Caryn Lin:
Vivaldi meets Pink Floyd

An interview by Tom Knapp,
April 1995

When Caryn Lin set her acoustic fiddle aside and plugged in an electric violin, she discovered a new world of music.

"It's kind of like you're a painter and you only have two colors," Lin, a fiddler from the Philly 'burbs, explained. "If you mix those colors together, there are only certain combinations you can come up with. But if you have 10 colors, the whole world opens up."

And Lin has pushed her world to new horizons. Billed loosely as "eclectic," she doesn't fit easily into established molds.

A violinist since age 9, her early studies in classical music left a distinct mark on her style. She has performed in numerous folk venues -- she was nominated as the best Philly folk act -- and is a veteran of rock and country bands.

The Philadelphia Inquirer filed her under jazz. Her albums (she recently released her third) have been touted as new age. In Philly clubs, she's billed as alternative rock.

"My life would be easier if I had a distinct category," she admitted. "It's not like I set out to do something different, it just happened."

A friend said she falls somewhere between Pink Floyd and Vivaldi. Frankly, she doesn't care what people call her. "I don't hate anything. I don't want to be called speed metal, but whatever else people can come up with that makes them feel comfortable is fine with me."

Words like "ethereal" and "otherworldly," tossed around far too often to describe musical acts, fit Lin like a comfortable sweater. Her fluid melodies and harmonies, full of energy and resonance, have an ambient quality that won't be ignored.

The electric violin expanded Lin's horizons in several ways. For one, the instrument has a low C string, which increases her range by 20 percent. She produces sounds not normally associated with a fiddle and, using electronic gadgetry, can program electric loops and delay and repeat patterns that add depth to her music. The effect creates harmonies within harmonies.

"It makes you think that someone else is there, so you can play different parts," she said. "You can put layers on top of layers."

In essence, she becomes her own orchestra. Still, she tries not to let her music get crowded. She is, after all, a soloist.

Greatly affected by her feelings and surroundings when composing, Lin uses the violin to paint landscapes and moods with sound. "For a while I was writing every morning at dawn. But that changed when I started playing out late," she said. "Now I love to record with candles. Whenever it's dark I use candles."

The setting provides the right atmosphere to write, she said. "In the morning it's very still. You can't possibly have had a bad day because nothing has happened yet. Everything is very still and peaceful. ... It's always more peaceful with candles or at that time of the morning. I don't think I could write with flourescent lights to save my life."

Her moods stick with her. Lin can get carried away to another time and place during performances. "Sometimes I get really lost," she said. "If I have my eyes closed for a while, I open up and have forgotten where I am. Or I'm facing another direction, which can be weird."

She eventually might put together an eclectic group of like-minded musicians. Right now, she just wants to keep moving.

"I want to continue on the path that I'm on," she said. "I feel like I'm at the tip of the iceberg in my writing. I've been playing the violin for 26 years, but I've only been writing for 3, 3 1/2. ... "I just know that I want to keep going."

[ by Tom Knapp ]

[ visit Caryn Lin's website ]