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The Penguin Cafe Orchestra

Founded by Simon Jeffes in 1972 after a hallucination caused by a bout of food poisoning, Penguin Café Orchestra was an Avant grade ensemble, active until 1997. Like everything notable it all started with a vision, quite literally …

Next day when I felt better [after his illness], I was on the beach sunbathing and suddenly a poem popped into my head. It started out ‘I am the proprietor of the Penguin Café, 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 Café 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” – Simon Jeffes

Penguin Café is a reincarnation of the original ensemble founded in 2009. The group was brought together by Arthur Jeffes, the son of Simon Jeffes and Emily Young. He continues the legacy of his father.

The music of both the Penguin Cafe Orchestra and its successor defies classification. Its aesthetic repertoire is grounded in the formality of the classical tradition while drawing and combining a diversity of musical motifs including modern minimalism, folk, jazz, Cajun music as well as Madagascan beats.

The cacophony of eclectic musical influences, spanning the globe, instruments and time periods are masterfully synchronised into surprisingly harmonious compositions full of richness, texture, and depth. Formality is juxtaposed with freedom, orderliness with chaos, seriousness with playfulness, reality with imagination. In the words of Simon Jeffes himself:

“What sort of music is it? Ideally I suppose it’s the sort of music you want to hear, music that will lift your spirit. It’s the sort of music played by imagined wild, free, mountain people creating sounds of a subtle dreamlike quality”.”  – Simon Jeffes

The Spotted Zebra Xylophone Studio is an ode to the Penguin Café Orchestra. The practice attempts to recontextualise not only the music but spirit of Simon Jeffes, through the medium of architectural expression and thought. An understanding and respect of what is and what has come before is essential, however it must not come at an exclusion of what could possibility be. It is a ethos grounded in free thought, openness, historical & cultural awareness, experimentation, thirst for knowledge, learning and discovery.

The architecture we envision aims to be an affirmation of life, be inclusive and conducive to all its potentialities.

Long live Simon Jeffes & the Penguin Café Orchestra!