Bone Music

Western vinyl records were highly sought after in the former Soviet Union, despite or maybe because they were forbidden. But in a time when music still depended on physical records, smuggling vinyl was dangerous and copying them using real vinyl expensive.

Before the rise of cassette tapes, Soviet fans of western rock’n’roll, jazz and other censored music used x-ray shots they purchased from hospitals and clinics. These images, featuring broken bones or lungs, were cut into circles and the grooves were etched onto them with special machines the bootleggers claim to have built themselves. A cigarette was used to burn a hole into the middle of the record so you could put it on your record player. Labels were not needed: You simply had to remember which record was copied onto the lungs and which onto the broken arm.

The x-rays were more durable that other available materials and the bootlegged records could be played more often than for example records copied onto coated paper. The material was also easily available, in contrast to real vinyl, and cheep. The bootlegged records came to be known as Roentgenizdat.

Find out more about “Bone Music” on this episode of 99% Invisible, a podcast about design and architecture.

Helen May

Helen May was a research assistant at Max Weber Foundation, 2015-2016.

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