Analog Oddities: X-ray and Postcard Records
More Than Meets the Eye
The image of a vinyl record is iconic; A black circle with a white label in the middle. There are variations to the format, as I have previously written about color vinyl, but that is just a variation on the color. There are records that are not made of vinyl, but of paper and plastic. The reason for the variation in construction comes partially out of novelty and rebellion.
The Soviet Union banned just about all western music shortly after World War II, but once the youth get a taste of jazz, there’s no turning back. As history shows, once something is banned a black market pops up. This led to Ruslan Bugaslovski and Boris Taigin to develop a process in order to copy records and cut the music onto discarded x-ray images (National Geographic). These so-called bone records are fragile and only have a handful of uses before they are worn out due to the thinness of the x-ray images. The sound quality is also lacking due to the format, sounding rather tinny. But the quality isn’t the reason why bone records are important; they are a testament to the lengths people will go to listen to music they love. Much like moonshiners and bootleggers, these people prove that even if something is banned, if somebody wants it, they will get it.
Modern copies of Soviet era x-ray records
There are modern simulacra of Soviet era x-ray records available on eBay, but very few genuine articles still exist due to their fragile nature. The images of rib cages, skulls, and legs are a perfectly macabre way of displaying the human aspect of music. You cannot photograph or scan the body for the presence of a soul, but music is proof enough.
Through the Post
When vinyl was the end all be all for music, everyone had a turntable in their home. Imagine you’re travelling abroad and you want to show your loved ones the breathtaking scenery and give them a slice of the local culture. A popular option would be the postcard. Postcards are compact and cheap to mail out, and the novelty of sending somebody a song in the mail is nothing short of a delight.
The music is pressed into a thin piece of plastic that is then laminated onto a postcard. Sound quality is what you would expect, but the novelty of the item justifies it. Hit of the Week Records popularized the flexible record in the 1930s, and they would see a resurrection in the 1950s as Melody Cards. Flexi disc records would appear on cereal boxes, inside magazines, and continue to be postcards until the 1980s. The decline of vinyl logically led to the flexi disc all but disappearing, at least in the music application. Programming magazines included flexi discs as floppy inserts for programs and data.
Various postcard records
The flexi disc has also made a bit of a comeback in recent years along with the general vinyl resurgence. Bands put them out as a novelty, and more recently VinylPost has started a postcard record service that delivers a postcard and download for an upcoming independent artist every month. I will be reviewing this service in a few weeks.
Like color records, x-ray and postcard records demonstrate the variety possible in the record format. It is only limited by ones imagination and ability, and sometimes facilitated by the necessity for jazz music. I am always on the hunt for genuine Soviet x-ray records, as they are an important step in the history of the format as well as music history. Where there is a will, there is a way, even if that way is cutting groves in discarded x-ray sheets.