This may be the best soundtrack to a BBC physics documentary series you’ll ever hear. Of course, you may not watch a lot of physics documentaries, but if you’re interested, the Brits have them. And this is what one desires from such a score: a series of intriguing miniatures that dances on the edge of wonder while remaining grounded in the tactile.
The popular name of the artist – Alex Smoke – is ironic in the sense that smoke is an entropic property. Billed as Alex Menzies, the artist best known for his techno productions transfers his skills to the field of modern composition. The genre demands a different sort of order – not BPMs, but balance and reflection. Still, from time to time, the germ of a club track manages to sneak through. With a little aid, tracks such as “Disorder 1A”, “Order Uplift 1”, “Disorder 14E” and “OD V6” may still find their way to a dance floor. Every time the Ondes Martenot pops in, it’s cause for celebration.
A strong piano line introduces the album, swiftly joined by short percussive jolts and subdued cello. Is this what we think of when we think of physics? Probably not. The main theme doesn’t even arrive until the middle of the album. The most impressive tracks add marginal noises that conjure mental images of scientific phenomena: the tape hiss of “OD V2”, reminiscent of static waves, also repeated on subsequent tracks; the carbolic bubbling of “Order Disorder Drones 3”; the drone-like swooshes of “Order 7 Piano 7C”, which remind us that the Kathexis label is run by Ricardo Donoso. When hearing these tracks apart from the visuals, one might think of physics, or at least science, without the prompt.
The pieces included here are expected to do one of two things, based on their sonic location. Some are expected to add drama, especially when a topic is dry. Others stand on their own, offering the texture to a dialogue-free illustration. None reach the three-minute mark, which makes the home listening experience a bit disjointed; the flow is different at home than it is on the show. Fortunately, many of the busier tracks are found on Side B, including a batch of the tempo-driven pieces referenced above, as well as the menacing, Carpenter-esque triptych of “Disorder 7 Piano 2”, “Order Disorder Drones 1” and “Order Ligeti”, and in direct contrast, the darkness-dispelling tones of “Disorder 2C”.
It’s a relief to hear that this scientific series has broken the boring mold of the nature documentary, which seems mired in the long outdated Enya/Deep Forest mold. Science is interesting, kids, more so than your parents’ dusty old pop records. The vinyl crackle of “Order Theme 2” is way cooler. Thanks to Alex Menzies, Order & Disorder has the soundtrack it deserves. (Richard Allen)