#260: Music’s Magic Number by Jim Jarmusch
The musical genius of a filmmaker is evident in a musical project, SQÜRL, and an accompanying EP called #260.
Every fan of Jim Jarmusch’s films will know that, beyond being a rebel in the world of film, and a man who lives in simplicity for the very sake of a strident reality, we’re also watching the film of great lover of music. An eccentric filmmaker from Ohio, on the screen Jarmusch reveals a strong passion for universal virtues and these emanate through music as though through a language.
We can see several examples of his musical genius: the transcendental passages of William Blake written to death in the film, Dead Man. These were put to music with a minimalist spontaneity by Neil Young. African sounds are concealed in a mysterious CD that carries away the character, Don Johnston, in the film Broken Flowers. The original scores written for Only Lovers Left Alive, by the lute player, Jozef Van Wissem, musician Carter Logan and by Jarmusch himself, are themselves like an ode to the atmospheric simplicity created by string instruments. His most recent film, Paterson, also contains Jarmusch’s own compositions, an anthology of ambient music created by the studio project, SQÜRL.
But here’s the great thing about Jarmusch: his rock star spirit. SQÜRL is a band consisting of Jim Jarmusch and Carter Logan. The group is far from being described as ingenious, clever or even digestible. If there are words willing to risk describing the project, they would certainly describe darkness and noise. Noise, like a word that conceals the nature of sound with no further ambition; and darkness, like that emanating from a crack, or of those eccentric personalities who grew up listening to rock and roll.
In addition to the brilliant work of connecting unconventional sounds to a story, it’s well known that Jarmusch is a fan of the details. The theme of his band’s new EP is “#260” which refers to something of a magic number and which seems to be linked to multiple facts over time and space.
It isn’t a perfect number, and not factional of any number. It’s not even a regular number. 260, though, is the number of days in all Mesoamerican calendars. The Mayan calendar. The Tzolkin calendar. 260 is also the number of days of human gestation. (Orangutans also). 260 also has an elliptical connection to the dark rift; a series of molecular dust clouds located between our solar system and the Sagittarius Arm of the Milky Way.And although not a magic number, 260 is the magic constant of the magic square investigated by Benjamin Franklin, and part of the solution to a famous chess problem; the n-queens problem for n=8. 260 is also the country code for Zambia. And the US area code for Fort Wayne, Indiana.
SQÜRL’s music has never been exactly golden. It’s not executed with any sacred number, nor does it try to obey, in any way, the secret mathematics of the universe. Still, the mystical importance of the number 260, coupled with the peculiar sound of the feedback generated by the band, makes this short EP into fascinating material.
Although it might be thought otherwise, cinema was not Jarmusch’s earliest introduction to music. In the 1980s, he was a member of the No Wave band, The Del-Byzanteens. On several occasions, he’s expressed his loyalty to the counter-cultural scene surrounding CBGB, the legendary New York club, around which hundreds of rock bands circulated in the late 1970s.
In a brief analytical exercise, we might predict that his creative rebellion comes from this musical past. And although the director has confessed to having abandoned musical creation intermittently, it hasn’t stopped him from continuing to make film, in his own way, as a kind of rock star who always strives for the vanguard and for authenticity.
In a recent interview, he confessed that “Music I think is maybe the purest form of human expression. Maybe I could live if films had never existed, but I can’t imagine not having music.”
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