Finding a melancholic balance
Editor Jon Sutton and Philip Corr on an unusual musical project from 'Russian Linesman', drawing on Hans Eysenck and personality theory.
10 March 2017
Rummaging in his parents’ loft, ‘Russian Linesman’ unearthed a tattered old Psychology book by Hans Eysenck. It contained an analysis of temperament theory and its roots in the ancient ideas of Hippocrates and Galen, and it was to become the catalyst for his latest musical project.
‘I had recently rediscovered my love for Psychology,’ Russian Linesman explained. ‘This book led me to think about my next story, a story of the mind. I started off by writing a poem, and the EPs are a musical interpretation of those words, a mantra I hope to pass on to my son on how to survive in this nonsense of a world.’
Galen had named four temperamental categories as ‘Melancholic’, ‘Choleric’, ‘Sanguine’ and ‘Phlegmatic’, and the Linesman’s compositions communicate his interpretation of each classification of Eysenck’s resulting model and the emotions they encompass, ordered and structured and revealed across four EPs.
Russian Linesman writes all his music on acoustic guitar and piano, harking back to a past spent touring as an acoustic singer/songwriter playing folk music. This ethos has evolved into recording with vocals as well, before everything is heavily edited and drowned in electronic sounds. He says that the first EP, ‘Melancholic’, is ‘intended as a soundtrack for times of sorrow, reminiscence and regret. But also for moments of withdrawal from overthinking everything, reducing anxiety, reflecting and triggering memory traces of happier times. In the ideal personality, these complementary traits are intricately balanced, and so, within these recordings, I hope the listener can find comfort in acknowledging them, and in turn finding their own balance.’
I shared the music with Eysenck biographer Professor Philip Corr (Department of Psychology, City, University of London). ‘The Melancholic collection is accomplished, creative and imaginative,’ he said. ‘I am sure that Eysenck would have been delighted (and perhaps ruefully amused) to hear these pieces of music, especially as he had a life-long interest in the psychology of artistic appreciation – indeed, his PhD during the late 1930s was on the very topic of aesthetic judgement. In addition, as noted in my 2016 biography Hans Eysenck: A Contradictory Psychology, Eysenck’s professional and scientific style had much in common with the artistic type, although not of the melancholic variety.
‘This Suite highlights the essential psychological nature of music and beautifully illustrates the reality of personality differences. It goes to show, music can be inspired by psychological theory – the Freud Suite would be interesting! But so too it is intriguing to think how the nuanced rendering of ideas and emotion in this art form may, itself, be used to help understand the nature of individual differences – personality taxonomy through the music of Ed Sheeran, anyone?’
The series of four EPs will be released at bi-monthly intervals throughout the year from 27 March. Find out more at www.soundcloud.com/russianlinesman