Einstein's Cosmic Messengers

Multimedia concert for solo performer and video images

11-minute preview. See also a finale-only preview.

A Project by Andrea Centazzo and Michele Vallisneri

Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of space and time produced by violent events in the distant universe. Albert Einstein predicted their existence in 1916; but only in the last two decades did we achieve the technology to detect them and thus gain unique insight in the dark side of the Universe. This technology is expressed most exquisitely in LIGO, a facility supported by more than 500 researchers in the world scientific community, and a vital member in a developing global network of gravitational-wave observatories. LIGO's measurements illuminate the fundamental nature of gravity and throw open an entirely new window onto the Universe, affording views of previously inaccessible such as the coalescence of black holes and neutron stars.

Composed in celebration of LIGO's history, achievement, and promise, Einstein's Cosmic Messengers is a stunning, vertiginous journey through magnificent visions of the Universe, through Einstein's genius and obsessions, and through LIGO's advanced technology and breathtaking scope. Centazzo's music synthesizes the mystery of Oriental percussive vibrations with the timbral harmonic understanding of contemporary music, and the soul of jazz and rock post-culture.


Concert Program

In the concert, Centazzo plays all sounds and sequences in real time with acoustic and digital instruments. The video was edited and synchronized to the music, using sequences that Centazzo shot with real actors, as well as astronomical images and computer animations originally produced for educational purposes, used here as a broad artistic palette.

1. The Astronomer's Quest

Since his earliest days on Earth, mankind has felt the urge to look up, and try to understand the Cosmos. Slowly, the science of astronomy has emerged from magic thinking and astrology. The interiors were shot at the recently restored theater of San Giovanni in Persiceto, near Bologna, Italy.

2. Eternal Discoveries

In the 20th century, technological breakthroughs and the beginning of space science have allowed us to peer out to the edge of the observable Universe, realizing the promise and dreams of generations of early astronomers, to whom this section is a homage. The video begins at the 13th-century Castel del Monte (Apulia, Italy), built by Emperor Frederick II; its plan, location, and orientation are imbued with great symbolic and mathematical significance.

3. Albert's Lesson

Between 1905 and 1915, Albert Einstein revolutionized our concepts of space, time, and gravity. He based his achievement on the modern tools of theoretical physics, but also on years of deep reflection about physical reality, distilled in thought experiments about the measurement of time, length, and speed.

4. Voices from the Universe

In the forests of Louisiana and the high deserts of Washington state, the LIGO observatories stand poised to listen for minute fluctuations in the fabric of spacetime, which propagate to Earth from our Galaxy and beyond.

5. Inspiral, Merger, and Ringdown

In the dramatic last few minutes in the life of a black-hole binary, these spacetime vortices race around each other at incredible velocities, finally merging in an explosion of gravitational-wave energy that is more luminous than all the stars in the Universe. The instruments used in this section include the true gravitational waveforms of the binary, transposed as audible sounds.


Andrea Centazzo

In his more than 30 years of career, composer, conductor, percussionist and video artist Centazzo has performed in more than 1500 concerts in Europe and the United States; he has recorded over 150 LP's and CD's, and has authored 350 compositions (ranging from operas and symphonies to solo works) and eight musicology books; he has appeared on numerous radio and television broadcasts worldwide; and he has received a number of international music and video awards (Italian Critic's Choice Award, Downbeat Magazine Poll, International Video Festival Tokyo, Prix Arcanal of French Culture, Jazz Forum Critic's Poll, Bruce Chatwin Award, Dramalogue Award, and many more). For 20 years now, Centazzo has been creating multimedia experiences that combine live music with video images, blending traditional instrumentation with the latest digital technology. Most recently, he received broad critical and popular acclaim for his multimedia projects Mandala (inspired by the Buddhist Universe) and Eternal Traveler (inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci), appearing in TV broadcasts at CBS, KPFK, and Rai, and in several international magazines.

Michele Vallisneri

A theoretical physicist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Vallisneri received his PhD in physics from Caltech in 2002. He is a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, as well as the Science Office of LISA, a planned space-based gravitational-wave observatory. His research interests span the detection, analysis, and interpretation of gravitational-wave signals, computational physics, and the creative interface of science and art, as explored through music, visualization, and computer programs.


Music and video by A. Centazzo. Concept by A. Centazzo and M. Vallisneri.

Images, video, and animations: A. Centazzo, California Institute of Technology (LIGO Lab; Division of Physics, Mathematics, and Astronomy; Public Relations), ESA (Hubble Information Center), LIGO Scientific Collaboration, Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics/Albert Einstein Institute, NASA (Beyond Einstein, Chandra), National Science Foundation (Einstein's Messengers), Space Telescope Science Institute (Hubble Heritage Project), Teatro Comunale di San Giovanni in Persiceto, M. Vallisneri.

Special thanks to Jay Marx, Fabio Manganelli, Susanne Milde, Carol Nishijima, Elisa Piccio, Dave Reitze, Carlo Siliotto, Kip Thorne.


Long Beach, October 4, 2008