Composer Creates Music Using Sound of Gravitational Waves

February 24, 2016 | Elizabeth Knowles

Black hole
Photo credit: Ute Kraus/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 2.5)

Listen to the eerie sounds of the universe.

By now, most of us have heard about gravitational waves being detected for the first time two weeks ago (February 11). It was a monumental event for astrophysics and science as a whole, but its implications don’t have to stop there.

Composer Arthur Jeffes along with Samaya Nissanke, one of the astrophysicists on the team that detected the first gravitational waves, decided to use the sounds from the waves to create an out-of-this-world musical experience.

As explained on the project's’ webpage, “When super-dense objects like neutron stars smash together, the shock waves are so violent that they make the actual universe ripple outwards. As when a stone is dropped into a pond, the ripples eventually reach us and tell us about the birth of new black holes.” That’s where the “chirps” we detect come from.

The team combined piano and string instruments with the sound of these gravitational waves . They hope to eventually go even further and create audio-visual experiences that could be used by planetariums, museums and festivals to educate and amaze audiences.

The piano melody isn’t just inspired by the gravitational waves, it is created from them as well: “If you stretch them (the waveform models) out, you get other waves inside them. [...] You can get the computer to just track the shape of the waveform—and that’s how I was getting all the piano melodies,” Jeffes told Motherboard.

SEE ALSO: Listen to the Sound of Two Black Holes Merging

Interestingly, the sounds that we associate with gravitational waves aren’t exactly what was detected by LIGO — what was detected lasted for only 20 milliseconds. It was exaggerated and shifted in frequency so it could be properly heard according to LIGO research scientist Gabriela González during a National Science Foundation (NSF) news conference as reported by Motherboard.

“We can hear gravitational waves,” said González. “We can hear the universe. That’s one of the beautiful things about this. We are not only going to be seeing the universe. We are going to be listening to it.”

Jeffes and planet hunter Jean-Michel Desert, have been working on a similar project — creating a similar audio-visual experience based on exoplanets. Each planet is assigned a “unique 8-note melody,” that can be combined with others to tell their story. Earth-like planets are given a consonant melody, whereas more alien ones sound more dissonant.

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