klíčová slova
a  b  c  d  e  f  g  h  i  j  k  l  m  n  o  p  q  r  s  t  u  v  w  x  y  z 

Interview with Steve Rutt (excerpts)

Burris Jon
  14. říjen 2007

Interview with Steve Rutt (excerpts)

Steve: At this point, I hadn't actually started using my machine (my motto–back in the old days–was "I just build 'em, I don't fly 'em") and, in fact, I didn't start using them until I stopped building them.

What we did over the years was raise the price and improve the quality; we mostly raised the price, but we never made money on it–in the old days–and we figured…it's the old story, if you're building it for five dollars and selling it for four dollars, you can make it up in volume. We decided we had to raise our prices, so we doubled the price or something, and nobody could afford it anymore.

We pushed the price way up, and that was the end of the creative market for the thing. They just couldn't afford it. Had we gotten more orders from industrial people, we could have built them at a lower price, but, for the most part, building them one at a time…we couldn't afford to do it at those prices. And we, eventually, stopped building them; it was just too much of a hassle.

The early ones had about the same ones [modules] as the later ones. One of the things that hasn't changed is the modules, which has become sort of a joke, for one thing, because this waveform generator never worked right. I shouldn't say it never worked right. It never did all the things we knew it could do. In the early modules, it was sort of OK, because it was this early state and nothing worked right back in those days. We used to have a standard procedure that if something didn't work, that was the way it was supposed to be. And if no one else was making it, it wasn't a problem, and it all worked better than what had been here before. But we never changed any of this stuff. Never changed the modules at all. The only thing we ever did was put power supplies on the modules–each one–so that you could line them up and plug them into the machine.

We then found out the power supplies were the weakest link, and they used to blow out all the time.

Jon: How was it that you came to this particular approach to designing this tool, the scan processor.

Steve: Oh, the Paik unit [Paik-Abe Video Synthesizer], we just expanded on that. But we didn't, in fact, know where it was going to go when we started. We didn't understand that you could do this much with it.

It wasn't so much an addition as a modification. The main thing we did from the Nam June machine…well, we did two things to the Nam June machine. One thing was that the Nam June machine was built out of sort of surplus parts; whatever happened to be available he snuck in. If we wanted something, we started from scratch and built it. So it was a little more refined and all plugged together and it looked prettier. The other thing is, we DC coupled everything which had been AC coupled. That was the main thing. If I had to point to one change I did in the Nam June machine, it was the DC coupling, because without that, you couldn't get positional movement, you could only get waveform distortion. You couldn't actually take something and slowly flip it upside down. Or flip it someplace and leave it there. That was the main thing. They were just all refinements. You know, it was like resolution: how do you sharpen the picture. So we went to a higher voltage on the CRT…

Jon: And the fact that the machine was completely voltage controlled?

Steve: Well, Nam June's sort of was. The voltage control came pretty much from analog computers. Most of the modules we used were things that had been analog computer concepts, such as multiplier, summing amplifiers, dividers, log functions–some of the units have log generators to compensate for intensity and other things). Pretty much just analog computer circuitry. Nam June didn't really have all that much of that in it, but he could have. He actually could have bought it off the shelf because, back in those days, you could still buy analog computers. In fact, Vasulka had an analog computer for a while, if he ever got it working. Some weird old analog computer. The design came from that pretty much.

I was just sort of listening to what people wanted and building it, and Bill [Etra] was one of the people that I was listening to a lot. And he was saying, "Well, what it really needs is a device to…"

Jon: To allow the Paik/Abe to zoom.

Steve: Yeah, that was the DC coupling. That was that. The first unit we built did that. That's an interesting point. That was the main difference between the two, which was simply the fact that we had the control, which the other one didn't have. The Paik/Abe can zoom, but it can only zoom for about a sixteenth of a second, and then it comes back, which makes an interesting pattern. But it couldn't zoom completely, and it can't make smooth flips, and it can't make a square into a pyramid exactly. It can do a lot of the other things that we can do with our machine. But those are the facts. And then as now, people wanted them–in the early stages somebody wanted this and somebody wanted that, and we built modules. We were constantly trying to get the image sharper. We built a couple of units with bigger CRTs. Actually, the one we built for Australia was really an outstanding thing, because we built a completely new CRT unit for it. The two previous to that, one of which is at WNET now, were, in their day, pretty good, however; now we've managed to get about that resolution out of the small tubes. And probably, the one up in Canada is just as sharp.

Bill was in still photography then, before he got into video. I know he had a good line once, which was that he went into film for a while, and he said, "the problem with film was that by the time I got it back from the lab, I forgot why I shot it." That was his excuse for getting into video. He was, also, sort of the first kid on his block with portable video equipment, back when it was brand new. And that got him going and got him interested in it. He was experimenting with a lot of oscillators and things–you know, colors and lots of crazy projects. So, by the time I got tied up with him on this stuff, he already had a pretty good knowledge of what was going on. And we got working with somebody else too who had been working on this for years, and that was Sid Washer. I don't know what he's doing now, but he had been working on building synthesizing type stuff for quite some time and had also figured out the DC coupling thing but hadn't quite gotten it into practice. He and Bill and myself and Greg Leopold were the original bunch of nuts.

Jon: So who were the collaborators?

Steve: The first unit was built by me, Bill, Sid, and a woman–I don't remember her name now–who worked for the telephone company, wired it.

It wasn't anybody who's in video. I was looking for somebody to wire main frames; it was like hundreds and hundreds of feet of wire with nothing longer than eight inches. Anyway, she came in and wired this thing up, and she met a guy here and split. And that was the one at WNET. And then Greg Leopold started working with us, and he managed at the factory. Tom Zafian worked with us on some of the early units, did some wiring. And that was about it.

Greg Leopold used to work for Rectilinear loudspeakers. He didn't collaborate in what the device should do as much as packaging and how the device should do its stuff. In other words, our problem was that we were going to add this unit over here, which seems to be connected up this way, which involves so much power, which involves so much cooling, which involves so much space. And he worked with us on packaging this stuff and getting it all together.

Jon: But in some sense, the parameters of all your circuits were in the public domain?

Steve: Well, actually, the books that we built from were mostly the Motorola book and a little bit of the National book. I had this big Motorola book from which we discovered the multipliers that we used and other stuff. Pretty much put everything together from there. So the circuitry was around. You'd look up an op amp and it would have eighteen different circuits on how to use it, how to raise its power, how to raise its speed–none of which worked, of course. Half the stuff in the book was always screwed up. You know, you built it and then you debugged it. We went that round. Originally, for our multipliers, we were using a multiplier that was an entire multiplier in a chip. But it was noisy, and noise in multipliers was wobbling on the lines. So then we switched over to a Motorola multiplier chip that wasn't a complete unit. It had a bunch of discrete stuff hanging out all over it–which took more parts–but it was a much better item. Also, for a while, we bought multipliers from a company that shall remain unnamed. I would say terrible things about them.

Jon: How did you arrive at the design of your oscillators?

Steve: They use the standard Intersil8038 that the rest of the world used back then. And I basically just designed the thing one night from Intersil literature. They didn't have provisions for triggering the thing, so we had to add a circuit to do that. It wasn't a question of synchronizing. You can't synchronize an oscillator unless it's a multiple of the frequency where these things will lock up at any frequency. You get that by triggering them, and we had to build a little circuit that made the Intersil chip think that it had hit one or the other side of its oscillations so that it would always start off from the same direction of this reset pulse. So we designed it one night sitting on the floor of my living room, and we breadboarded it. Sid did the breadboard on it. And we debugged it and then we put it on a card, and we always said we were really going to do a number on it someday, but we never did. And that was the oscillator. And what it does is, it basically does everything really well. In a free-running mode, it's not very stable. Probably could be more stable, but we don't recommend using it for that. Even myself, I have an old vacuum tube audio oscillator which I use when I want to synchronize something.

Jon: To change the subject slightly, I'm curious how you came up with… how you envisioned the capabilities of this machine and so derived this particular set of modules which are, in some sense, standard to you, like diodes, summing amps, two oscillators, ramp generator, and so on. As well as how you arrived at the basic parameters of control.

Steve: OK, that was pretty much obvious. That's really all it was. Bill had always wanted to zoom, so we had a depth control on it. TV sets have height and width. Oscilloscopes have position, so we had position. Mainly because… intensity, we immediately discovered as being necessary. The first time, we zoomed the thing down to a dot. The one at WNET does not have intensity control. Basically, it has your TV set brightness control. We hadn't voltage-controlled it. So the first one we built didn't have the ability to do zooms too well. The later models had not only the intensity control but also compensation. We did a height times width times depth multiplication. The horizontal center, we discovered–this is an interesting thing–we spent a lot of time working on it, because it's a circuit board that shifts the phase of the synthesizer in relation to the phase of the video. And so it could do like a theater marquee effect. You can roll the video image through it. That, we just dreamed up. It was quite a trick to build it because you had to blank the image so that it didn't come back on the other side, and that was tricky.

Jon: Why did you feel the necessity of building this function?

Steve: We tried to do theater marquee type things where you could roll an image through, and we did it by moving the graphic, but that was never satisfactory. It's the same with rotation. We developed a little bit of rotation stuff. But in that case, it's easier to move the graphic, put it on a turntable…

If people would have problems with them, the problems they would have are that the tubes would get burned–it was that kind of thing. So we made devices to solve that problem. Other than that, I think it was very vague. People would say that they hooked up their toaster to the thing and it did that, could we build a module to do that, so we built a toaster module to do that. That's about the level the thing was at. We built the audio interface that way. People were modulating things with audio.

I'm certainly not an artist, by any stretch of the imagination, by professionally accepted standards, I guess. I mean, I create with the thing because I know how it works electronically. And I'm able to create stuff that I've passed off as art– some of it for considerable amounts of money, considering what it was. But I wouldn't call myself a creative artist, even though I create stuff with it. I do it more like a technician, knowing what the machine can do and knowing what somebody wants done. And a lot of the stuff that has been created with this stuff that people call art. I'd also put into the same category as the stuff I do as a technician. Because I don't think somebody walking over to his TV set and turning the horizontal hold off and photographing the screen constitutes art. But neither does a pile of cement blocks at the Metropolitan Museum of Art constitute art. I have a pile of cement blocks in the back, which I'm considering also selling for $10,000, but nobody has wanted to buy them yet. I also have a pile of plasterboard that I'm going to put out as soon as the cement blocks are sold. By the modern standards of art, I'm sure I'm an artist. By other standards, I'm sure I'm not, including my own. But I'm a damned good technician and I can crank out pretty images, but video art is a pretty vague field.

I have to confess there's some bit of commercialism there. We call the thing, instead of a colorizer, a video synthesizer, which helps it sell.

A lot of people call anything a video synthesizer. We sort of felt that our device was, and we decided to sell out to the administration, and we called this one that because they would buy it and if we called it a colorizer they wouldn't.