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? (Richard Allen)