Throughout October we're running interviews with artists taking part in this year's festival. Here, composer Ben McGarvey, aka Minute Taker, tells us about To Love Somebody Melancholy, a powerful blend of music and animation that has its Scottish premiere at Websters Theatre in Glasgow on Sunday 15 October.
What can audiences expect from To Love Somebody Melancholy?
I guess you could say it’s a bit of a dark, modern fable really set on a desolate seashore. Visually there’s lots of strange animated characters and superimposed abstract photography, and musically there’s lots of haunting piano songs, harmonies, electronic soundscapes, big drums and string sections.
In terms of the story, it explores the age-old relationship between creativity and depression. The main character is an artist who journeys through the euphoric highs and the self-destructive lows of his creative cycles. His partner struggles to understand and to cope with these seemingly erratic behaviours.
They are haunted by the artist’s muse; a ghostly, shapeshifting third entity whose form is entirely dependent upon the artist's current mindset. Each song chapter is based on a different guise the muse takes, so for instance, when the artist is feeling creative and joyful he perceives his muse as a saviour and when he is feeling hopeless and defeated he sees her more as a savage or a tyrant.
I researched a lot into melancholia and how it has been perceived throughout the years and a lot of these guises came from that. For instance, in the middle ages, people of a melancholic disposition were considered to be possessed by demons. Yet at other points in history melancholic people were revered for their unearthly gifts. It was fascinating to relate it all to my perceptions of my own melancholic disposition and feed all the notions from the past into the piece.
What is the thinking behind the title, and what made you want to explore this subject?
I was going through a painful breakup which I felt was in a large part a result of my own melancholic tendencies coming between me and my partner. I’d go through periods of intense creativity where I’d neglect to spend quality time with my partner. Then my ideas would run dry, I’d get really low and would rely on him to comfort me.
The piece began quite organically around that time with a few songs popping out (like Gremlins!). I started to piece a story together with the songs and research into melancholia, and it all kind of unfolded that way. It was very cathartic at the time as I was really struggling mentally and it gave me something to focus on. It was a real comfort to explore all of my feelings in this way.
So the title really was thinking about it from the lover character’s perspective. What it must be like to love somebody who lives in a narcissistic cycle of highs and lows. To be pushed aside one minute in favour of a new song and then relied upon the next for affection and reassurance.
The title also applies to the artist character himself who is, in a sense, in love with his muse; the melancholic force that consumes him.
Can you tell us a bit about Ana Stefaniak, the animator working on the show?
Ana is a London based animator and illustrator who graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2014 and has since been working on short animated films, video design for live ballet / opera performances as well as her own personal projects.
I wanted to work with a visual artist to make the concept album I’d written into a theatrical audiovisual show of some kind so I put out an advert, keeping it very broad to see who came forward. I had a great response (probably because it’s a theme that resonates with so many artists!) but Ana’s work really stood out. She has this amazing short film called ‘Dreamlands’ (which she won awards for actually), a very dark fable about a fox sentenced to death for killing his rabbit lover. It instantly captivated me and we arranged to meet up and chat about the project. I could tell that the concept really resonated with her so we developed the audiovisual show from there, drawing on our shared experiences.
How do you look after your mental health?
Well my music and my creativity is absolutely key for me. If I don’t consistently work on developing songs and generally moving my music career forward then I get very low and lose all sense of purpose very quickly. In a sense it’s a blessing in disguise because it gives me constant incentive to push myself forward and I feel all the better for it (and I make way more music too!).
I really enjoy long walks in the Pennines near where I live as well. I walk for hours listening to music and it really helps me to find a sense of peace.
I’ve also learnt to recognise when I’m on the verge of slumping into a depression and make sure I avoid certain social situations, anything that puts me under pressure in ways that will likely exacerbate the creeping dark feelings. I think, for me, it’s about getting to know myself, recognising what the triggers are and making sure I don’t leave myself any more vulnerable than necessary.
What else are you up to at the moment?
Well I’m currently working on recording the album version of this show along with two other albums (I said the melancholia was a good motivator!). My aim is to put them all out over the next 18 months and play quite a few live shows too.
Book tickets now for To Love Somebody Melancholy, showing at Websters Theatre on Sunday 15 October.