Have you heard of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra? I hadn't before last night, when I was trying to track down the name of a lovely, familiar-sounding piece of music that played during an old episode of This American Life. After some searching, I determined that the piece of music was "Perpetuum Mobile" by the aforementioned Penguin Cafe Orchestra:
I happened to remember that song in a commercial (for what, I couldn't tell you). But that's not the only Penguin Cafe Orchestra work you most likely recognize. Take a listen to "Telephone and Rubber Band":
Those first few bars were immediately familiar to anyone who listened to the radio around 1995, since they were sampled by Spacehog for their song "In the Meantime."
There's plenty more floating around YouTube, and Wikipedia tells me that the group's music is popular in film, television, and commercials. That's hardly surprising, since everything I've heard sounds like some unreleased film soundtrack, combining the eccentric instrumentation of Jon Brion with the hypnotic repetition of Phillip Glass.
Unfortunately, there's a sad coda to my new discovery: Simon Jeffes, the founder of the orchestra, died in 1997 of a brain tumor.