“Music on Bones”: Bootlegged Music in Soviet Russia Was Pressed on X-rays

Before the availability of the tape recorder and during the 1950s, Young Soviet “stilyagi” (hipsters) of the 1940s-50s would distribute banned music (including jazz) on bootlegged records made from used X-Ray films, salvaged from hospital waste bins. The thick radiographs would be cut into discs of 23 to 25 centimeters in diameter; sometimes the records weren’t circular. But the exact shape didn’t matter so much, as long as the music played. These records were called “jazz on bones” or “music on ribs”.

“Usually it was the Western music they wanted to copy,” says Sergei Khrushchev, the son of Nikita Khrushchev. “Before the tape recorders they used the X-ray film of bones and recorded music on the bones, bone music.” As author Anya von Bremzen elaborates: “They would cut the X-ray into a crude circle with manicure scissors and use a cigarette to burn a hole. … 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.”

– via kk.org, dangerousminds.net, kitchensisters.org, theguardian.com.

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