Exhibition: Rudolf Kurz Recordings Collection

Exhibition PanoramaAn exhibition in the Gabe M. Wiener Music & Arts Library highlights recordings from the private collection of Rudolf Kurz, which have been given to Columbia University and the Center for Jazz Studies.  Comprising  36 recordings drawn from the 16,000 held in the collection, the show presents a selection of various types of discs, including uncommon formats such as Transcription Discs and V-Discs.

Transcription discs were produced from roughly 1930 to 1960 for radio broadcast or re-broadcast, and were typically 16 inches in diameter and recorded at 33 1/3 rpm. One interesting feature of these discs is that they sometimes would play from the center of the disc outwards (the reverse of the usual trajectory). Here are a few examples from the exhibition:

Transcription Discs ex.1


V-Discs were produced and distributed between 1942 and 1949 through the cooperation of the U.S. Government, American recording companies, and the American Federation of Musicians. Many were distributed to the U.S. armed forces, and some ended up in private collections after production had ceased. Here’s an example of a label image, and a few discs, from the current exhibition:

5-V-DiscLabelListen here to a digitized audio file of the recording above (from the Internet Archive.)

V-discs selectionThere’s an audio collection of many digitized V-disc recordings available on the Internet Archive, at this link.

Another significant component of the Rudolf Kurz collection is jazz recordings, here including Verve label recordings with slipcases illustrated by David Stone Martin (who was influenced by the social realist art of the New Deal) as well as Blue Note and Prestige recordings whose cover designs reflected the increased recognition of jazz as a serious, influential art form. An entertaining online viewer and timeline of some further Blue Note covers is available on the Blue Note web site, and some additional images of Prestige recordings cover art are available at this link.

Here are some of the Blue Note covers from the exhibition:

4-Case-InsideRightand some of the covers from Prestige recordings:

6-CaseInsideLeftWe invite you to stop by the Music & Arts Library (701 Dodge) to see the exhibition of these interesting recordings and covers. The transcription recordings and v-disc recordings are too fragile for public circulation, but the 12-inch jazz recordings featured are available at the circulation desk, for in-library listening in conjunction with this exhibition (ask for them by title and mention that they are in the exhibition).


3 thoughts on “Exhibition: Rudolf Kurz Recordings Collection

  1. Ever wonder why early transcription discs, like the ones shown above, were reverse (played from the inside out)? A WWII era broadcast engineer explained this to me nearly 60 years ago and must have done a good job since I still remember it all these years later. Even then, the industry was technology driven; or maybe “lack-of-technology driven” is more appropriate.

    The cutter on the lathe would wear quickly (the “lack-of-technology”), adversely effecting recording quality and often becoming quite worn before the end of the show. They couldn’t replace the cutter and a second disc for the second half of the show wasn’t cost effective, so to counteract cutter wear, early lathes cut the disc from “inside-out”. Even though the disc rotates at the same speed, apparent speed (from a fixed point like the cutter) increases as you move from inside-to-outside on the disc.

    If you aren’t seeing this, visualize measuring the circumference of a record and the circumference of the paper label on that record. Imagine the record circumference is 24″ and the label circumference is 3″. At the record’s circumference, in one revolution the cutter will travel 24″, but in that same revolution, it will travel only 3″ at the label’s circumference The only way to travel further in one revolution is to increase your speed.

    Some radio station turntables had two arms and the turntable itself could run counter-clockwise as well as clockwise, so they could play regular records and transcriptions.

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