Maybe it was the fact that I’ve had several MRIs and CTs that made this recent story about vinyl records pressed on x-rays stick out to me. Maybe it was also because I sat in on my girlfriend’s first MRI the other day (I swear that the machine is ten times louder when you’re on the outside). Or maybe it’s just my own strange imagination that sprang to life when I saw the pictures of the x-ray vinyl records. Anyway, here are my thoughts, musings and some other things I found.
The imagines in question I came across were from a story that came to me from my brother over Facebook and I noticed some of my musician friends shared the article as well. It was about Soviet-era bootlegs of banned music from the west that was passed around on old discarded x-rays. I guess if you’re stuck in a country in which the government strictly controls what you see and hear and you’re in a place where vinyl records are scarce, one would find ways to get around that. According to the article linked above, the recordings were mostly jazz and rock from the 50s from the west. It sounds like the records were lathe cuts (looking at the pictures, they’d almost have to be), then cut to size and shape. They’d burn a hole at the center to fit it on the turntable.
There’s something oddly fitting to me about an oppressive government banning music and it turning up on x-rays. Maybe it’s the notion that folks were risking their lives to get their hands on the stuff. I don’t know… it feels so morbid but if I were in that situation, my desire for freedom of expression would seek out alternatives to get the music I want to hear. X-rays, being pressed on plates and sheets, would make the perfect material to use, if I were up to hopping in bins of medical waste to get them.
Which brings us to today. I was curious about whether or not this has been done elsewhere or as just some other way western musicians/labels expressed their love for the vinyl format or to stand out. Sure enough, Jack White launched a project that did just that via his label, Third Man Records, over a year ago
Jack White is a creative genius so I’m not surprised by this. His studio is all-analog, his label’s records always sound stunning and he’s always pushing the envelope with what can be done in the vinyl format. It’s called “Flex Ray Disc” and I guess the name fits. And which artist got their tracks etched onto these medical snapshots? Why, none other than Butthole Surfers frontman Gibby Haynes. The release came out on Valentine’s Day in 2013. 100 copies were pressed and not surprisingly, they are selling at over $300 a piece now through collectors.
And Jack White isn’t the only one to do this…. not surprisingly. The PIAPTK label released a lathe cut x-ray disc as well, as have other small labels. Prices and genres vary, and it’s worth checking out if you’re curious. I know I am… if I had the cash.
So I guess the bottom line is we can thank those brave rebellious folks in the Soviet-era for giving us this idea for furthering our creative expression. And while x-ray discs create a very unique piece, it’s kind of haunting seeing a real bone spinning on the turntable.