Jim Jarmusch and the music of The Limits of Control
Scott Macaulay talks to Jim Jarmusch about the hypnotic musical elements in his new film, The Limits of Control.
As the Lone Man makes his trek through Spain in Jim Jarmusch’s new film, The Limits of Control, his journey is underscored by sonically rich, pulsing electric guitar music, an ambient haze evocative of explorations in both inner and outer spaces. This music comes from not a traditional soundtrack composer but from an assortment of artists whose similarities and differences are plot points all their own. There are cuts from several difficult-to-describe experimental guitar bands, there’s classical music, traditional flamenco as well as an aching, gorgeous song that belongs to the musical tradition of peteneras, a hit from LCD Soundsystem and finally, cuts from Jarmusch’s own band, Bad Rabbit. Below Jarmusch discusses how he discovered all this music and wove it into his film.
How do you describe the music of some of these bands like Boris, Sunn O))) and Earth that you’ve featured in The Limits of Control?
I don’t know what genre it is. They call it all kinds of things — space metal, doom, neo-psychedelic stoner sludge — but whatever category it is, that musical landscape is amazing.
Your use of music here reminded me a little bit of the way you used Neil Young’s score in Dead Man. Electric guitar dominates, and it’s not so much guitar as a melodic element than as a textural one.
Well, to me, electric guitars are one of the great inventions of the 20th century, along with quantum physics, the human genome and the bikini, I guess. I’ve been a Boris fan for probably ten years ever since someone gave me a cassette of Amplifier Worship. I’ve been exploring all this stuff for a while, from Earth and Sleep and Om and High on Fire and certainly Sunn O))). I was listening to a lot of this stuff [while writing], and I thought, I don’t want to have someone make a score, I wanted to do what I did on Broken Flowers with the Ethiopian musician Mulatu Astatke. I wanted to create a score out of existing music and edit it [together]. I started collecting stuff, and by the time I cut the film I had a whole file of music to work with in the editing room.
Did the process of listening to this music and choosing some of it while writing and shooting push the narrative in any particular direction?
That’s very hard to answer because those things overlap and are intertwined in so many ways. Certainly some of the music inspired some of the editing of the film, and it inspired atmospheric things that are kind of intangible and only in my imagination. I don’t like film music that feels slapped on the surface of the images. I like it to be woven into the mood of the film. The music was inspiring on a lot of levels — I wasn’t listening to it on the set or anything, but certain qualities were pushing me forward in an abstract way.