A Record Discovery
Honors course has music in its bones
KENNESAW, Ga. (Sep 29, 2017) — Kennesaw State University student Jade Corn didn’t know quite what to expect when she signed up for an Honors course this fall titled “Bone Records: The Story of Censorship, X-ray Film, and Bootleg Music in Soviet Russia.”
“I had never heard of bone records before, but the class looked interesting,” said Corn, a junior majoring in computer science. “I saw a picture of a bone record and thought, ‘I have no clue what this thing is.’”
College of the Arts Dean Patricia Poulter is an expert on bone records, also known as bone music, and taught the course. Bone records, makeshift LPs etched into used X-rays to be played on a turntable, were an underground method of bringing banned music into the post-World War II Soviet Union.
The bone records class was the first offering in Honors Discovery, a new initiative of Kennesaw State’s Honors College. Part of the College’s new flexible curriculum, an Honors Discovery is a five-week, non-graded learning experience on a special topic of study that students can participate in outside of typical course structures.
“I'm incredibly pleased that Dean Poulter provided such an amazing and exceptional learning experience for students in our inaugural Honors Discovery program,” said Rita Bailey, dean of the Honors College. “Students benefitted from learning deeply in a compelling subject they might never have had the chance to learn about another way. An Honors Discovery is one of the newest and most flexible ways that students can participate in Honors.”
Corn’s experience exemplifies an Honors Discovery, according to Poulter. Following her initial uncertainty, Corn described the bone records course as “a very good experience” and said she is interested in taking additional Honors Discovery courses as they are offered.
“You might skim by this kind of knowledge in a regular course, but this gets more in-depth and enriches us as people to be able to understand what is going on with the world around us,” Corn said.
“It’s the willingness to be curious, to go out of something that feels familiar and comfortable, and say, ‘I want to know absolutely as much about this as I can,’” Poulter said. “The students taking the first Honors Discovery weren’t sure what it was going to be, but they were willing to take a risk and go along for the ride.”
The same could be said for the people who trafficked Western music into Soviet Russia at a time when state censorship was in full effect. Discarded X-ray plates secretly were made into 78-rpm records utilizing homemade lathes, and then distributed on the black market. The bone records Poulter shared in class were from her personal collection, ranging in musical styles from jazz to classical to rock and roll.
“I love music, and I knew that they had to do a lot of really unique things in the Soviet Union to get their music,” said Bud Berger, a first-year student in the University Honors Program. “So when I saw a class about it, I had to take it.”
Berger’s interest in bone records stemmed in part from having dabbled in audio engineering a few years ago. By the end of the Discovery course, that interest had been rekindled and Berger was considering how to combine his love of music and his mechanical engineering major into a career.
“The students have these other interests in their personal lives, and they began to realize how those also are meaningful pursuits and how they can be connected to their academic lives,” Poulter said. “One of the best things we can do as teachers is set up an environment in which we model for our students lifelong learning and engagement.”
The course concluded with a trip to Nashville, where the students visited the studios of recording artists Jack White and John and Martina McBride. Along with both studios being state-of-the-art, White’s Third Man Records includes a vinyl record pressing plant and an analog lathe. In fact, Poulter said, Third Man co-founder Ben Blackwell has made a bone record at the studio.
Meanwhile, the bone records in Poulter’s collection have existed for decades, standing the test of time. She hopes the students’ Honors Discovery experience will have the same lasting impact.
“This is one way of highlighting the greater picture of the initiatives and exciting things happening in the Honors College,” Poulter said. “We use this artifact of a bone record to discuss important, deep and broad problems and issues such as censorship, totalitarian governments and what people may be willing to risk for what they believe.”
— Paul Floeckher
Photos by David Caselli
A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 35,000 students. With 13 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university's vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. A Carnegie-designated doctoral institution, it is one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.