say that much. You realise to the degree your environment really shapes you.