When Jan Kaczmarek was approached to score “Get Low,” a story set in 1930s Tennessee that mixes fact, rural folktales and myth, he was attracted to the idea of infusing the music with subtle elements of American bluegrass, which he describes as “having a mystery in it.”
The Depression-era tale, which stars Robert Duvall as an enigmatic, small-town hermit who plans his own funeral party while harboring a dark secret about his past, begins dramatically with a house in full blaze, setting up the story with a glimpse of the mysterious incident that lies at the movie’s core.
Employing a string quartet accompanied by piano, the music suggests a sense of mystery and anticipation, eventually swelling to a larger orchestral arrangement with the use of the synthesizer, which Kaczmarek himself plays. The mix of traditional and modern instrumentation was designed to maintain a sense of authenticity while creating what Kaczmarek terms a “mysterious or metaphysical environment.”
“I wanted to escape easy classification that the music was of a certain period,” he says. “Thanks to the synthesizer, the sound cannot be labeled easily.”
The use of dobro, a variation on the steel slide guitar, was key. “For me,” Kaczmarek says, “the challenge and pleasure was to use instruments like dobro guitar and employ them in slightly different forms so we can actually achieve the delicate soundscape of mystery, trying to create the impression a unique flavor for the entire picture.”
The dobro — for which Kaczmarek and first-time feature director Aaron Schneider recruited the 12-time Grammy-winner Jerry Douglas — also connotes both a regional flavor and a tinge of lightness and humor in the film’s more relaxed scenes, such as the exchanges between Duvall and a funeral home salesman played by Lucas Black.
“The idea was to be subtle and just have a flavor,” Kaczmarek says, “which helps you to have a certain distance and allows you to depart from seriousness of it, but not obviously funny in a straightforward fashion.”
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