Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Bone Music and Rib Robbers

Different forms of storing and sharing music are intriguing. Ultimately, sound is just movements in the air picked up by our bones and our eardrums, yet we have used our ingenuity as humans to capture organised sounds and communicate them to each other, sometimes against the odds, for centuries.

I saw this event advertised online, and because Heavenly Films events are always worth going to, and at the moment evenings need a change of gear after spending all day poring over a hot illustration or two, I decided to take a punt and go along.

The event was happening on the top floor of Foyles, which has become noticeably swankier in recent years. I wonder if they still treat their workers really badly like they did back in the day?

Anyway, the evening was introduced by the author Travis Elborough, who was accompanied onstage by a little lamp with a high-end lampshade that made it a clarsy kinduva night before it even started. The film, Roentgenizdat: The Strange Story of Soviet Music On the Bone (by Stephen Coates and Paul Heartfield) was neat, concise, packed with content, and was told by the protagonists in the peculiar activity of cutting songs on to specially-shaped discarded hospital x-rays for illicit distribution in the USSR. When a cutting machine (DIY and based on a template) was confiscated, another was put together immediately. As many as 50 of the discs themselves could be packed into the sleeves of overcoats to be sold on the street; one chap adapted a tennis-racket cover to hold his stash of rock'n'roll or jazz bootlegs. Each disc boasted the ghostly trace of someone's hand, perhaps, or a broken leg. The guys called the discs 'ribs', and told stories of bandits stealing their merchandise and/or their money: "Give us your Ribs, or you'll get a knife in your ribs". Forbidden Russian music also featured, and the whole phenomenon disappeared after the Soviet authorities gave permission for households to have reel-to-reel tap recorders. Apparently there is now a thriving trade in fake Ribs on eBay.

It was utterly fascinating, and the writer Stephen Coates fleshed out the ribs of the story in the interview with Travis afterwards. He has written two books on the subject, X-Ray Audio and Bone Music, and also presents a show on Soho Radio called The Bureau of Lost Culture.

I was so glad I went. Dorothy Max Prior had been sitting in front of me and we had a really nice chat. So many years ago, The Chefs guitarist Carl Evans used to drive her band the El Trains around town. Then I saw Daniel Rachel and had chat to him, rather a motormouth one due to my days of solitary illustration, and Paul Kelly came up to say hello, he of Birdie. It transpired that he and his mate had bought my original Hofner violin bass off me many years ago. Fancy that!

1 comment:

  1. Stephen Coates's band make some lovely music too if you haven't heard them. The Real Tuesday Weld. This is a great one: