Einstein's Sonata

Einstein’s Sonata: a sound map of the Milky Way at Festival della Scienza

Conference / Performance in national première

Fedora Florian, performer

Luca Ieracitano, pianist

Valeriya Korol, astrophysicist

Pasquale Napolitano, costume designer

Samantha Stella, director and performer Andrea Valle, composer

Palazzo Ducale, Sala del Maggior Consiglio, Genoa, Italy

Friday 29th October 2021, 9 pm

“What are you doing so late at night? I’m counting stars.

Do you know all their names? Yes, I do.

How many did you count so far? One hundred.

Is that all? There are more than 100 in the sky.

100 is enough. After you count 100, other 100s are all the same.”

(Drowning by Numbers di Peter Greenaway)

Einstein’s Sonata is a performance directed by visual artist Samantha Stella, stemming from a project conceived by astrophysicist Valeriya Korol. The music is written by composer Andrea Valle and performed by pianist Luca Ieracitano. The national première, scheduled in Genoa on 29th October, is part of the rich program of Festival della Scienza, now in its nineteenth edition, which this year has "Maps" as its keyword.

The title of the performance is a tribute to Albert Einstein, 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics, who predicted the existence of gravitational waves - ripples of spacetime - within the theory of general relativity, although their direct detection became possible only a century later. The title also acknowledges Einstein’s strong passion for music – his mother, Pauline, was a talented pianist and he was introduced to the study of the violin at the age of six, and then later the piano. Indeed, according to Einstein, the relationship between music and science is very close.

Gravitational waves represent a fascinating and a completely new field of Astrophysics. So far, they have only been detected from the distant Universe, but astronomers are certain that there are many gravitational wave sources also in our own Milky Way galaxy. White dwarf stars (end point of evolution for most stars in our Galaxy), in very close binary systems, orbiting one another in less than a few hours, produce strong gravitational waves. Each of these double white dwarf systems emits one single frequency of gravitational waves (one note), but since the properties of different systems may vary, each binary will emit a different note. Millions of double white dwarfs, which we expect to be present in the Milky Way, thus create a melody of our Galaxy. Einstein's Sonata therefore represents a musical exploration of the map of Galactic double white dwarfs detectable with LISA (Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, future mission of the European Space Agency) simulated in the studies of Valeriya Korol. Through a sonification process, composer Andrea Valle morphed theoretical data received from Valeriya into a composition entitled “Periplo del Latte” (literally “Periplus of the Milk”, where Periplus in Latin relates to a Voyage). The composition, a set of 11 pièces, is performed by the pianist Luca Ieracitano.

Periplo del latte by Andrea Valle, score excerpt. Full composition can be listened and downloaded including the musical score on bandcamp/andreavalle/periplo-del-latte

Einstein’s Sonata is visually inspired by the opening scene of the film Drowning by Numbers (1988) by British film director and artist Peter Greenaway. The film opens with a little girl - adorned in a dress from Spanish Baroque painter Diego Velazquez’s Las Meninas, 1656 – rope-skipping while counting stars from 1 to 100. “Once you’ve counted 100,” she says, “all the others are the same.”. On stage, alongside the piano performance by Luca Ieracitano and a reading by Samantha Stella, a girl will wear a dress inspired by the film and made by costume designer Pasquale Napolitano.

At the end of the performance, Valeriya Korol will explain the scientific research that led to the construction of the map. Andrea Valle will talk about how scientific data have been transposed into music. Samantha Stella and Luca Ieracitano will present their interpretation of the Sonata.

Trailer by Samantha Stella


Andrea Valle, associate professor at the University of Torino, where he teaches Semiotics and Sound programming in the Performing Art programme (DAMS). He started as a bass player, then studied composition and has developed projects involving the computational control of physical objects, with a particular preference for working with commonly discarded materials. His work includes also improvisation, sound installations and music for multimedia performances and installations.

Valeriya Korol, astrophysicist, actually working at the the Institute for Gravitational Wave Astronomy of the University of Birmingham. Her current scientific work focuses on how gravitational waves from sources within our Galaxy can be used to reconstruct the structure and the past history of the Milky Way. She is co-founder of the LISA Early Career Scientists group aimed at promoting the values and encouraging the development of the new generation of scientists working on gravitational waves.

Luca Ieracitano, pianist, playing piano since the age of 7. He performed in Europe, U.S.A., Japan and Australia, regularly appearing at some of the most relevant festivals, as soloist, chamber music and orchestra. In the last 20 years Luca Ieracitano focused his research on contemporary and XX Century music and art. He premiered hundreds of new works and collaborated with some of the biggest composers of today.

Samantha Stella, visual artist, performer, set & costume designer, film director, singer and musician. She works on projects mainly focused on body and live-art based practices and through the use of different languages with installations containing structural and bodily elements, photo, video, music and voice. Her work has been featured in contemporary art galleries, museums, theaters, churches and castles. www.samanthastella.com


The project is funded by the Gruber postdoctoral fellowship awarded by the International Astronomical Union, and by the Dutch Research Council (NWO), awarded to Valeriya in 2019 in order to undertake a postdoctoral fellowship at the Institute for Gravitational Wave Astronomy of the University of Birmingham.

Valeriya Korol is grateful to Elena Maria Rossi (Leiden University), Silvia Toonen (University of Amsterdam), Paul Groot (Radboud University) and Gijs Nelemans (Radboud University) whose contribution to research at the base of Einstein's Sonata was fundamental, and to Alberto Vecchio (University of Birmingham) for the support with the project.