"There’s no sense in discussing field recording in terms of listening and passivity. What I love about Ramshead – the latest album by Australian sound artist Philip Sulidae – is the active role of its recordist. For one, Philip is an audible presence amidst these recordings of Australia’s Kosciuszko National Park: sounds of microphone bags unzipping, the plop of rainfall on umbrellas. But there’s also the curation of these recordings of buzzing fauna and cracked flora, all of which work to both convey those aspects of the park that don’t reside in fixed locations, or unfold too slowly to perceive in real time (volatilities in weather and temperature), or don’t even exist within the realm of sound at all (undulations in physical landscape, intense humidity, Philip’s own swivelling and craning as he tries to absorb as much sensory stimuli as possible).
Ramshead is out now on the ever-excellent Unfathomless label. Below, Philip and I discuss the informality of his recording approach, the process of fabricating realities and deafening Cicadas ..."
Read the interview here: https://www.attnmagazine.co.uk/features/13370
The Sound Projector
"At 2,230 metres in height, Australia’s tallest mountain might look more like molehill modesty than montane majesty to folks outside the country but what Mt Kosciuszko lacks in loftiness Philip Sulidae has invested with mystery. Armed with binaural and contact microphones, a computer and various other equipment, Sulidae captures a secret world of drama underlying an otherwise stolid landscape of rock, forest and grassland. Winds blow louder than you would imagine, rain gushes faster and in more quantities than you can believe, and the very air is fragrant with cool dampness. While all sounds are natural, they don’t conform to stereotypes we may carry about what is “natural” and what is not, and the result is often astounding crackling or droning noise detail possessed of a life force and direction that humans may have once have been familiar with (and may even have worshipped) but after centuries of civilisation we no longer know.
With titles like “Dogman Hut, Leatherbarrel Creek” and “Swampy Plain, Central Ramshead”, the soundscapes give an impression of unyielding impassiveness, harbouring secrets that are not easily given away. On “Swampy Plain …”, Sulidae trudges about over wet ground during a shower burst, his foot-steps providing a steady beat and rhythm for us to follow in a world otherwise difficult to navigate. A choir of magpies later starts up a chant that becomes quite menacing and oppressive in its dry and repetitive caw-cawing nature.
There’s no over-arching structure or them to the soundscapes here: listeners are free to make what they want of the sound worlds contained within this disc. You may find much that is comforting and familiar here or you may sense a mysterious life force that, while not initially friendly and a bit stand-offish, is not threatening or hostile. You are a guest in the world of “Ramshead” here, welcome to take what you need."
"Rumble of thunder and patter of rain. An omnipresent buzzing. Faint gleams and chinks unravel in a snowball of activity, wind in the trees, swirling of air, shuffling, ringing and low rumble. Common everyday chaos. Things calm down somewhat, faint rushing and hissing, swish of what might be distant traffic; small scrapes and buzzes. Philip Sulidae wants you to be here — it’s not entirely clear where here is, but it’s definitely somewhere, a place that’s maybe a little wild, where the sounds of weather and vegetation are louder than those of human activity.
These sounds don’t form a clear narrative, nor do they offer a forensic description of a place — too dense, too changeable for that. An intentional failure to reduce a place to an easily graspable abstraction. Crunch. Plink. Plop. Creak. Hissing static, some kind of chirruping — maybe this bit is a hydrophone recording? Gritty, dirty noise, like a raging forest fire, whistling wind, lots of activity. Sudden quietness, small taps on wood: perhaps we are now inside the Dogman Hut of the title? Or: stop trying to identify what you’re hearing and just hear it. Be surrounded by it, in it. Does it matter if that was the distant clamour of ducks or if you just imagined or misheard it. What counts as mishearing. How do you feel? Immersed, buffeted, transported.
A bird cawing; more cawing; more birds, many birds, a cacophony, quite an ugly, grating sound. As if the sound was required to conform to some abstract human ideal of beauty. No, it conforms to a place — a place that may only exist inside Philip Sulidae’s head, a place made from layers of fragments all jumbled together and bent out of shape, like language. A place worth spending time in."
A Closer Listen
"Ramshead is exciting right from the start, like a thriller that never lets up. It begins with what sounds like a large tree crashing, then crashes into a dense thicket of flora and fauna, tumbling from one exciting field to the next. While there’s great value in unedited, single-source field recordings, this sort of soundscape may be the best way to entice people into the genre. Sulidae makes no claim of literal reflection, instead preferring to dissemble the pieces and fuse them into a larger piece of sonic art. We hear his footsteps in the park as he fights through foliage or retreats to a stream. In the heavier segments, these recordings border on drone, although one might make a case for rock as well ~ not just the granite formations on the cover, but the visceral energy produced by a rock band. The location offers extreme climate variations, often in a single day, a fact Sulidae reflects. But there’s also great attention to detail, as the sonic microscope locates specific birds, bands of crickets, running water and in “Swampy Plain”, something that sounds like sleet. No single source overstays its welcome; edited from what must have been hours or even days of recordings, the end result is the best of the best, playing out like Kosciuszko National Park’s Greatest Hits. If any single location was this exciting all the time, we’d be on a plane the same day. Instead, it’s a magical creation that first existed in the artist’s head, and is now available to us all."
"The press text reads like a tourist guide: 'This national park covers alpine and sub-alpine areas, and as such provides an unusual environment within the typical low lying bush land and desert of greater Australia. It covers the highest peaks on the continent, and as such is a diverse environment that covers everything from heavily wooded valleys and river ways, through to rugged grasslands high above the treeline. There is a similar variation in animal and bird life, whilst the weather is inclement all year round with everything from blazing sun to snow in one day.' None of this, Sulidae says, plays a role in the four pieces on ‘Ramshead’, but he taped sounds that he liked to work with later on. In saying that I think is implied that these four pieces are not the result of documenting a straight forward scenery, but that these are compositions of sounds recorded at various locations, mixed together later, to form a narrative, a composition using recordings of various bits of environmental sound. One easily recognizes the sound of wind over barren land, the rustling of leaves and branches, and the not-so calm stream up the mountains or animals at night. Of course the narrative isn’t straight forward, but poetic and quiet, strange and/or wild. Maybe at thirty-six minutes it is all rather short in duration I was thinking. I wouldn’t have minded some fifteen or so minutes of this beautiful field trip."