It’s the 1953. Stalin is dead, and Nikita Khrushchev is leader of the Soviet regime. Things are ever so slightly more liberal (you have your own khrushchevkas so now you don’t have to share a kitchen and bathroom with twenty other families), but still at the end of the day, all you want to do is go home and put on some good old Chuck Berry. Or Elvis. Hell, you’ll take Johnny Cash, Ray Charles or even Frankie Laine; you’re in post-WWII Soviet Russia after all, you just want that rock ‘n roll music.
But tape recorders aren’t available, and vinyl has been scarce since the war. Besides that, most Western music has been banned by the regime anyway. So what do you do about it? Why, go dumpster diving outside the nearest hospital, of course, for discarded x-ray films. The best way to turn an old x-ray into a jazz, boogie-woogie, or rock ‘n roll record is not that hard, actually.
Step One: Acquire a banned record. Press said illegal recording onto your salvaged radiograph. X-rays of bones are typically the easiest to find.
Step Two: Borrow your mother’s tiny manicure scissors and cut the x-ray into a circle (about 23-25 centimeters in diameter), around the edge of the record. This works best if the x-ray is already of a circular body part, for example, the brain.
Step Three: With you lit cigarette, burn a hole in the center of the x-ray. Now it will fit on your home record player.
Step Four: Take your bootleg 78 record home to your khrushchevka kitchen and test it out. Make sure the KGB agents aren’t waiting outside your house.
Step Five: Act of dissent complete. Repeat as needed. Bone music is useful not only for Western records, but also local Russian songwriters banned from public concerts, or forbidden public speeches.
The resulting product of these bootlegged recordings are as visually interesting as the idea of doing it in the first place. As Russian author Anya von Bremzen points out, “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.” Hungarian photographer József Hajdu began photographing the x-ray music records when he discovered them in a museum and has assembled a collection of the bone music images. Pictures from his collection and more information on bone music can be found here.