Playing the bones, Soviet style
December 28, 2014 12:58 PM   Subscribe

In the days before tape recorders and magnitizdat (previously), vinyl was a state-controlled resource in the Soviet Union. So how were dissidents and bootleggers to meet the demand for forbidden music? Write it "on the bone".

Underground Soviet records, both duplicates of Western records and original local recordings that were considered unsuitable by the state, got the name "bones" or "ribs" because enterprising bootleggers discovered that discarded x-rays from local hospitals could be used to make records. While not a perfect substitute for vinyl, the x-rays, trimmed to a rough circle, and with a hole punched through the middle (or burned through by a cigarette), worked well and cheaply enough to fuel an underground economy and keep Soviet stilyagi (previously) dancing.

(This use of x-rays was not confined to the USSR. Archivist and photographer, József Hajdú discovered x-ray records in the archives of the Hungarian Postal Museum. Some of them were amateur efforts, but some were products of the national radio station, which also suffered from a lack of access to vinyl.)

Bones caught the attention of British musician and producer Stephen Coates, who launched X-Ray Audio (last link in the first paragraph) to document his research on the bootleg recordings. Highlights from the site's Bone Blog include other types of plastic bootlegs, a sample of the kind of recordings that were approved for vinyl production, and a new song by Coates' project The Real Tuesday Weld (previously) recorded as a "bone" using period-appropriate equipment. The site also has a selection of bones for your listening pleasure.

Bonus track: a fantastic account of Coates's meeting with Nikolay Vasin, "The Beatles Guy" of St. Petersburg, whose devotion to the Beatles was launched by bootleg records.
posted by EvaDestruction (16 comments total) 71 users marked this as a favorite
That's pretty awesome. Thanks for the post! :D
posted by surazal at 1:22 PM on December 28, 2014

IIRC, the Russian word for this medium was “roentgenizdat”.
posted by acb at 1:22 PM on December 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

Wow, this is fantastic. Thanks for putting this together!
posted by filthy light thief at 1:53 PM on December 28, 2014

And the cigarette spindle hole in an x-ray of a skull (with the hole centered in the middle of the skull!) is the most metal thing I've seen in a while. I wish I knew what kind of music is on that.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:03 PM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Discarded x-rays? The silver content makes them valuable in America.

Well, until the price of silver went down. Or perhaps the Russians did not use silver?

You don't know how lucky you are, boy.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:13 PM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you ever have the chance to see the Russian film Hipsters, there is an early scene with a Moscow med tech listening to bootleg jazz recorded on an x-ray.

The film is a lot of fun. I was haunted by a sense of familiarity regarding the lead; then realized I was thinking of Conan O'Brien (who apparently to my eye he resembled).
posted by rochrobbb at 2:17 PM on December 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

AFA. Absolutely Fucking Amazing.
posted by sneebler at 2:32 PM on December 28, 2014

Wow! These are incredible and I'm having a great time listening to them. I noticed some of the links are broken on the listening page, here are corrected ones:

Heartbreak Hotel
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
St. Louis Blues

I also noticed it's pretty simple to find where to download the mp3 file if you examine the source of each song's page.
posted by contraption at 2:44 PM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Fascinating. Thanks for the post.
posted by cwest at 3:08 PM on December 28, 2014

Wow — this is great. Thanks for posting it!
posted by Lexica at 5:27 PM on December 28, 2014

Not only do they listen to bones in Hipsters, but the opening credits shows the making of one.
posted by ckape at 7:45 PM on December 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

in that previous fpp, there's a mention of soviet bootleg guitars made assembly line style out of stolen phone receivers. that's something i want to read more about, shit.
posted by emptythought at 1:27 AM on December 29, 2014

Previouslier on MetaFilter. (I think it's time to shut the site down: we've covered everything at least twice.)
posted by languagehat at 8:18 AM on December 29, 2014

There is a great film on this....
posted by k8t at 10:09 AM on December 29, 2014

Can't wait to dig in to this post. Thanks!
posted by Neilopolis at 8:04 PM on January 4, 2015

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