The music of Penguin Cafe is like no other. Its origins date back to the early '70s, within fever dreams Simon Jeffes had that were brought on by food poisoning. In those dreams he imagined a dispassionate world "where everyone lived in big concrete blocks and spent their lives looking into screens. In one room, there was a couple making love lovelessly. In another there was a musician sat at a vast array of equipment, but with headphones on, so there was no actual music in the room." Eerily accurate.
But he also imagined a place, the Penguin Cafe, where folks could gather, for pleasure, cheer and music. He wanted to hear what that music would sound like, and so created the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. I was always a huge fan of that original music; listeners of NPR may have heard it often in-between news stories during the many years I directed All Things Considered.
While Simon Jeffes died in 1997, his son Arthur has been creating new music infused with his father's original inspiration. He calls his group, simply, Penguin Cafe. You can hear Brazilian sounds in the rhythms, classical and minimalism in the strings, Asia in its harmonium, African sounds in the kalimbas. But honestly, it's none of these; it's a universal dream state.
If you're looking to explore further be sure the listen to Penguin Cafe's recent album The Imperfect Sea, which nods to Kraftwerk, Simian Mobile Disco and Franz Schubert. It's none of these.
The Imperfect Sea is available now. (iTunes) (Amazon)
- "Wheels Within Wheels"
Arthur Jeffes (piano, cuatro); Oli Langford (violin); Neil Codling (piano, harmonium, dulcitone, ukulele); Darren Berry (percussion); Clementine Brown (violin); Vincent Greene (viola); Des Murphy (ukulele); Andy Waterworth (double bass)
Producers: Bob Boilen, Niki Walker; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Niki Walker, Kara Frame, Beck Harlan; PA: CJ Riculan; Photo: Claire Harbage/NPR.
For more Tiny Desk concerts, subscribe to our podcast.