For those who are unaware of Chrissie Caulfield, she is an extraordinarily talented violinist and synth experimentalist who has been plying her trade for many years at the outer edges of boundary pushing music as part of a number of endlessly interesting musical ensembles. We first became aware of her through Catscans and We Sell Seashells, then more recently Helicopter Quartet & CSMA. Chrissie also occasionally lends her bow to the legendary Crippled Black Phoenix.

With that kind of pedigree, we always keep a keen eye open for new work from her and with CSMA having just released a new album, possibly their most accessible (although I use that word advisedly!) yet we thought it would be a great time to get Chrissie to talk about some of the albums that have influenced her.


The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble – Here be Dragons

TKDE inspired me to use musical structures as a vessel for improvisation which is a technique used in CSMA, Helicopter Quartet and my solo work. If you listen to the tracks on this album and then the live versions on “I Forsee The Dark Ahead, If I Stay” there are large differences in how they sound, but they are always recognisably the same piece. I realise that a lot of bands do this to a greater or lesser extent but it was this band that drove it home to me just how effective a semi-improvised method of composition could be as a principal strategy for music-making.

Sarah Anderson’s violin work with TKDE is, for me, both incredibly beautiful and hugely inspiring. There are lovely melancholy melodic lines there, and a very tight control over the effects on her pedalboard – she often plays barefoot so she can manipulate the knobs with her toes! She also plays with mad-math-disco-doom rockers Chrome Hoof and many others so is capable of quite a range of musical styles.

ELP – Tarkus

When I was little my older cousin lent me a selection of tapes from his huge collection. Of these, ELP & Genesis have had the most lasting impact on me. At the time my main diet of music was a selection of mono classical LPs my father gave me (which, bizarrely, featured no Beethoven) and songs that were played on Radio 2.

Tarkus had the length and breadth of a classical piece with the excitement and energy of rock music – something I had not encountered before. Not only that but there was humour in the form of Jeremy Bender and Are You Ready Eddy? Emerson’s virtuosity has been criticised as overblown by many, but I don’t subscribe to that, while I am still mostly in the Steve Hackett camp (see below) – certainly with violin playing – I think that Keith used his technique sparingly and in service of the music more often than not.

When I first started playing keyboards I dearly wanted to be able to play Hammond organ a tenth as well as Keith did. That will never happen of course, but you have to have something to aim for. High Wire on the CSMA album Renovation is my only attempt to even dare to play Hammond sounds in public, and the lead in Vicious Dogs would be more virtuosic if I could manage it!

Steve Hackett – Defector

In the days when I played guitar, Steve was always what I aimed to play like if possible. A lot of the time the actual notes that he plays are not that complex, so it seems approachable. But it’s the way that he plays them that is what matters. There are plenty of guitarists that can bore you with a thousand notes. Hackett can break your heart with just one.

This is the approach I take in a lot of my music. I hardly ever play guitar any more (though I still have my strat) but that particular guitarist’s influence all over my music. When I played violin for We Sell Seashells and Catscans I would often end a solo with a flourishing screech by dragging the bow down the strings, something Steve Hackett often does with a pick – this stuff is ingrained in my soul.

The Steppes is a track I’ve taken ideas from more often than I care to admit to. That slow simple riff that just plods along plugs in the ‘dark ambient’ depth of me. In Helicopter Quartet I add the TKDE “jazz” influence and vary the riff verse-by-verse whereas with CSMA that heavy drum beat is driver that keeps the tracks moving along.

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