Guinea-Pig Fleet — Hiroshima Tattoo (2021 Reconstruction)

Guinea-Pig Fleet — “Hiroshima Tattoo” (2021 Reconstruction)

The tracks images were constructed using my regular arsenal of tools and tricks. For the new cover, I decided to play a bit with the Wombo Dream app, feeding it prompts involving atomic bombings and cherry blossoms. The final composition mixes bits of a number of the results with images from my own files, including one of the more famous examples of a “Hiroshima tattoo.”

  1. The Greatest Achievement of Organized Science 3:43
  2. A Shadow Etched in Stone Guinea-Pig Fleet 46:43
  3. Flowers of September (Second Flowering) Guinea-Pig Fleet 3:12

Guinea-Pig Fleet was really the culmination of the first set of Libertatia Laboratories projects — some twenty years ago — a noisy sort of “ambient” project, driven by research I was doing at the time on nuclear and incendiary warfare, nuclear tests and civil defense. The project produced five recordings: a set related to the Operation Crossroads tests, which suffered from bits of mordant humor that didn’t quite come off; a set inspired by damage reports from Nagasaki, which consisted mostly of minimalist textural stuff; the two-disc “Fire Raids” collection, which sometimes tried too hard to tell a story, but contain some tracks I still love; and, finally, “Hiroshima Tattoo,” which bears all the hallmarks of the scene from which it emerged, where ideas got fleshed out rapidly with whatever tools happened to be at hand and then we were on to the next thing. The original recording is a strange mix of entirely inscrutable and long-forgotten electronic processes and probably all-too-scrutable bits, like the improvised strumstick solo that became part of the framing tracks. It’s faults are rather glaringly obvious, but I’ve always felt like it was one of the recordings that was a little bit more, musically speaking, than just summary documentation of a week’s audio experiments.

I suppose it was inevitable, then, that I would eventually give the tracks a listen with an ear to salvaging whatever seemed to be salvageable. And I suppose that late Christmas night was as good a time as any.

“The Greatest Achievement of Organized Science”

The files from which these tracks were constructed are inaccessible, if not lost. I think I know which ZIP cartridge they were stored on, but the number of steps required to find the box of cartridges, find and fire up a computer that would run the appropriate drive, etc. hardly seem worth it. So it has been a question of working with the files ripped from CDR. And, honestly, there wasn’t all that much about the original first track, “Winning the Race,” that screamed “save me!” So I opted to appropriate the audio from a different recording of Harry S. Truman making no apologies for Hiroshima and combine it with a new instrumental background based on the strumstick bit from “Flowers of September.” The new monologue is, if anything, more horrific than the original. The video shows Truman unable to keep a straight face between recording segments. The smirk before the section where he describes the Hiroshima bombing as “the greatest achievement of organized science in history” is, y’know, really something else…

“A Shadow Etched in Stone”

The title of the album, “Hiroshima Tattoo,” was a reference to the tattoo-like radiation burn scars suffered by some as a result of the atomic blast. The original cover had one of the more famous photos of Hiroshima in ruins superimposed on my face — and the title was always really about the cultural marks left by the opening of the atomic era. I’ve never been entirely satisfied with the use of the album title for the long second track and, as I reworked the material, felt that I could, if nothing else, reference the other mark that almost gave the original disc its title. So the long track — slightly lengthened, slightly mastered and embellished with some filtered instances of the same material — has become “A Shadow Etched in Stone,” in honor of the victim supposed to have left a persistent mark on the steps of the Sumitomo Bank. Presumably the old theory of “human vaporization” is now known to be impossible, but I’m not sure it matters much.

I considered more work on this track, but was pleased to find that — as I listed to it repeatedly, considering what ought to be done — the fairly minor work seemed sufficient.

Flowers of September (Second Flowering)

The strumstick is over in the corner. It wouldn’t be too much work to tune it up and play it in front of a cheap mic, like I did the first time, years ago. But I have to acknowledge that I’m in a rather different place, in terms of what does and does not seem like an obvious creative option, than I was then. I still very much like the raw, comparatively organic and occasionally unlovely aspects of “Flowers of September.” The trick has been to preserve some of that, while also dragging the track into the rather different sonic world I occupy these days. In the end, I was able to use AnthemScore to create a worts-and-all midi score from the original track, which I could then use to assemble both a “Second Flowering” of this third track and the background for the new first track. It would have been fairly simple to clean up the midi score considerably, but that ultimately felt a bit like cheating, when I wanted to be as faithful as possible to the spirit of the original.

The midi transcription ultimately did not capture tempo as well as it might, creating some interesting dissonances as I attempted to use both the original recording and the reconstruction. But creative use of errors and anomalies was a return to the roots of the project — and, to be honest, scrambled midi files have been much of the fun with the hors du troupeau reconstructions anyway. So I have opted for a mix that, in a sense, works its way from a noisiness more characteristic of the earlier tracks to the simplicity that was much of the charm of the original.

Taken as a whole, this 2021 reconstruction of “Hiroshima Tattoo” hits a sort of sweet spot for me between old and new. It is probably due for one more comparative minor reworking, as early 2022 should see me better set up for the sort of simple mastering these tracks still need. But now maybe I can get back to some writing — or some thinking about what might be salvaged from the “Fire Raids” discs.

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