The Gartner Auditorium at the Cleveland Museum of Art is like any other auditorium in any other Museum of Art. Named after its benefactors? Check. Numbered rows of plush pleather theater seats themselves marked with plaques commemorating benefactors less wealthy but no less important than the all-encompassing Gartner clan? Check. The stage starkly lit and adorned with a Vox AC30, a synthesizer workstation, a drumkit, and a pedalboard stuffed with EarthQuaker Devices bearing the message “Long Live the Stooges?” For a live scoring of surrealist films by Man Ray? Now that’s absurd.
In SQÜRL’s music, the twisted scraping of industrial wreckage (to my ears the byproduct of musician/filmmaker Jim Jarmusch’s northeast Ohio upbringing) gives way to uneasy drones seemingly stuck in time like crestfallen Lake Erie tides fighting a losing battle against subzero temperatures before resolving at last into saturated but sparkling reverberated arpeggios. It’s what The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly might have sounded like if Ennio Morricone booked studio time with Steve Albini and hired Sunn O))) as session musicians.
“I’m no shredder, and I wouldn’t want to be,” says Jim Jarmusch.
“I love the different nuances of pedals,” he says. “To me, they’re almost like little instruments.”
True to his word, Jarmusch elevates his pedalboard, keeping all controls within reach and allowing him to manipulate any parameter of any pedal at any time in response to Man Ray’s unpredictable cinematic twists and turns. During this performance, he employs the Electro-Harmonix Switch Blade to alternate between his Stratocaster and the Critter & Guitari Pocket Piano. From there a pair of Boss loopers feed his dirt section, featuring gain pedals by Boss, Electro-Harmonix, and a Voodoo Labs Overdrive previously belonging to Robert Quine, sideman with Richard Hell & the Voidoids, Matthew Sweet, Lou Reed, Tom Waits, They Might be Giants, Lydia Lunch, Brian Eno, and many more. “It’s nice to have Robert Quine’s molecules,” he says.
Jarmusch’s delay and reverb section houses the usual suspects: the Avalanche Run, Transmisser, and ambient stompboxes by Catalinbread, TC Electronic, and DigiTech. “The Transmisser is some kind of atomic bomb of reverb,” he says. “With Man Ray, there is a lot of spinning imagery…sometimes I’ll kick this on to open up the whole field of everything you’re seeing. I can spin things to the visuals for a really nice effect.”
At his kit-side synth station, Carter Logan processes synth, drones, and electronic percussion with the Rainbow Machine. “I love this pedal,” he says. “[It] is like an instrument unto itself…It adds that extra layer of strange, psychedelia, kind of weirdness.” Completing Logan’s rig are pedals by MXR, Way Huge, Moog, Electro-Harmonix, and the Dispatch Master. “I could just use this…and really get ninety-percent of what I’m doing done,” He says.