Messy vs. tidy sounds!

Order / Disorder

Order and disorder are words that describe an amount of organisation. An ordered environment is neatly organised (for example, think of a musical piece by Bach), while a disordered environment is chaotic and messy (think of a piece of noise music by Merzbow).

From Disorder to Order

This is the opening section of But The Kitchen Sink… by Duncan Chapman. Listen to how the chaos and disorder of many sounds gives way to the much more ordered drone tone.

Levels of Order

Moving from organisation to mess, and the reverse, from mess to organisation, can be a really useful tools in composition.

Even our own ears make this transition through something called the ‘cocktail party effect’.

Think about being in a really busy space with lots of people chattering (perhaps the playground at lunchtime break or the school corridors on the way between lessons), even though these are really busy and disordered environments, we are still able to hold our own individual conversations with our friends.

This is because our ears tune out the background noise and focus only on the sounds that we are interested in (the sounds of our friends). In this way, our ears change what we hear, from disorder to order.

This extract uses contrasting sections of high and low density.

Order and Attention

Order and disorder can be really useful in focusing our attention on specific sounds almost as if we were zooming into them (just as the cocktail party effect works, we can create a busy disordered soundscape and then gradually move to an organised environment, containing the sounds that we want listeners to focus on).

Many Voices to One

The gradual drop in density draws our attention to the individual voice at the end.


Order and disorder are tools used in the works of many important composers, for example: Iannis Xenakis and György Ligeti.