X-Ray Audio: The Documentary (2016) about Russian record bootleggers who used x-rays to copy records.
The iconic images of gramophone grooves cut onto x-rays of skulls, ribcages and bones have captured the collective imagination way beyond the music scene. Now for the first time, the complete story of the Soviet x-ray record has emerged, as told by the people who made it happen.
For more information on bone music and the x-ray audio project and book, visit www.x-rayaudio.com
Before the availability of the tape recorder and during the 1950s, when vinyl was scarce, people in the Soviet Union began making records of banned Western music on discarded x-rays. With the help of a special device, banned bootlegged jazz and rock ‘n’ roll records were “pressed” on thick radiographs salvaged from hospital waste bins and then cut into discs of 23-25 centimeters in diameter. “They would cut the X-ray into a crude circle with manicure scissors and use a cigarette to burn a hole,” says author Anya von Bremzen. “You’d have Elvis on the lungs, Duke Ellington on Aunt Masha’s brain scan — forbidden Western music captured on the interiors of Soviet citizens.”
In the Soviet Union during the 1950s, Western music was seen as a form of neo-fascism or “mysticism” that could infect the youth, and was largely banned. But a recent project called X-Ray Audio has collected bootleg records from the U.S.S.R. that were cut onto x-rays illegally and are now beginning to surface on the internet.
“We had arrived to play some shows,” recalls the rangy frontman between sips of coffee. “I went for a wander in the flea market and I looked at a stall and thought: ‘Is that a record or an x-ray?'”
In an attempt to find out more about what these “bone music” records were, Coates got in touch with an old Russian man named Rudy Fuchs. During the 50s, Fuchs would regularly donate blood in order to make money to cut records, or as The Guardian puts it, “blood money for bone music.” Coates explains: “Back in the late 50s, Rock Around the Clock was the track that got Rudy fired up to distribute these records to other people – that and Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy, which was a revelation.”
X-Ray Audio is taking their sonic project to a London gallery, where several of the records will be played live. One of the tracks, “Odessa Mama,” is available to listen on their site, and it sounds fucking awesome.
The Vinyl Factory / Antique Beat production
Concept & interviews by Stephen Coates & Paul Heartfield
Filmed by Paul Heartfield
Written by Stephen Coates & Anton Spice
Producer by Anton Spice, Anoushka Seigler & Stephen Coates
Edited by Pawel Ptak
Archive footage courtesy of Russian State Archives of Film and Photo Documents
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