National Geographic : 2017 May
Many forms of music were forbidden in the Soviet Union, especially in the first years of the Cold War. Western jazz and rock-and-roll were deemed the music of the enemy; Russian-émigré pop, the music of traitors. The Soviets banned “any music with a sort of swing to it,” says Stephen Coates, a British musician who founded the X-Ray Audio Project to chronicle one effort to evade state control. In 1946 two enterprising music lovers in Leningrad, Ruslan Bugaslovski and Boris Taigin, figured out a way to copy records. The original music was smug- gled into the country, often by sailors. Because materials in the U.S.S.R. were scarce, the two men scavenged parts from tools, such as drills, and old gram- ophones to build a recording machine. For the records themselves, they turned to an unlikely source: discarded x-rays, which were made of plastic soft enough to be cut by the recording machine. The pair’s creations were striking: An x-ray image of broken ribs emitted the lilt of Russian tango. A Broadway show tune quavered from a dislocated pelvis. A human skull was the morbid backdrop for American jazz. “You have these pictures of the insides of Soviet citizens, impressed with the music they secretly loved,” says Coates, who stum- bled across one of these “bone records” a few years ago in St. Petersburg. Bootleggers in other cities picked up the duo’s methods, creating an under- ground record culture that lasted nearly two decades. But the authorities caught on too: Bugaslovski was imprisoned three times. “That’s how much music can matter,” says Coates. RECORDS OF REBELLION By Natasha Daly | EXPLORE | INNOVATION PHOTOS: X-RAY AUDIO PROJECT GO FURTHER Give “bone records” a spin at x-rayaudio.com. Learn more about the records in Stephen Coates’s book, X-Ray Audio: The Strange Story of Soviet Music on the Bone.