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X-Ray Audio | Event | The Horse Hospital, London


Antique Beat’s latest production, X-Ray Audio: Soviet Music ‘On the Bone’ (1946 – 1964) is one which has mesmerized many of its viewers, attracting a considerable amount of media interest in its first week of display with its eerie, crackling bootlegged records’ history.

 The exhibition, which took place at The Horse Hospital, London, between the 21st and 31st of January this year, was brought about by musician Stephen Coates (The Real Tuesday Weld) and photographer Paul Heartfield. Their dedication to the project can be witnessed through the incredible selection of spooky yet beautiful x-ray records collected in Russia over several years, as well as their beautiful films and images. It has revealed to the public a historical aspect of underground music culture in Soviet Russia not many are familiar with: the bootlegging of banned records onto medical x-rays.

Indeed, in the late 20th century, the USSR sprung censorship onto most Western records, banning popular Jazz and Rock'n'Roll records (amongst others) from Soviet Union culture, in an attempt to ensure healthy and pure development of its Communist principles. In 1957, Russian Communist revolutionary and politican Vladimir 'Lenin' employed words such as "chaos" to describe the effects of this popular music onto Soviet youth culture, and made a point to "guide"  and "form"  the latter with Communist ideologies.

As Natalia Rolleston notes on BBC Radio 4 Today Programme, the “irrepressible human spirit” found its way around the ruthless State’s ban to secretly enjoy the forbidden music: X-ray fluorography sheets were obtained unofficially from hospitals, cut into discs from their previous squared shapes and embossed with the grooves of bootlegged gramophone records” ( - The Horse Hospital). The x-ray sheets were the easiest and most available format available to the bootleggers, and even though the result was of poor quality, it gave citizens the freedom to listen to music of their choice, at low costs.  However, the risks of getting caught were high: several years’ imprisonment was the fate of most record makers.

The experience of this ‘bone music’ phenomenon was further emphasised by the input of sound artist Aleks Kolkowsky, whose live demonstration of recording onto X-ray plates using vintage analogue record-cutting lathes and commentary on recording techniques gave the audience a first-hand experience of these musical fabrication methods.
Furthermore, a live performance by special-guest Marcella Puppini (artist-founder of The Puppini Sisters), accordion in hand, alongside Coates, rendered the event more intimate. The result was played back to the audience, as it would have been played to young Russians at the time of the Cold War: Puppini’s charming voice and the sound of her accordion rising out of the crackling vinyl player, inducing the audience with a phantom-like feeling of melancholy.

Stephen Coates remarks: “It’s important to remember what people will do to hear music when there’s hardly any of it around. That doesn’t make X-Ray Audio an exhibition about something that happened 60 years ago. That also makes it an exhibition about what’s happening now.”

The media have been hugely supportive of the X-Ray Audio and due to sold out events we will be releasing more date for public viewings and live events.

Review links:

- The Guardian - "The clamour among young Russians for jazz and rock’n’roll during the cold war years is brought home by the range of materials on show at X-Ray Audio".

- BBC Radio 4 Today Programme - 'Hear the banned Soviet music recorded onto X-Rays'

- Pick of the week with Sheila McClennon - 'Some unusual sounds on Pick of the Week this week.  Almost as unique a sound as a Lullaby of Birdland hidden in a human ribcage - the bootlet Bone Music smuggled into the old Soviet Union inside X-Rays'.  


“Everyone down-hearted in the music business should come here to be reminded how important music is to humanity. Thank you.” – Lynden Campbell, Domino Records.