Gravitational Waves (2016) 9'
for orchestra and electronics. Composed in collaboration with Uros Rojko




Dieses Werk ist erhältlich bei Boosey & Hawkes für Aufführungen in for the world.

World Premiere

Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Aldeburgh
National Youth Orchestra of GB / Edward Gardner


Anmerkungen des Komponisten

How does the universe sound? And how is the individual human being confronted with the infinity of time and space which is beyond imagination? When NYO asked me to write a companion piece to Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra and Holst’s The Planets, I felt that this piece should deal with these questions.

In September 2015, gravitational waves were detected by both of the twin Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detectors, located in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington, USA. The phenomenon detected was the collision of two black holes. Using the world’s most sophisticated detector, the scientists listened for a split second as the two giant black holes, one 35 times the mass of the sun, the other slightly smaller, circled around each other. Of course the black holes were orbiting for much longer, probably millions of years, but we couldn’t hear them until the very last 200 thousandths of a second of the event. Before that, they were too low in frequency for the LIGO detectors.

Based on the observed signals, LIGO scientists estimated that the black holes for this event were about 29 and 36 times the mass of the sun, and the event took place 1.3 billion years ago. The gravitational waves were predicted by Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity a hundred years ago, but only now has this theory been confirmed.

The most fascinating ideas in this discovery are for me:

  • We can hear a sound of the universe that goes back to an absolutely unthinkable past.and shows us that the universe is a gigantic, never-ending cosmos of sounds – not in spherical harmonies like the philosophers and musicians of the ancient world and Renaissance thought but like a somewhat chaotic sound.
  • The LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC) is a team of scientists and collaborators out of 80 nations worldwide. This discovery was an international collaboration of highly professional individuals who gave their best for a team result. So only if we combine our energy, we get the best results – which does surely apply to a youth orchestra as well and especially such a fantastic team as the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. This is why I am happy to use all musicians from NYO.
  • The simultaneity of past and future: Astrophysicists and astronomers are the archaeologists of the past and yet they are researching for the future of mankind.

But what does this discovery tell us about our lives on earth and our relationship to the infinity of the universe? As Isaac Newton says: ‘I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people.’

My piece explores the idea of going back from the moment of discovering the gravitational waves to the actual collision of the two black holes billions of years ago, then forward again to the present. I was also inspired by the imagery used by some scientists with regard to the event, e.g. ‘Two black holes draw so close together in the universe that their own gravity forced them into a deadly dance.’

Gravitational Waves is divided in six parts:
I. The Universe...
II. Two Black Holes...
III. Their Deadly Waltz...
IV. Their Colliding...
V. Their Coalescence...
VI. 1.3 Billion Light Years Later...

Gravitational Waves was developed in collaboration with the composer Uros Rojko. It uses the original chirp sound from the LIGO Scientific Collaboration which is not only heard through a sampler but also reflected through the sound from the orchestral players in different ways. The work is jointly commissioned by the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and BBC Radio 3.
Iris ter Schiphorst


"Iris ter Schiphorst’s surging Gravitational Waves was inspired by the throb, detected last September, of two black holes colliding more than a billion years ago. She translated this into a ten-minute piece that was as much theatre – the players putting on masks, nodding, swaying and shouting with choreographic precision – as muscularly minimalist music. Both cosmic and comic, it was a dazzling showpiece for virtuoso youth." (Richard Morrison, The Times, 08 Aug 2016)

"Gravitational Waves was inspired by new scientific research validating Einstein, and it summoned a novel and symbolic mix of visual, aural and vocal gestures. The synchrony, whereby the players first wore white or black masks, then embodied the waves of the title in perfectly choreographed movements rippling through the serried ranks, created an arresting counterpoint to the imaginative, otherwordly soundscape realised by Ter Schiphorst and co-composer Uros Rojko. Evanescent and evocative, embracing known and unknown, it captured something of the awesome history and infinity of time." (Rian Evans, The Guardian, 05 Aug 2016)

"Schiphorst uses sounds from the scientific project heard through a sampler and reflected in the orchestra as well as a broadcast narrative. The soaring brass, scurrying strings and metallic percussion offer a sense of infinity. There is also a strong sense of visual performance, for the musicians don masks, sway in unison, make vocal interjections, and at the end raise their arms in a gesture of hope for the future. It proved an arresting piece to see and one imagines it was enjoyable to present." (Brian Barford, Classical Source, 06 Aug 2016)

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