Bob Rutman is an early Steel Resonator instrument maker and builder of “American Industrial folk instruments”. He is known for inventing the Steel Cello in the 1960's, and building metal instruments along with his collaborator Constance Demby. He opened an experimental art gallery in New York called “A Fly Can't Bird But A Bird Can Fly” where he and Demby held a number of happenings. “In 1967 Demby and Rutman held several happening-style events that mixed sonic, visual, and performance art centered around big sheets of metal that the artists had found. In one piece called “The Thing”, Rutman wore a white cardboard box and banged on Demby's sheet-metal creation with “a rock in a sock.” In another piece entitled “Space Mass”, Rutman projected film upon a piece of curved sheetmetal onto which Demby had welded several steel rods that she played as a percussion instrument. Rutman later remarked, “We thought it would sound good as a xylophone, but it didn't.” 1)


Central Maine Power Music Company (CMPMC)

Rutman's first ensemble that featured his invented instruments. Members included Constance Demby, Hugh Robbins, Richie Slamm, and Sally Hilmer, and Dorothy Carter.

The best way to describe our music is to call it “not music.” You see, it often happens that when people hear us play, they say, either in anger or in delight, “That's not music!” It's somewhat akin to the paintings of Jackson Pollock. When the art buffs first saw his work, with the paint drippings and all, they said, “That's not painting.”

Steel Cello Ensemble

Founded in 1976, also called the U.S. Steel Cello Ensemble. The Steel Cello Ensemble produced 10 session recordings in 1989 before disbanding as Rutman moved back to Berlin. The instruments were all steel and built by Robert. Little is known about the exact dates or details of the members when from when the ensemble existed. All music from the ensemble is released through Rutdog Records. Notably Sun Ra performed using instruments from the ensemble.


The Stahlquartett is a steel cello like ensemble that is based off of Robert Rutman's instruments. The ensemble is built and run by Jan Heinke.


The inspiration for Rutman's instruments came from the fantastical sounds made from him hitting fences as a child, the material and sound quality of these interactions led him to work with steel when making instruments.

Steel cello
Bow Chime

Built in Berlin in the 1990s's “The styrophone is the exact opposite to the bow chime and the steel cello, which make a very full sound. Instead, the styrophone is like Gänsehaut! It’s the opposite of beauty, it’s like really ugly and I like that.” 2)

Buzz Chime

A large triangular drone instrument made from a large wooden resonator with a rail and 5 metal tines that are bowed.


Wikipedia article on Rutman 3)
Rutman's website 4), note that it needs adobe flash to run. The website does not have concise details on his instruments, and offers no photos only audio clips.

Robert Rutman is legendary, and often an instrument makers that is unusually widely known. I'm curious about the reasons that so many people know about him. I think his career as an abstract expressionist painter, similar to the wide fame surrounding Harry Bertoia is a major reason.

robert_rutman.txt · Last modified: 2020/08/11 11:46 by mete
CC Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International
Driven by DokuWiki Recent changes RSS feed Valid CSS Valid XHTML 1.0