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Music / Penguin Cafe Orchestra

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Avant-garde chamber orchestra created by English composer Simon Jeffes. Even if you don't know the name, the chances are that you'll have heard their music in TV, film and advertising - especially the pieces which have become Standard Snippets, such as:


  • Music From the Penguin Cafe (1976)
  • Penguin Cafe Orchestra (1981)
  • The Penguin Cafe Orchestra Mini Album (1983)
  • Broadcasting From Home (1984)
  • Signs of Life (1987)
  • Union Cafe (1993)

Live albums:

  • When in Rome... (1988)
  • Concert Program (1995) note 


  • Still Life at the Penguin Cafe (1990) note 

There are also various compilations, as well as a posthumously-compiled Simon Jeffes solo album, "Piano Music".

Tropes in the work of Penguin Cafe Orchestra:

  • Artifact Title: Not in the PCO's version, but many of the covers of "Music For A Found Harmonium" substitute an accordion - if they even try to emulate the sound of a harmonium at all.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • The first issue of Music from the Penguin Café was described as "played by members of the Penguin Café Orchestra", but had four tracks (the ones recorded just by the core quartet) credited to Penguin Café Quartet, and the rest to an expanded version of the ensemble named Zopf. As PCO turned into a Revolving Door Band of variable size anyway, later reissues dropped the distinction.
    • The original release of the debut album was the only time Café was spelled with an accent. They were the unaccented Penguin Cafe Orchestra forever after.
    • Being on Brian Eno's Obscure label, the first edition had the same photo of a building on the front that all the other albums on the label used, quite unlike the surreal "penguin head" paintings their covers would become known for.
    • Even weirder, some of the tracks had lyrics!
  • Everything Is an Instrument: Notably, one of their most famous pieces "Telephone and Rubber Band", which is built on a British Telecom "engaged" signal, and a bassline played on a rubber band.
  • Fun with Acronyms: "Cage Dead" is built entirely from two four-note sequences: C-A-G-E and D-E-A-D.
  • Genre-Busting: The group's style is notoriously hard to describe, but it has aspects of minimalism, chamber music, folk and country, mixed with the influence of electronic bands, especially Kraftwerk.
  • I Am the Band: It did have other long-term members, but was always Simon Jeffes' project, and ended with his death. (The other members have since performed together under the names of The Anteaters and The Orchestra That Fell To Earth; the current Penguin Cafe is a new ensemble led by Jeffes's son.)
  • Idiosyncratic Cover Art: All of their studio albums (apart from the first pressing of their debut, as noted under Early-Installment Weirdness) had covers featuring paintings by Emily Young of people with penguin heads alongside actual penguins.
  • Longest Song Goes Last: Signs of Life ends with "Wildlife" (10:58).
  • Non-Indicative Name: The live album When in Rome... was recorded in London. Only the group photo on the back was taken in Rome.
  • The Oner: Concert Program was performed in the studio, but done as if it were a live concert.
  • Posthumous Collaboration: Simon Jeffes' solo album Piano Music includes a final PCO track, "Lullaby", which was completed by the other members after his death. Several other tracks on the album were also intended as sketches for a future PCO album, but were just released unembellished.
  • Sequel Song: "More Milk" to "Milk", and "Another One From The Colonies" to "From The Colonies". There's also "Yodel 1", "Yodel 2" and "Yodel 3".
  • Spiritual Successor: Penguin Cafe (no "Orchestra"), the group founded by Simon Jeffes' son Arthur, carries on the same vein. Although officially a separate entity (it contains no actual members of the original group), it does play Simon's compositions alongside Arthur's. There was also The Orchestra Who Fell To Earth (formerly The Aardvarks), which did include various original PCO members.