I first heard Penguin Cafe Orchestra when a piece of their music was used in a phone advert. There was something hypnotic about the piece which meant I couldnt get it out of my mind
Formed by Simon Jeffes, I'll leave it to Wikipedia to go through their history
Describing how the idea of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra came to him, Jeffes said:
|“||In 1972 I was in the south of France. I had eaten some bad fish and was in consequence rather ill. As I lay in bed I had a strange recurring vision, there, before me, was a concrete building like a hotel or council block. I could see into the rooms, each of which was continually scanned by an electronic eye. In the rooms were people, everyone of them preoccupied. In one room a person was looking into a mirror and in another a couple were making love but lovelessly, in a third a composer was listening to music through earphones. Around him there were banks of electronic equipment. But all was silence. Like everyone in his place he had been neutralized, made grey and anonymous. The scene was for me one of ordered desolation. It was as if I were looking into a place which had no heart. Next day when I felt better, I was on the beach sunbathing and suddenly a poem popped into my head. It started out 'I am the proprietor of the Penguin Cafe, I will tell you things at random' and it went on about how the quality of randomness, spontaneity, surprise, unexpectedness and irrationality in our lives is a very precious thing. And if you suppress that to have a nice orderly life, you kill off what's most important. Whereas in the Penguin Cafe your unconscious can just be. It's acceptable there, and that's how everybody is. There is an acceptance there that has to do with living the present with no fear in ourselves.[||”|
The first album, Music From The Penguin Cafe, was released in 1976 on Brian Eno's experimental Obscure Records label, an offshoot of the EG label; a collection of pieces recorded in the years 1974-1976, it was followed in 1981 by Penguin Cafe Orchestra, after which the band settled into a more regular release schedule.
The band played its first major concert on 10 October 1976, supporting Kraftwerk at The Roundhouse. The PCO went on to tour the world and play at a variety of music festivals as well as residencies on the South Bank in London. Between 1976 and 1996 they played in the US, Canada, Australia, Japan, and throughout Europe and the UK. In March 1987 the group was the subject of an episode of the ITV arts series The South Bank Show, on which they performed "Air", "Bean Fields", "Dirt" and "Giles Farnaby's Dream".
Founder member Jeffes died in 1997 and some of the musicians who were at times part of the orchestra continued to play together in various guises.
The lp I bought by them when I eventually found out it who had recorded the piece that I had become transfixed with was a compilation Preludes Airs and Yodels which you can buy here , although there are also various other compilations out there.
I'll leave you with another track that has that powerful hypnotic feel
Music for a Found Harmonium - Penguin Cafe Orchestra