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Screw Vinyl, You Can Press Music Onto Discarded X-Rays

Apparently Soviet teenagers in the 1950s would listen to records using discarded radiographs.

It's pretty easy to discover music these days: all you need is Google. But before every discography could be wirelessly delivered to any location in minutes, crate-diggers would travel hours through the snow to pick up Loot Pack vinyls, rockers would camp outside record shops, and techno heads would carry notepads inside clubs because Shazam didn't exist.

The above examples of working hard to receive music may seem crazy. But back when the Soviet Union banned everything from the Western world—including pop music—teenagers had to use discarded x-ray radiographs just to listen to music. They would rustle around in the bins outside hospitals to find old scans, cut them into a crude circle using manicure scissors, and would use a cigarette to burn a hole in the middle.


I talked to Ted Riederer, an expert record cutter who used a modern version of the x-ray method on Forest Swords Ground Rhythms, to find out more.

Noisey: When did you first hear about the technique?

Ted Riederer: I first heard about it with the Beatles, and how their music was disseminated in the Soviet era underground rock 'n' roll scene.

How can an x-ray be playable in the first place?

You would record grooves onto the x-ray with a wax cylinder. If you look at record grooves under a microscope as sound waves, you can physically see sound there. The Soviets probably used a dubplate reference machine, which is used to create test pressings of a record. There's also the romanticism of something that has an ephemeral photograph of the human body. It's such a beautiful concept to cut into vinyl which makes perfect practical sense.

What about the degradable nature of the x-rays themselves. Would they not break away after a few listens?

Records produced from a dubplate cutter are not meant for long term use, they're used for the record plant to have a template. The x-ray is something which you only use for one or two doctor's appointments and then throw away.

I guess that's kind of the point with the music as well; it's not built to last forever.

Yeah. I suppose that's exactly what they wanted.

Was the quality pretty lo-fi?

Yeah, they weren't using the best equipment. Those teenagers probably played it hundreds of time and loved how shitty it would sound because it wouldn't matter. The fact they were on x-rays only added to the appeal.


What was the appeal for you?

Andrew Ellis a.k.a Samizdat approached me about doing the Forest Swords record, I thought it was going to be easy because you can cut stuff on the back of compact discs or anything of a certain softness that a needle can cut. However when he brought the x-rays they were very flimsy, I think they've changed a lot since the fifties and sixties, they've become more disposable. Much to my dismay I broke a $200 needle on the first attempt to cut it. I couldn't use oil because that would affect the emulsion on the x-ray or heat, so I had to go dry. No lube as they say.

Was it a success then?

It sounded strange, and by a master cutters standards horrible, but for Forest Swords it illuminated a transcendental approach to music making and as such it sounded haunting. Me and a few friends want to try the technique again for our own stoner rock drone project.

What's your next project?

I can engineer a locked groove so a record gets looped forever, it's usually used to stop records going all the way to the middle but I decided to do something different. I did it to this Bing Crosby song so he sings "Only Forever" forever.

Awesome, thanks Ted!

Follow Dan on Twitter: @KeenDang