Listen to this track by avant-garde-minimalist-ambient-folk-jazz-chamber-whatever collective Penguin Cafe Orchestra. It’s “Music For A Found Harmonium”, the opening track as taken from the 1984 album Broadcasting From Home. The track was initially inspired in just the way you might think; by PCO founder Simon Jeffes actually finding a harmonium in an alley in Japan while on tour there, and then building a piece of music around it.
It’s this kind of out of the box thinking that set him upon this road to start with. The music of Penguin Cafe Orchestra is driven by all kinds of sources, from classical music, to jazz, to folk music of all kinds, referencing traditional pop structure and melody using a variety of stringed instruments, piano, and brass. But, another source used to create the music is from “found sounds”, and in found objects too, from rubber bands to discarded harmoniums.
So, how did Simon Jeffes establish this musical approach, and what can be found in this tune that exemplifies it?
Listen to this song by avant-folk harpist, singer, and orchestrally-minded songwriter Joanna Newsom. It’s “Sawdust and Diamonds”, a track as taken from the uniformly praised 2006 record Ys (that’s pronounced Eess, kids). The song was one of five that appeared on the album. Normally, five songs on a record equals an EP. Or, it means (eek!) prog.
But, this is neither.
Actually, at the time, it was hard for many to figure out what this was. It was, and is, kind of it’s own thing. This is most likely why it made so many end-of-year lists across the music journalism spectrum. In part, it’s singularity is what sells it.
But in what sense?
Listen to this track by experimental baroque folk outfit based in Utrecht, The Netherlands; I Am Oak. It’s “Gliss” as taken from their EP Skulk, which was released just this past January.
The band’s work is centered around singer-songwriter Thijs Kuijken, with the overall mood and feel of the music being decidedly noctural. Yet, the night here isn’t a raucous night out, or even noirish, so much as it is spacious and thoughtful, with a sort of dark serenity soaked right in.