Perhaps you recall “Telephone and Rubber Band.” And who can forget: “The Ecstasy of Dancing Fleas,” “Milk,” “Hugebaby” or “Pythagoras’s Trousers”? It’s all high-spirited stuff from the Penguin Café.
Known to those familiar with “The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle” for helping with the string arrangement on Sid Vicious’ “distinctive” version of “My Way,” classical guitarist and composer, Simon Jeffes had become “disillusioned with the rigid structures of classical music and the limitations of rock music.”
Then, while in the South of France, he was on the beach sunbathing and as he later recounted, “suddenly a poem popped into my head (where) I am the proprietor of the Penguin Café (and) I will tell you things at random… 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 Café your unconscious can just be. There is an acceptance there that has to do with living the present with no fear in ourselves.”
Teaming up with cellist Helen Liebman, Jeffes began to experiment with an assortment of musical configurations, both live and in the studio, sometimes playing various instruments himself, sometimes bringing in other musicians, depending on the needs of a particular piece or when making live appearances, such as when The Penguin Café Orchestra (PCO) opened for the German band (“fahr’n, fahr’n, fahr’n auf der Autobahn”) Kraftwerk at North London’s Roundhouse in 1976.
A first album, “Music From the Penguin Café” was released that same year, followed by a world tour (with mainly music festival appearances). The next album, “Penguin Café Orchestra” followed in 1981. And so it went for the next 15 years, with six studio albums, numerous live (and televised) performances and marginal renown, until Simon Jeffes’ died from a brain tumor in 1997.
Today’s selection comes from “Signs of Life” the PCO’s (1987) fifth album. “Perpetuum Mobile” is Latin for “perpetual motion” and is actually a long-recognized musical term referring to an ongoing steady stream of notes or a musical progression that’s played over and over again. Composers as varied as Beethoven, Haydn, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Paganini, Debussy, Shostakovich, Britten, and numerous others have effectively tapped into this technique. And to this you can add Simon Jeffes…with all the enthusiasm of a free-flowing life force.