The Soviet-Era Ribs Records I found In My Grandparents' House


I am currently in the process of clearing out my grandparents’ house, which is the house my mom was raised in, in Buffalo. 

If you are interested in Soviet music history, or resistance practices in general, you may already be familiar with the advent of “ribs” or black market records that were etched into discarded X-Rays in the Soviet Union starting in the 1940s or 1950s. When music was heavily regulated by the Kremlin, banned music or sound recordings were lathed by hand onto the plastic X-Ray prints by underground practitioners. The readily available plastic was cheap (trash), and the process of etching was cumbersome, but doable- albeit at the expense of being imprisoned if caught:

“Russian rock journalist Artemy Troitsky explains of the process that record printers up-cycled old phonograph machines to create their own crudely constructed record lathes.
X-rays were cut into 7-inch discs, grooved at 78RPM, and spindled using the end of a lit cigarette.” (via)

Though these are not X-Rays, but rather what appear to be photograph enlargements, these discs are undoubtedly part of the same underground music practice. I found these in my grandparents’ effects this past week, nestled and protected from dust in a midcentury record console. My grandparents were both survivors of Nazi forced farming labor in WWII. After marrying in a refugee camp, they moved to Canada and eventually the U.S. where they raised two kids, worked at a Ford plant, started a small catering business, and maintained a garden in their backyard where they would eventually build a swing for me, their only grandchild, on the strongest limb of their cherry tree.

I never knew my grandparents Iwan and Maria very well, but they were kind and nourishing even through a profound language barrier. Finding these delicately crafted pieces of resistance gives me a small glimpse into the world they came from, and their survival.



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