U19 | philip sulidae | History of Violence
1. Bargo : excerpt
6. A facade : excerpt
format : CD ltd to 200 hand numbered copies
all copies come with an additional art card on 300gr matt-coated satin paper
release year : 2014
length : 37’55
2. Daly’s waterhole
3. Slow dusk near long acre fire trail
4. The long neck of the forest
5. History of Violence
6. A facade
status : still available
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: info :
Sounds were recorded in the Belanglo State forest, 150 kilometres to the south of Sydney, Australia. Its quiet solitude and isolation contrasts dramatically with its turbulent and macabre history – the scene for a series of horrific murders in the early 90’s at the hands of one of Australia’s most notorious serial killers.
I choose Belanglo as a location due to my own somewhat morbid fascination with its history, but also due to its virtually indistinct organic character. It is essentially a forest like any other area of bush along the eastern seaboard of Australia; however its latent and almost dormant sensation is unlike any other.
I find this contrast very interesting, as it plays deeply into people’s subjective understanding – this understanding of Belanglo is, I believe, largely shaped and divided by our external perceptions of its history, and the innate, immediate impact of its environment.
During recording, the sounds, timbres and sonic characteristics were very comparable – similar areas, environments, topography. This allowed me some latitude and gestural flexibility in composing, as I could play with the ideas and observations that lay behind the forest and its history. In effect I could try and create a sonic environment that would replicate the contrasting and distinct perceptions of Belanglo.
Our ideas of place and the constructs behind them generate a fertile ground for creativity and composition.
(philip sulidae, February 2014)
: reviews :
Daniel Crokaert of Unfathomless very kindly sent this CD as a bonus with the Kassel Jaeger and Andrea Borghi CDs I had ordered as Philip Sulidae is based in my home city (Sydney). As it happens, I am passing familiar with the case of the Belanglo State Forest murders of backpackers and hitch-hikers committed by the notorious Ivan Milat in the early 1990s which Sulidae’s release “History of Violence” refers to. The field recordings Sulidae made for this album were taken in the area Milat used as his hunting ground to kill his seven victims.
Despite the album’s title, the six tracks on offer are actually very quiet and the volume dial needs to be turned up fairly high (almost to the point of distortion) to catch all the sounds. Long passages of silence and an impersonal blank ambience surrounding the quiet drones and textures are highly oppressive and might be the most dreaded part of the whole recording. Surprisingly the sounds don’t attempt to approximate the soundscapes of Belanglo State Forest – there is no obvious birdsong, neither are there insect choruses, yet those are what Sulidae has recorded among other things – but seem much more ma-chine-like, detached and remote.
You’re left feeling very uneasy and disquieted at the thought that someone could have taken advantage of naive travellers from out of state and abroad (a few of Milat’s victims were German) and left their bodies to decay and disappear in an otherwise serene and pristine forest environment. The final track “A façade” suggests that the peace and tran-quility of the forest may be masking some truly horrific secrets; or on the contrary, that what we imagine to be horrors are really our projections of our thoughts and feelings onto the forest itself, making it an unwilling accomplice, even victim, of Milat’s murders.
Disturbingly, since those original backpacker murders, other bodies of people killed since Milat’s sentencing and imprisonment have been found in the forest. For better and for worse, Belanglo State Forest has now come to occupy an unenviable place in Australian contemporary culture as a site of man-made horrors.
The Sound Projector
An eerie set of field recordings is History Of Violence (UNFATHOMLESS U19), produced by the sound artist Philip Sulidae. He did it in Belanglo State Forest in Australia, an area which happens to have some notoriety since it was where the grisly “backpack murders” took place in the 1990s. The killing career of Ivan Milat was one of the events that fed into the creation of the Wolf Creek movie in 2005. Sulidae apologises upfront for what might be considered a “morbid” preoccupation, but his intentions are pure, and he’s really drawn to this location for its unnameable atmosphere, a particular “vibe” which, he is convinced, is pretty much unique to this forest, despite it resembling just about any other forest in this part of Australia. Chris Watson is another field recordist who has spoken with conviction and authority on this subject, citing the works of Tom Lethbridge and Tom Graves. In pursuit of this “placeness”, this nebulous and hard-to-define sensation, Sulidae has created a compelling result; while it’s possible to detect some nature sounds on these pieces, a lot of the time it’s really not clear what we’re listening to at all, and a palpable sense of tension and fear begins to build. This is particularly so on the third track, called ‘Slow dusk near long acre fire trail’, which comes very close to capturing on tape a sinister, crepuscular moment. Sulidae believes that this elusive quality he’s after is largely a matter of history, and that it’s our own perceptions and conditioning that lead us to “colour” our views of any given area; a mental “construct”, as he would have it. However, History Of Violence somehow manages to delve deeper than that. If we’re talking about movies, a more wholesome alternative to the grisly Wolf Creek would be Picnic At Hanging Rock, one of Peter Weir’s earliest films, which likewise communicates a very mysterious sense of “placeness” through its images and editing, and for which parts of this record would make a credible soundtrack.
A hybrid between remote field recording and electronic soundscape, History of Violence succeeds to confuse, scare and intrigue the interested listener, and this all with the aural equivalent of tiny microscopic debris.
I remember learning about a theory called morphic resonance. The theory is based on the hypothesis that molecules, atoms and genes have a memory, kinda like if events get carved into DNA, a memory formed of things happened to species (earlier) in time. Although pseudoscience, if only something holds true, the places where Australian-based composer has recorded History of Violence, most likely will be a desolate place, where sadness reigns more than anything else. Australian’s Belanglo State Forest where this was created, or at least some of the field recordings used, has been the operating area for Australian mass murderer Ivan Milat, who killed and buried seven young people in the early nineties.
At first, the feel of a sunburned desolate area, extremely calm and silent. Extremely low volumes, uncovering nearly inaudible filth, protecting the area from human interference once more. Second listen reveals lots of dynamics and when loud enough the understanding creeps in that something might go very wrong. Not exactly power electronics, a genre known for its awkward tribute-paying to mass slaughterers, but certainly not less unnerving, just in a different way. Low volume seems to be part of the experience, as if the hidden message is there but it had to stay below the radar, evoking atmospheres of suddenly abandoned campfires, solitary walks and getting lost in unknown territory, adrenaline levels increasing as twilight arrives unexpectedly early. History of Violence plays mainly at the subconscious level, resulting in the strange perception that, once finished, one is not sure what really has occurred, other than that it is something to experience again.
Pim van der Graaf
After ‘An High Land’ this limited run of 200 CD’s is released on Unfathomless. Sulidae goes to the Belanglo State Forest which is about 150 kilometers to the south of Sydney and performs field recordings that he processes electronically. Very subtle indeed this manipulation, skirt silence and in the background there are wildlife sounds, some voices and minimalist atmospheres. Silence is present throughout the album with almost imperceptible bright timbres that achieved to give an aura of mystery to the desolate atmospheres of this album.
Sydney’s Philip Sulidae is not just a field recording artist. His works venture into the territories of drone, ambience, and even modern composition. To this point, his high point has been An High Land, a combination of field recording and organ. But History of Violence is a strong challenger.
The latest disc carries an intriguing backstory. In the 1990s, the the Outback’s Belango State Forest was a serial killer’s stomping ground, and remains tainted, if not haunted, in the public’s eye. By recording there, Sulidae (no stranger to dark sounds himself) would attempt to reflect the natural resonances of the forest, without the additional drama. Would the forest sound haunted on its own? Or would the expedition turn out to be the opposite of so many haunted visits: a trip that proved there was nothing to fear?
The forest certainly would not care. The trees, the birds, the water: none would bear any psychic reminder of the murders. This contrast is apparent throughout the recording, as one realizes that a forest is just a forest. It may be creepy for its own reasons, as apparent in the ghostly tendrils of the opening track, but not intentionally so. The birds would continue to sing; after all, they were not affected. Any voices on the wind would likely be interpreted differently by humans than by the local wildlife. And so it is interesting to note that Sulidae manages to capture both feelings, benign and malignant. Drone tends to wear a weathered face. But running water and avian cries seldom sound sinister (save for tsunamis and The Birds). “Daly’s Water Hole” contains all three, leaving the interpretation up to the listener.
Would one hear menace in these cracking twigs without knowledge of the location and background? The CD lacks even the slightest mention of the “backpacker murders”. While it would be hard to buy the disc without knowing the background, it is possible that some might do so, and serve as a control group. From the other direction, having read about the murders, most listeners will be listening for the intrusion of something scary, but will likely be disappointed. What comes across instead is the feeling that human evil cannot destroy all natural beauty. The light, subtle whispers of “Slow dusk near long acre fire trail” build only to a sweet high-pitched chord, like the cry of cicadas. In this context, the light hammering at the center of the track seems like some ordinary guy hammering – and the distant song, just some people singing. The sonic detritus, like vinyl crackle, invites the listener to imagine ghosts, but the hardy listener will resist. The only exception: a segment of sobs in the closing piece.
The title of this piece, “A facade”, implies the presence of layers. An old adapted song is embedded therein. But which is the facade? Is the peaceful forest a facade for the violence imprinted on the leaves, the soil crying out for vengeance? Or is the public reputation of the forest a facade for the peace that lies within? When this album was first released, I chose not to write about it because I heard the former. But now that the weather is warm and the sun is bright, I hear the latter. The fact that Sulidae is able to preserve such a fine line is a testament to his compositional ability. History of Violence is an invitation to reflect on our psychic relationship to local environments: do we imbue settings with emotion, or simply project our feelings upon uncaring landscapes?
A Closer Listen
Using a loaded title like “History of Violence” (and, presumably, not referring to the Cronenberg film of almost the same name), one expects to hear some allusions to the subject but, if they’re here, I have difficulty ascertaining any. Not so important, I guess, but the field recordings captured and messaged by Sulidae from Belanglo State Forest in New South Wales, Australia don’t directly refer to anything violent. One assumes the violence in question is more general, that is, damage to the flora and fauna of the area at the hands of humans. The sounds seem to have, generally, natural origins, from the opening mosquito-like whines of “Bargo” through the requisite swarms, chirps, etc., most enswathed in a kind of sonic cloud that gives the affair a muted, blurred aspect which I imagine is the intended effect but that makes much of the work somewhat indistinguishable from other field recordings of the “natural” world. “Slow dusk near long acre fire trail” seems to contain phonograph noise, maybe an ironic commentary on the wildlife sounds around it, or captured on it? By itself, this track is the one I found most moving, that and the moment near the end of the title track when muffled voices emerge from the blur.
It’s been a while since I last heard music by Philip Sulidae, but some of his newer releases are downloads only, so perhaps that explains, and there also seems to be some time gap between this and the previous. I quite enjoyed his work so far, which sometimes seemed quite raw and at other times very microsounding. This new work surely fits the latter body of works. All of the sound sources were recorded at the Belanglo State Forest in Australia, which is some 150 kilometres to the south of Sydney and apparently a very quiet area, even when it was the “scene for a series of horrific murders in the early 90’s at the hands of one of Australia’s most notorious serial killers”. No doubt that’s one of the reasons to do field recordings over there, and Sulidae is not the first to go to ‘guilty territories’. It’s not something you are aware of when hearing this release, based upon just hearing it. These six pieces are very quiet, high pitched for whatever reason, and it’s unclear to me whether this has any electronic processing, or whether this area is high pitched, insects maybe? I think a certain level of sound processing took place and it’s quite a frightening release, in a curious way. The sheer level of compression, to get all of these sounds together, make a very oppressive release, despite all the quietness that is going on here. But perhaps I am hearing too much in this release, maybe things that are not in there per se. I played this a couple of times, and the more I hear it, the more I like it. It all seems relatively easy made but it unfolds a lot of beauty actually. A great yet very much unsettling release.
Frans de Waard