When people used to press bootleg recordings onto X-Rays to pass around Soviet Russia

Brian Heater of TechCrunch has a fascinating post on his SubStack about "music on ribs" — when people in Soviet Russia would rip audio onto discarded X-Ray printouts in order to share them with friends:

It's difficult to say whether Philo was first to discover that the soft, pliable nature of X-rays made them – if not ideal, then at least suitable media for pressing records. But he is credited with popularizing the phenomenon around the USSR's second most populous city.

With the Soviet government cracking down on Western influences in the post-war beginnings of geopolitical tensions with the U.S. and its allies, possession of English and American music became a criminal offense. And songs pressed onto discarded X-rays became a much sought after black market item. The recordings were alternately known as "bones," "bones music," "jazz on bones," "music on ribs" or, simply, "ribs," after the most common motif.

Sound quality varied greatly, but was, largely, awful. The structural integrity only allowed for music to be pressed on one side. Designed to be played back at 78 RPM, there was only space enough for around five minutes per pressing, which largely meant they maxed out at a song apiece. The spindle holes in the center were said to have been created with a lit cigarette.

I knew it was possible to cut audio into a solo red plastic dinner plate, so I guess it's not a huge stretch from there to think that it would work on an X-Ray printout. In all honesty, I'm still pretty amazed that anyone figured out how to capture soundwaves through a needle to scrape into a piece of plastic.

Music on ribs [Brian Heater / Advertisements For Myself]

Image: Public Domain via PxHere