Ron Pellegrino’s Light-Cymbal


as listed on eBay (11/23-11/30, 2010)

The preceding two photos are examples of how the piece might look in a house or a gallery, outside of the performance context. Note that the piece is a mobile, which means all its variables are in flux all the time. Each photo above captures just a single instant.

The diameter of the light-cymbal is 24 inches; the diameter of the doughnut hole in the center of the light-cymbal is 5.5 inches.

From the studios of electronic arts pioneer, Ron Pellegrino -

The light-cymbal is a light sculpture by California artist Toby Raetze. When I acquired this piece in the early 1970s Toby was on the faculty of Oberlin College soon to return to his home state of California. At that time he called his pieces “sculpted lenses”, pieces he literally ground from plexiglass blocks and then polished into lenses that were designed to float on air currents when hung via monofilament and spinners (nearly invisible fishing gear that will be included in the package). Today he calls these sculptures “light-cymbals”. For more information on Raetze’s work go to

The light-cymbal is a multidimensional piece. It works beautifully as a simple mobile (as above) hung in a room with good natural light -- a sun room, a living room, a great room, or even a large bedroom with a lounging area. It floats ever so gently and smoothly on air currents. Light that passes through it is transformed into organic liquid imagery that is seen both in and on the lens as well as through the lens on the walls of the space that surround the piece. The light that is reflected off its surfaces is just as beautiful as that which passes through it. The outer edge of the large disk is ground to refract light so as to create rainbows when high intensity light such as sunlight strikes the edge of the lens. The inner edge of the disk around the doughnut hole is ground to do the same thing. The colors are seen mixing with the imagery on the lens as well as with the reflective surfaces beyond the lens -- walls, mirrors, etc. Of course this is art so it’s made for the eyes not for words despite my best attempts to describe it here. Because it plays with natural phenomena such as light and air currents, the piece is a superb vehicle for contemplation and relaxation in and out of the performance context. No smoke required.

While we were both on the Oberlin faculty (he in the Art Department and I in the Conservatory of Music) we collaborated on a number of events some of which we were calling interactive sound and light environments, today what would be called installations. Our environments (actually complex systems designs) integrated analog synthesizer generated music, imagery created by high intensity light reflecting off and refracted by his lenses, the movement of audiences into and out of our performance spaces, and specially designed electronic interfaces that facilitated the communication and interaction of the music, the imagery, and the audience movement.

Like any good work of modern art, this light-cymbal carries with it a long and varied history of performances, events, and settings. It’s one of the two light sculptures Toby and I used in our multi-day Metabiosis events in Oberlin performance spaces. See the preceding sketch of the system as well as the descriptive newspaper review of one of those public events.

The following set of four photos are shots of still images created by various angles of light incidence relative to a single rotating lens. The images are created by one and the same lens floating on air currents and changing its position relative to the light source. Of course you don't see the lens directly (yet you do see its shadow), you don't see the images reflected off the lens, and you don't see the refracted rainbow effects. What you do see are stills of the diffracted light that has passed through the lens mixed with its shadow. All of the action unfolds organically at a pace that's directly related to the rate of the float.

The light-cymbal was featured on a Leading Edge Music Series event at Texas Tech where a beautiful dancer’s movements created the air currents that moved it while abstract slides were projected through it; all was knit together by a trombonist coming on to the dancer with the movement of his slide and the sound of his instrument. The light-cymbal was also a key player in numerous Real* Electric Symphony performances in the San Francisco Bay Area including art museums, science museums, galleries, churches, and art and tech gatherings; in some of those events it processed laser light of various colors as well as high intensity white light. Plus it has always occupied a prime viewing location in all of the 10 different places I’ve lived in since I acquired it.

So it’s a piece with a colorful history in the electronic arts of sound and light. It’s use in the Metabiosis pieces is featured in my 1983 book, The Electronic Arts Of Sound And Light, as well as an article (Cymatic Music: Towards A Metatheory Of Harmonic Phenomena) I wrote in 1983 for Leonardo, the premiere international journal for art and technology; because both publications are considered "classics" in the field, references to this particular light-cymbal appear in theses, dissertations, and books all over the world. Even though my book and article were published almost 3 decades ago, those publications continue to receive considerable attention today with new citations of the article coming out regularly and the book remaining a strong global seller on the used book market. Plus the most extensive coverage it has received to date is in my latest book, Realizing Electronic Dreams: A Composer's Notes And Themes (2010), which has just been released in a limited edition. The point of this paragraph is that in various esoteric international art circles, this particular light-cymbal has a certain level of fame which is likely to last well into the future.

If it's so great, why am I letting it go? Because I’m bidding farewell to much of my past by passing along instruments and tools that I hope others will enjoy.

Back to Pellegrino's Instruments Distributed via eBay in the Recent Past