Wednesday October 18, 2017

Bone music: Why an L.A. record label is pressing albums on X-rays

Blank City Records presses music directly onto medical X-rays.

Blank City Records presses music directly onto medical X-rays. (Blank City Records/Facebook)

Listen 6:05

Story transcript

What do you do when you find a bunch of old family X-rays? Turn them into music, of course. 

That's what Marc Sallis, Brandon Burkart and Kawika Campbell do at Blank City Records, an L.A.-based company that presses records onto X-rays. 

"One of my co-founders, Brandon, was lucky enough to uncover some family X-rays," Sallis told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"His grandmother, he's got her guts, her intestines, on the early pressings, and his dad's skull. So yeah, he's got some interesting family history there to look back on."

Bone Recordings

The records have an ephemeral quality. (Blank City Records/Facebook)

X-rays are soft enough to press music onto and strong enough to hold the grooves — but not for long. The sound quality is poor, and after a few plays, they wear out.

"It's this kind of idea where you can only listen to this piece of music once or twice before you're left with this beautiful part of someone's medical history to kind of admire," Sallis said. 

"It's like a physical Snapchat, which is one of the things we love about the format is it's like a physical representation of this digital world we're living in right now where everything's so instant and you can only look at something like once."

But there's nothing nothing new or modern about these type of recordings.

Known as "bone music," the practice originated in the Soviet Union as way to share banned Western songs.

"This music, rock and roll, jazz music, the Beatles, the Stones, it was all banned in the Soviet Union back in the '50s and '60s," Sallis said.

"There was also local artists, local pop artists, that were trying to get their music heard and that was the way they shared their own music as well."

Back then, Soviet hospitals would throw away huge troves of X-rays because they were too flammable to keep on site.

"It was their way of sharing things, you know, like passing a note to someone in class."

Blank City Records

Marc Sallis, left, Brandon Burkart, centre, and Kawika Campbell are the co-founders of Blank City Records. (Muted Fawn/Blank City Records/Facebook )

But beyond bone music's rich history and modern relevance, Sallis just thinks they're really cool.

"We love the macabre, horror," he said.

"We love all that kind of genre and things people find unsettling and interesting and weird and obscure, so it felt like a great format for us to explore."