soundstreamsunday: “Isle of View (Music for Helicopter Pilots)” by Penguin Cafe Orchestra

ThePenguinCafeOrchestraMiniAlbum(AlbumCover)One of the great tragedies in twentieth-century music was the death of Simon Jeffes, age 48, in 1997. As leader for 23 years of the classically-pedigreed Penguin Cafe Orchestra, his music was sly, mostly wordless, and while greedily snapped up by advertising firms and public radio stations looking to set a mood fast, in long form the melodic and meditative qualities of PCO’s songs ensure their enduring presence.  As one of Brian Eno’s first production projects following his exit from Roxy Music, PCO has a certain historical cachet, of being associated with the emergence of ambient music, although in many ways Jeffes’ compositions owe much more to the organic performances of his musicians than to the electronic manipulation of sounds that characterizes much of ambient. It’s a kind of extended minimalism, but with a smile (sardonic as it might sometimes be). “Isle of View (Music for Helicopter Pilots)” is from PCO’s third album, Broadcasting From Home (EG, 1984), a record that also featured the popular and much loved “Music for a Found Harmonium.”  The song captures a not atypical approach, a melodic loop of bass and guitars and ukeleles, that morphs slowly and underpins a sympathetic line, often just a simple sustained note, on the cello. Occasionally, as here, percussion adds untold dramatic effect. It is comfort music that is genre challenging, for “New” music should not be this accessible, and pop music should not feel this free.

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