Videos


Isle of View (Music for Helicopter Pilots)


Dirt


About Simon Jeffes, Telephone and rubber band


Union Cafe (1993)


Music For A Found Harmonium (1989)


Air à Danser (1989)


Oscar und Leni


Whistle Test


Pythagoras's Trousers


NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert (2017)

Penguin Cafe Orchestra

1972–1997

The Penguin Cafe Orchestra (PCO) was founded in 1972 by Simon Jeffes and cellist Helen Liebmann in London. Her music, often composed by Simon Jeffes, combined ethnomusic and minimalist aesthetics. After the death of Simon Jeffes, his son Arthur Jeffes continues the band as Penguin Cafe.

Released in 1976, Music from the Penguin Cafe, the first album by the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, opened up a world of startling possibilities. Predating by the best part of a decade the world-music phenomenon and WOMAD festivals, the record's 'invented folk music' introduced … a plethora of global styles and rhythms. And they came in mature form, housed within deceptively simple, cyclical frameworks that opened onto meandering passages of compelling strangeness. Gregorian chant, minimalist drones and dissonant operatics rubbed shoulders with snatches of ukulele-fueled café Jazz, polks and Celtic reels. Holding the thing together was an almost nursery-rhyme simplicity and … an emphasis on repetition rather than development.1)

The band produced

background music in the best sense: unobtrusive, elegant and light, but not shallow. … In addition to the classical instruments, Jeffes extensively used his preference for the musical form of the 'arte povera' and thumbed his nose at Western orchestral tradition with cheap instruments such as tin flutes, harmonica, melodica and ukulele.2)

Although the band had started out in a revolutionary way, the music they had invented quickly became a commercial mainstream in the 1990s, into which the band almost seamlessly merged.

Links


1) Buckley, Peter (ed.): The Rough Guide to Rock. Rough Guides 2003, 780
2) Christoph Wagner: Leicht, aber nicht seicht. Das Penguin Café Orchestra. In: Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, 155:10 (1994), 56.