Think vintage video hardware has nothing on classic analog music synths like the Moog and Buchla? Think again.

The Rutt-Etra video synthesizer, circa 1972, did sophisticated video raster manipulations. The invention of Steve Rutt and Bill Etra, the Rutt-Etra may not have had its Keith Emerson, but it did inspire Nam Jun Paik and Gary Hill. If the feedback effects look 70s, the more unusual raster effects put software to shame. And it was all done with hardware, producing creative effects, a certain purity of technique, and lovely soft edges — not to mention knobs and faders for the artist instead of the lines of code needed for software. has a history with some Real video clips, with assistance from the creators. Any other good resources, please leave in comments:

Rutt-etra Video SynthesizeR – ( 1972) [Source of image above, labeled Vasulka 1992]

Vade points to a 2004 video by the talented peoples of Ghost Robot. Check out Staring at the Sun by TV on the Radio. Director Elliot Jokelson is lucky enough to own the gear, and he puts one of these classic devices to great artistic use. Had the effects focused on the simple mono raster effects alone, you might have assumed this was some new digital technique.

Ghost Robot videos

Updated — vade explains who owned the gear in question in comments:

Elliot does not own the gear, and the Rutt Etra was Benton C Brainbridge’s. The processing was done in realtime and the output was re-scanned (or re-imaged if you prefer) into a digibeta deck for editing later on. This is because technically speaking, the Rutt Etra does not output anything *close* to a standards compliant NTSC video signal. The only possibe output device is a CRT, which you have to point a camera at. Really nice stuff. It should be noted that the Rutt Etra’s output is black and white. The color was added in post.

As in music synthesis, even if you can’t get your hands on the original gear, there’s a lot to learn just by trying to re-conceive these classic effects. This gets me thinking about 3D projects in Jitter and Processing. Anyone done something similar? And, forgiving my ignorance, I wonder what would it take to build hardware like this using 2007 tech?

Updated again! Answer: vade is already on it, with an in-progress Jitter patch. More good links in comments.