Guinea-Pig Fleet — Fire Raids (2022 Deconstruction)

Guinea-Pig Fleet — Fire Raids: Tokyo
  1. Prelude: Daylight Overflight Guinea-Pig Fleet 15:05
  2. Marianas, March 9 / 50-Second Intervals Guinea-Pig Fleet 13:56
  3. The Monotony of Evil (300 Miles of Superforts) Guinea-Pig Fleet 5:54
  4. Tokyo (Above the Flames) Guinea-Pig Fleet 18:20
  5. Sweep Conflagration / Kototoi Bridge Guinea-Pig Fleet 21:35
  6. Identifying the Dead / Stench of Flesh / Cleaning Out the Bomb Bays 16:50

Like “Hiroshima Tattoo,” the two-disc “Fire Raids” set is one of the old recordings that I have returned to with equal parts fondness and regret. Originally released in 2002 and composed in a bit of a frenzy, after a crash course in the horrors of US incendiary bombing raids in Japan, these tracks were really inspired by the awful logistics of the fire raids: the precise spacing of the planes, the distance from first to last bomber, the grids used to produce maximum destruction in the targeted cities, etc.

The accounts of the “Meetinghouse” attack on Tokyo are harrowing. Innovations in planning were producing new kinds of fires, in cities where there was very little to distinguish military and civilian targets. Despite warnings, death tolls were extraordinary and the circumstances of many of the deaths hard to even process. At the Kototoi Bridge, for example, crowds converged, crushing bodies or forcing them into the river, which was, by some accounts, actually boiling at this point.

The approach in the original composition was vaguely cinematic and the success was rather mixed. Tracks were largely pieced together in sound-collage style from fairly long bits of heavily processed audio, themselves often the originally the product of sonification of non-audio files. Noisy stuff — and often noisier than was perhaps ideal for tracks of these lengths. When I started working with the material late in 2021, it was clear that most of the tracks had “good bones,” but for the “deconstruction” it has made sense to dial things back a bit. The original recording consisted of eight tracks. The new version combines the last four into two longer, more “ambient” tracks and adds about sixteen minutes of new material overall. The result is that parts of the album are more elegiac, in the same vein as “Hiroshima Tattoo.”

These are obviously not mastered tracks. Perhaps at some point it will make sense to really polish them. For now, it has just seemed important, for me personally, to bring some bits of the original Libertatia Laboratories project into my own present.

  1. Target Toyama (2022) Guinea-Pig Fleet 1:00
  2. American Ingenuity (2022) Guinea-Pig Fleet 20:05
  3. Marianas (2022) Guinea-Pig Fleet 1:03
  4. VLR (2022) Guinea-Pig Fleet 21:25
  5. Midmission (2022) Guinea-Pig Fleet 1:10
  6. The Peace That America Will Bring (2022) Guinea-Pig Fleet 26:38
  7. Mission’s End (2022) Guinea-Pig Fleet 1:02

February 13, 2022 — “Toyama,” the second of the 2002 “Fire Raids” discs, was perhaps even more committed than the first to the exploration of “the monotony of evil.” The central track, “VLR” (for the “Very Long Range” bombers used in the incendiary bombing raids), was another experiment in the sonification of non-audio files. In this case, the basic loop was built from a corrupted video-game download, which was then looped for over twenty minutes, with (if I recall correctly, after all these years) not much more than multiple delays producing dynamics through clipping distortion. “American Ingenuity” played similar games with a drum-machine track, while the noise tracks (a mix of sonifications of relevant images, th0nk files and heavily processed field recordings — again, if memory serves — provided a bit of “relief.” Some of the quasi-cinematic pretensions of the earlier recordings were abandoned in favor of more direct explorations of repetition and noise. Perhaps a lot of it still feels like a tale of mass murder and destruction, told from the perspective of a drop of half-frozen water on the wing of a very long range bomber — but that’s okay.

The 2022 tracks are a bit more complex and less direct than the originals. Again, there is a doubled element of recollection in play — not just a reflection on history, but also a reflection on the conditions of the original composition and on all that has taken place in the last twenty years, separating me from those circumstances. But, in most cases, it has really been a case of making the tracks just a bit more subtle, without making them less noisy. The exception is the sixth track, “The Peace that America Will Bring,” which is essentially a new recording, incorporating the original track “Toyama (Ring of Fire),” but constructed primarily from heavily processed Wotja tracks. The original track was the one that simply didn’t interest me much when I started to work through the material. It included some Mac-voice narrative, which felt dated and unnecessarily overt, but it also just felt a bit aimless. I tried several different approaches to reconstructing the track and finally just had to put it away.

I let things sit for a while. I worked on the new covers, which meant refreshing my memory with some new research. The phrase “the peace that America will bring,” part of the text from the fliers dumped on cities targeted for incendiary attacks, stuck with me. On New Year’s Day, I finished up a little experiment, “Genbaku Dome,” which involved constructing something like a bonus track for “Hiroshima Tattoo” using the “Positive Teal” mix that was the basis of “Relays and Reconstructions.” Using Wotja in the way I had used th0nk twenty years ago was ultimately the key to constructing the new track, but it was a while before my experiments — in this case, with Soundmagic Spectral and the plugins Puremagnetik has been including with their audio releases — produced something that sounded to me like Guinea-Pig Fleet.

“The Peace that America Will Bring” is the result of that happy accident. The original track had been inspired by my reactions to the almost total destruction of Toyama — destruction made that much more complete because the grid bombing of the city had been accompanied by the construction of a “ring of fire” at its perimeter. 

The new one focuses less on the active destruction and more on the kind of “peace” produced by that kind of conflagration.

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.