Media Latencies. Making Bone Music


The paper reflects on the capacities of "subcultural subjects" to engage in alternative and unorthodox practices of music transmission. Some subcultures emerge by crossing standard functional boundaries between different media. By drawing on Actor-Network theory and New Materialist accounts of object agency, the article will investigate the "music on bones" as a case study. During the Cold War, the import and transmission of Western music into the USSR was outlawed, thus limiting what citizens could and could not listen to. Jazz enthusiasts and stilyagi youth subcultures defied censorship by running a market for bootleg recordings. Songs banned by the regime were recorded on special media—namely the X-ray plates used for medical diagnostics. Hospitals discarded a large number of X-rays since they are flammable, unwittingly offering up a material medium for bootleg recording that does not arouse suspicion. Roentgenizdat are records produced on partial images of skeletons that can be played on gramophones for a few times before being ruined. Material artifacts have latent potentialities that have the scope to reach far beyond their ordinary purpose. The medium of X-ray imaging has specific material and cultural characteristics that allow it to be functionally repurposed for storing and transporting sound traces that are otherwise lost or inaccessible. Bone music is therefore an ideal case study for demonstrating how material agency goes hand in hand with the imagination of subjects—in this case, making it possible to cross media functions and escape censorship accordingly.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i22840753n21p7

Keywords: music on bones; tactical agency; Actor-Network Theory; New Materialism; intra-action; material imagination

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