Music etched onto the film of X-rays was the only way some rock-and-roll lovers in the former Soviet Union could listen to certain tunes.Â ItâsÂ called âbone music.â Now, people trade these old relics online and visit museums to see them.
And one Los Angeles record label is reviving the practice, printing their hard rock music on theÂ X-rays of anyoneâs bones.
âIâve got music that I wrote thatâs pressed on my grandmotherâs skull,â Brandon Burkart, 36, who founded Blank City Records along with Marc Sallis, 40, andÂ Kawika Campbell, 36, told The Washington Post.
Most Western music, such as jazz and rock-and-roll, was outlawed in the Soviet Union under the Zhdanov Doctrine of 1946, which regulated all intellectual activity, from literature to medicine to music,Â Radio Free Europe reported.
Records by the Beatles, Billie Holliday and Roy Orbison, for example, werenât allowed through the Iron Curtain, since they didnât adhere to Communist Party principles. Music from homegrown dissidents likeÂ Vladimir Vysotsky, the RussianÂ equivalent of Bob Dylan, was similarly outlawed.
But a certain subculture of young people wanted to listen to rock-and-roll. They were known for dressing in stylish clothes and throwing parties. The Soviet government dubbed them âstilyagi,â which translates as âstyle hunters,â according to Atlas Obscura.
So they figured out a way to get the music by making homemade records out of X-rays.
Some bootleg copies of records would inevitably find their way into the country, so the stilyagi often had a master disc. What they needed was a material to reprint it on, as vinyl wasnât too common.
They took to rummaging through hospital trash binsÂ and digging out discarded X-rays, according to Fast Company.Â They then used a traditional wax disk cutter and a recording latheÂ to etch copies of the album onto the X-ray, which they cut it into a circle with scissorsÂ before burning a hole in the middle with a cigarette. VoilÃ : an album that could be played on a turntable.
âUsually it was the Western music they wanted to copy,â Sergei Khrushchev, the son of former Soviet premiere Nikita Khrushchev,Â toldÂ NPR.Â âBefore the tape recorders they used the X-ray film of bones and recorded music on the bones, bone music.â
âYouâd have Elvis on the lungs, Duke Ellington on Aunt Mashaâs brain scan â forbidden Western music captured on the interiors of Soviet citizens,â author Anya von Bremzen told the station.
âThere were even Russian rock bands and stuff who would press their records on these X-rays,â Sallis told The Post.
The practice quickly grew into an underground business run by black market record distributors called âroentgenizdat,â which translates into X-ray press. The groups distributed millions of records until the Soviet Union made the practice illegal in 1958, Fast Company reported.
âIt was a bit like dealing or buying drugs, actually. These records were bought and sold on street corners, in dark alleyways, in the park,â Stephen Coates, author of âX-Ray Audio: The Strange Story of Soviet Music on the Bone,â told NPR.
These bone records served a purpose at the time, but since X-ray film is so thin, the sound quality of the records was terrible â and the albums themselves would eventually disintegrate under the turntableâs needle after a handful of plays.
âSome were virtually unlistenable,âÂ Coates told NPR. âBut that didnât seem to matter, in some ways. I mean, talking to people who bought these records when they were young â even the tiniest thread of melody, of this forbidden sound, was so exciting.â
In some ways, thatâs the appeal toÂ Burkart.
âItâs on this format that kind of speaks. Thereâs something really amazing about having something tangible, and thereâs also something amazing about things that are fleeting,â he said.Â âThe fact that you only get a few plays.â
Sallis also sees the records as more than ways to transport music. Theyâre art in and of themselves.
âWe sourced a bunch of X-rays from various places, such as family and friends and stuff like that,â Sallis told The Post. âAfter you get your five toÂ 10 plays out of it, the quality begins to disintegrate. Then you have this very cool crazy looking record to put on the wall.â
âIf you want your personal medical history turned into audio art, then send them our way,âÂ Burkart added.
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