Dashing into those strange but wonderfully comforting concrete arms of the Barbican Centre from the cold rain, I soon discovered that most of the guests at Barbican Centre on this drizzly December evening were in attendance to hear the music of New Mexico duo, A Hawk & A Hacksaw; a uncommon act to be caught live in the UK and an experience most catch-worthy. The clientele was a mixed bag, mostly an older crowd, here to witness a one-of-three-only exclusive live re-scorings by a band whose otherworldly experimental folk has granted them marvellous critical acclaim.
There were however, a good handful of cinema enthusiasts seated amongst the crowd for this rare spectacle; one that merged the work of two whirligig accordion / marching drums / fiddle-yielding maestros and a notoriously rebellious film about love, pain, and channelling the original and true practices of Ukrainian Hutsul culture, folklore and witchcraft. Made famous for his stunning experimental films of the 1960s, Armenian filmmaker Parajanov also suffered a public and personal downfall after breaking the established guidelines of Soviet cinema. The dazzlingly stylistic cinematography of Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors – in particular its colour palette and reference to sorcery – went against the socialist realism style and the government ensured Parajanov’s blacklisting from the Soviet film industry.
A mini worry of mine was that the new score would drown out some of the original sound and dialogue which on occasion did happen (though subtitled, the patois of the Hutsul community is hypnotising). But the sheer brilliance of the live soundtrack overruled any disturbance, and it was easy to see why HAAH were drawn to such a diverse project; not only is their style near-matchless, but it seems a fine match only for a film so deeply rooted in archaic folklore and the passionately dark human spirit.
This stunning performance can only be experienced at All Tomorrow’s Parties curated by Jeff Mangum this winter, but it’s surely not the end of the scoring road for HAAH who proved their captivating diligence in daringly re-scoring a historically inimitable masterpiece by a man who also lived to take dares in the form of his art.