If a squirrel comes to you in a dream, it has been said that it is a call to you to take things less seriously and to invite more fun into your life. In some cases, a squirrel can symbolize pragmatism and practicality, too, but the fluffy-tailed unofficial mascot of the Midwest mostly represents the importance of play. I don't mention this to iconic independent filmmaker turned sonic crusader Jim Jarmusch, though — not because it's irrelevant but because, if anything has been made clear from his nearly 40-year-long career, it's that he has thought of everything.
Even though he and longtime producer, composer, and creative cohort Carter Logan describe their aptly named music project Sqürl as an "enthusiastically marginal rock band," what they explore is far more lofty. Sqürl provides a deep-dive narrative into a tangled molten core of surrealism and hyperrealism. In other words, the very ingredients that make a Jim Jarmusch film so tenderly visceral.
"The most successful art involves humor," Jarmusch says. "Man Ray said that and we always love the quote to describe both our films and our music. Man Ray's films are very kinetic in the way they move. It's like a kind of dream logic. ... Man Ray loves little details of daily life as the surrealists did. He likes these strange things. A starfish in a jar. Or a scattering of a tailor's pins. He obviously loves his beautiful girlfriends and getting them naked."
When referring to the godfather of Dadaism, Jarmusch never mentions the surrealist artist Man Ray (he died in 1976) or his work in the past tense. This makes sense considering Jarmusch and Logan are taking Sqürl on the road with one major goal in mind: keep Man Ray alive...or something close to it.
During the band's limited run of tour dates, Sqürl will live-score a selection of Man Ray's most dream-like films, including L'étoile de mer (The Starfish, 1928), Emak-Bakia (1927), Le retour à la raison (Return to Reason, 1923) and Les mystères du château de Dé (The Mysteries of the Château de Dé, 1929.)
"We love drone and trance music, we love psychedelic music, we love things that expand your consciousness in a way. We feel very proud to be Man Ray's backup band," Jarmusch gushes. "We're not a doom and gloom band, but we're not afraid to go there."
"I think ultimately what we're trying to do, and what Man Ray did, was create a sort of ecstatic state. A place that exists in a little space between consciousness and unconsciousness, between dream and wakefulness, and between reality and the surreal world," Logan says.
"What we're trying to do is play a bit of a chess game with each other and with the films, leaving space to move around within a finite period of time." Logan explains. "In making a film and in making music there is a commonality in that you have to carve out a space."
"It's like we have a map, we have a blueprint, we have a game board, we have parameters, but it's a bit different each time," Jarmusch says. "We're not a string quartet that's sitting down and playing the score, we are reacting to one another and the music is alive."
It shouldn't come as a shock that Jarmusch has invested his creative overflow into pursuing music, considering music has long been vital to Jarmusch's body of work. In fact, both he and Logan scored his films The Limits of Control (2009), Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), and Paterson (2016), in addition to a slew of EP's.
Also vital to Jarmusch's body of work is a decidedly Midwestern sensibility. From blood-addicted vampires and poetry-writing bus drivers to samurai-obsessed mafia man and mid-life crisis Don Juans, Jarmusch's kaleidoscopic view on character development is uniquely Midwestern. While he may have an inherent knack for crafting protagonists whose idiosyncratic inner workings quietly supersede indie film tropes, Jarmusch's approach has always centered around a minimalistic invitation to observe mood over theatrics. Sqürl follows suit with this unspoken philosophy in its brooding synth-heavy slow-boil meditation. Swapping flash for patience, Jarmusch and company have, in some ways, redefined urgency.
"I'm a Midwesterner, whatever that means. I've lived in New York a lot of my life, but I'm not a New Yorker. ... I hate the Yankees, you know?" he says with a laugh. "It's partly why Iggy Pop and I are friends, because since we first met we were just very direct with each other. We don't take ourselves too seriously."
I suggest that Jarmusch — from Akron, Ohio — is an honorary member of Detroit's vibrant rock 'n' roll tapestry. After all, Jarmusch chose Detroit as his backdrop for his 2013 existential, malaise-hazed vampire tale Only Lovers Left Alive, starring the eternally vampy Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston. And it was Jarmusch's fandom over Detroit's own godfathers of punk, Iggy Pop and his respective Stooges, that led him to make 2016's unconventional yet loving documentary Gimme Danger.
"I love Detroit. It's a magic city, even when I was a kid, it was like Cleveland was okay, but Detroit was like some kind of magical place," Jarmusch explains. "When I was 15 years old — and don't tell my mom, I think she still doesn't know this — I hitchhiked to Ann Arbor and Detroit because I was going to see the MC5 play. But they canceled and my parents were away for a weekend."
He continues, "A lot of strange and interesting things happened to me. I had a real adventure that has forever ingrained on me part of my sense of freedom and becoming myself."
For Logan, what stands out to him the most about Detroit is the people. "Everybody treated us the same and were genuinely curious as to what we are up to," he says. "Whether it's been screening a film at the Detroit Institute of Arts or while scouting locations in what are considered as some of the more troubled neighborhoods in the middle of the night, it didn't really matter."
Of Detroit, he says, "Any excuse for us to come back is quickly taken up."
Sqürl will perform the score for the films of Man Ray on Thursday, Nov. 2 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit; 4454 Woodward Ave, Detroit; 313-832-6622; mocadetroit.com; Doors open at 8 p.m.; Tickets are $35.