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How X-rays Created An Underground Music Industry

Hey Joe - X-ray

In the age of iTunes and Spotify it’s hard to imagine not being able to listen to the music of your choice.

But it was a different story in the Soviet Union of the 1950s. If your tastes tended towards Elvis Presley or Ella Fitzgerald rather than classical or patriotic music, listening to your favourite songs could get you arrested.

Some Of The First Pirated Music

The risk of imprisonment wasn’t enough to deter a small band of inventive music lovers from creating an underground industry producing records of forbidden music. But with no access to vinyl, what could they make the records from? Some bright spark figured out they could use X-ray films “unofficially” obtained from hospitals.

Using homemade equipment, the musical dissidents embossed the grooves of bootlegged records onto discs cut from the X-ray films. A cigarette was used to burn the central hole, and the result was playable records bearing with ghostly images of bones.

You can listen to the Elvis and Ella X-ray copies and it’s clear that sound quality is pretty poor, but it’s amazing that these records work at all. They records wore out quickly, but they were cheap to buy, and with some dissidents also making and distributing the machines to copy music to X-ray films, “bone records” could be found in black markets across Russia by the 1960s.

The popularity of bone records began to fade as reel-to-reel tape recorders opened up a new means of distributing subversive music. It would be another quarter of a century before the Iron Curtain finally parted, but who knows? Maybe all that decadent music, both foreign and home grown and distributed around the country on flimsy discs of X-ray film, played a significant part the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union.

Does your business have bulk x-rays for recycling?

X-ray films can be recycled to recover their silver. If you’re an Australian business with regular bulk quantities of x-rays that need recycling why not get in touch with Ecocycle to find out more.


Image credit: Bujhm on a GNU Free Documentation License.

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