[Tig] Tribute to Steve Rutt by Louise Ledeen

Jim Lindner jim at media-matters.net
Sat May 21 17:24:38 BST 2011

When I received the call yesterday that Steve Rutt had passed away, one of the first friends I contacted was Jim Lindner.   Jim is one of the many hundreds of people in NY and around the world who, in part, owe their life-long love affair with the moving image to Steve Rutt.  Steve Rutt was a dear friend and during the early 1970’s a business partner, along with my first husband, Bill Etra.    Bill and I met Steve in the late 1960’s.  Steve’s friend Paul Goor, Bill and my dearest friend, Susan Beth Smith, were all were attending New College at Hofstra.   Paul and Steve had been childhood friends and were in the AV club together in Great Neck, LI.  They both enjoyed creating pyrotechnic events to their parents’ horror and their friends’ amazement.  


Steve was fascinated with all technology, but I remember that one of his early mentors was a CBS news editor named George Hartman.  George was an extremely large man and the space between the 2”Quad machines in the CBS newsroom were designed with George in mind.  Sometimes George would let us visit him.  I remember the moment that Steve, Bill and I watched as George got a call, and ran across the machine room to make an ‘L splice’ on a quad tape in seconds, during an on-air Walter Cronkite newscast.   We all looked at each other in amazement and I could see in Steve’s eyes – his sheer joy in the magic and spontaneity of the television medium. 


When we first really got involved with Steve professionally, he was working at his uncle and father’s company – Sprague Electronics.   By this time I had just finished college, Bill had sold our car and bought a porta-pak.  It was a wonderful time to be artists, film and video makers in NY.  Video equipment was suddenly in the hands of the people, grants were plentiful and many artists and technologists were collaborating on new forms of electronic music and enhancing film and video with electronic effects.  These collaborative efforts were taking place simultaneously, everywhere.


The Paik Abe synthesizer, and early synthesizer work by Eric Siegel, Lee Harrison, Bill Hearn, Steve Beck, Dan Sandin, Dan Slater, Walter Wright and of course the vision and friendship of Woody and Steina Vasulka, all helped propel the idea (or fantasy) to go forth and create a modular analog synthesizer and get it into the hands of artists and access to as many people as possible. 


After many all-nighters and long months in the corner of the Sprague factory, and countless meals in the Howard Johnson’s, Steve and Bill developed the first Rutt Etra video synthesizer.  It was not the first synthesizer, by any means, but it was the first ‘commercially available’ synthesizer due largely to Steve’s desire to make his passion for electronics a real business endeavor.   Steve had also designed a video strobe device that was used to capture motion imagery for television and commercials.  He thought it was really cool when Woody and Steina Vasulka let us drag it to the Kitchen, where we proceeded to have a video strobe art event with lots of large balloons and bodies hurling through space.  Steve was into ‘the coolness factor’ in a big way.


A few years later, Bill and I had moved to California, and split up.   Through it all Steve and I remained close friends.   Steve rarely ventured out of Manhattan, let alone New York, so I would spend time with Steve when I visited.  He always wanted to show me his latest gadget or the piece of equipment that he had just beaten into submission at Rutt Video.  He found it extremely amusing that I, of all people – aka ‘the muse’, continued working in ‘the business’ of developing computer graphics tools, digital dailies and media management workflows for film and television.   Steve was a dear friend, mentor, and as generous and gracious a person as one is likely to encounter.  He will be missed.


Louise Ledeen, NetApp Inc.

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