To claim that the following Russian delights can be savoured on your doorstep would be a little optimistic and more than a little inaccurate – unless you live in London, UK. But should you find yourself in England’s capital around about now, then the eclectic combination of the following two attractions must surely be a big draw. That’s if you are interested in all things Russian, and I assume you are otherwise you wouldn’t be here!
London is currently hosting two intriguing exhibitions representing opposing ends of cultural innovation: at both street and stellar levels. One is of Soviet space hardware whilst the other details the bootleg one-time cultural phenomena of smuggled audio LP records cut into exposed X-Ray plates. Yes that last half-sentence was not a collection of randomly chosen words; there was an underground cultural movement that disseminated non state sanctioned audio by way of a very unusual and inventive medium. This week we look at the backstreets, next week: the stars.
X-Ray Audio – Bone Music 1948 – 1964
That’s the title of the exhibition at The Horse Hospital, Colonnade, Bloomsbury London WC1N 1JD. It runs until the 19th December 2015. Take a look at the site, here. There’s also a dedicated Squarespace page for “on the bone” Soviet audio, here.
On show is a fascinating snapshot (no pun intended) of an era when the Soviet state controlled all aspects of the media and ruthlessly put down “non-approved” forms of art that ostensibly threatened, criticised or (apparently) deviated from Communist ideology, somehow. You have to ask: what would the mighty Soviet regime really have to fear from a jazz track cut into someone’s X-Ray with a cigarette burnt-through centre hole? It makes little sense now, perhaps you just had to be there.
It was part of the samizdat scene; an underground form of socio-political dissent characterised by the distribution of forbidden books and other writings, music and associated media. Specifically, the samizdat audio in question was known as roentgenizdat, referencing Wilhelm Roentgen who discovered X-Rays and became the father of the photographic X-Ray process. Typically, the recordings in question were of established jazz or rock & roll artists and likely; pirated albums from revered Western exponents. However, the scene also encompassed the work of independent musicians, recording outside of the Soviet sphere of control.
This latter aspect has remarkable parallels with the Western punk ethos and indeed: the global alternative music scene today. It’s the DIY initiative, encapsulated by a recent quote on online mastering facility: LANDR’s Facebook page: “No one’s asking how do I get signed? anymore”.
Yes, that’s how far Soviet grassroots artists were ahead of us, way back in the 1940’s – 1960’s, although the mechanical technique itself is said to have emerged as early as the 1930’s.
The lengths and pains that participants in this underground cottage industry were prepared to endure were remarkable: involving the manufacture of homebrew recording and hand “cutting” equipment, the surreptitious acquisition of X-Rays from hospitals (!) and the ongoing dodging of state police. Not to mention, the technical expertise and effort involved – a million miles away from up/downloading a ripped CD!
Perhaps initially frowned upon; by 1958 the production and dissemination of roentgenizdat was decidedly illegal. Prison was a reality for many of those involved, yet some practitioners served their sentences and continued where they left off. Incredible.
Next week: Soviet Space artefacts hit the UK. There’s still time! Be there.
[Photo by lkcjjang40090]