Sunday, April 6, 2008

рок на костиах / rock on bones

I'm in the middle of a bomb new book: Everything Was Forever, Until it Was No More, by Alexei Yurchak, about the peculiar cultural and linguistic situation of the "last soviet generation." Reading it and some of the sources it cites has changed a number of my preconceptions (yes, apparently they still taught that American cold-war propaganda history in the 1990s) about the latter years of the USSR.

Anyway there is a chapter on the "Imaginary West," in which Yurchak explains one of the most important clandestine technologies of its time: the copying of LP records onto used x-ray plates. It was invented by engineering students at Leningrad University, with the full support of a government zealous for any kind of technological innovation, and became the principal means by which western music was spread across the USSR (one could call it an "underground," except, as Yurchak emphasizes again and again in this book, just about everyone was in this "underground," even though the vast majority of them did not harbor a great deal of oppositional resentment towards the state).

Apparently x-ray plates were used mainly because they were the most widely available plastic medium thick enough for the process, which involved a do-it-yourself rigging up of two turntables. For anyone interested in theories of media or technological reproducibility there is a field day to be had in the many ironies and implications of this process - not just the fact of the re-inscription of the x-rays themselves, but also the immense cultural significance of this goofy invention. There's a good description on a medical devices blog (which I read daily, of course...).

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