Alex Paxton: Happy Music for Orchestra

‘In every moment of the piece’, says Alex Paxton, ‘I’m asking myself what is the most sonically sensual thing that can happen here, and here, and here.’ The result, from a multi-award-winning composer described as ‘unique, inventive, brave and arresting’, is an album of joyful music performed by orchestra, ensemble and improvisers.

With inspiration as wide-ranging as the artists Ody Saban, Madge Gill and Grayson Perry, the cartoon music of Roobarb and Custard, the water drumming of the African Baka women, or the sheer chaotic joy of getting a beginner class of primary-school children to make music together, Paxton’s work finds happiness in mess, friction and excess. As booklet writer Tim Rutherford-Johnson comments, ‘It is not necessarily, or not exclusively, music made from happiness. Rather, it is music that makes happiness out of very much more difficult things.’

"an opportunity to revisit that early life carnival of sensation, to suspend the imperatives of orderly and goal-orientated progress and luxuriate in immediacy...wild imaginings...Paxton forges structures that miraculously hold together, while threatening constantly to burst apart from the sheer exuberance of his tempestuous orchestration...the orchestra seem to skip, hop or spin as the mood of the instant demands....melodic fragments flitter like incidental patterns forming across the brilliantly tinted surface of a swarming continuum....conceptually sophisticated as well as irrepressible in spirit"

"Sheer sensual sonic magic from Alex Paxton on the whole album ... I just wish they [Dreammusics Orchestra] were sound tracking all of my slumbers ... "

"A raptors gurgling a cataract of catharsis, an album we can’t get enough of hear not he new music show...a pleasure garden of torrents and plashes"


"A Magician of Sound ,,, classical-jazz sonic blasts ...violently overwhelming...I was seduced, and am not the only one ... digesting Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five band recordings, John Zorn’s Downtown experimentalism, Harrison Birtwistle’s brash blocks of sound, music of the Celtic oral tradition, Hildegard von Bingen’s medieval chants — and it all comes out, sometimes at once ... carefully constructed ... forbiddingly dense it is balanced by its playfulness ... hyperkinetic rainbow-hued ... it's joy and freedom"

"Playful entities... Over the course of numerous commissions and three studio albums, Paxton’s music has stood in defiance of traditional stylistic boundaries ... uncompromising intensity ... central to Paxton’s joyously maximalist aesthetic is an almost childlike innocence and playfulness present in so much of his work ..."

A rising star...unique and restless approach... [Paxton's] style shines through with the use of a roaring and bustling brass, restless strings, high-pitched buzz and an omnipresent sense of playfulness and easy-goingness ... Even without using electronic means, he creates the sense of a crisp hyperpop-infused electronic sound ... Bye is reminiscent of meeting someone special who you do not want to part ways with ... Paxton's lovely and complex layering of sounds, reminiscent of the hectic, anxiety-ridden modern-day lifestyle, should remind us that, even in the midst of unreplied emails, unpaid bills, and a growing sense of loneliness in a more-than-ever interconnected world, it is still possible to find joy and feel alive ..."


"A candy store, which is so quite detailed excellent, so painted in all details. And then I had to think of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the movie...also has such a clownish, actually sad undertone sometimes....I was really quite often moved while listening... Really very beautifully produced, because despite this overabundance and this insanely dense texture, it all remains audible through and you can really get into this space... And it's all about joy, happy music, joy. Not in clarity, balance, perfection and good taste, but in disorder, friction, imprecision and excess...insanely precise perfection in this disorder is great, because the rhythms are so complex. I find it rhythmically totally interesting through these hetero rhythmic overlays..you actually never know what's coming. There is repetition, there are developments, you can sometimes read out something like motifs or themes, but actually it can all be over in the next moment and something completely different can come. You're always a bit up in the air and don't know what's going to happen"

SWR2 - Wikidata


"Chaotic, frenzied and maximised sensation is the order of the day for Alex Paxton’s gloriously childlike...cartoonish world of blinding colour, elastic movement and warm humour...frenzied action...ecstatic surges and sudden lulls evoke a child gradually tiring themselves out with play...meticulous, finger-breaking arrangements. Paxton presents tension between raw, fleeting sensation and the restrictive geometry of adulthood...rich emotional expression...gorgeous, yearning melody...the difficulty of saying goodbye to a loved one is conveyed with moving realism. In focusing on raw sensation, Happy Music For Orchestra’s cartoonish character proves a disarmingly naturalistic, powerful means of expressing real emotion"

read the full review here

"It's brave to even attempt to put this composer into one box...the promise of utter enjoyment is high"


"Paxton will Make your ears ping..brings brightly coloured, loopy joy to our ears..sweet energy & frantic humour...It’s jazzy & noisy & oddly serious"

"listen & then listen again & again to the music...like opening a treasure box..multi layered treat...beautiful orchestral arrangements...almost perfect fusion between jazz & orchestral...noisy, fulsome and evocative..a cordial and mesmeric patchwork..the entire album is captivating...any improvised music lover presses “play” they will find it difficult to prise themselves away..fun eye-popping music...clever individual and very very good...there is everything to love about this album"

"marvellous stuff..meticulously arranged frantic unpredictable arrangements that give the impression of improvisation.. sounds like absolutely nothing else"

"a manic, full-frontal, maximalist music, coming at you like a freshly-unleashed tiger, with an energy that is inspiring & exhausting...African water drumming, free jazz, Ligeti, Roobarb and Custard...brave pursuit of a self-made vision...seriously intoxicating music"

read the full review here

'Alex Paxton is clearly having a lot of fun here, drawing on all manner of charaterful inspirations ... it's very likeable'


“another maximalist, gem-filled treasure-chest of an album...much of both hilarity and cleverness...episodes of considerable beauty...happy music for orchestra might just spread some of its happiness into you. It did to me"

“...smiling, in a baggy T-shirt with iridescent colours sprayed with multicoloured graffiti....stylistically an outsider...truly unique sound language, the most obvious feature of which is its all-encompassing character: joy... sometimes tragically beautiful Strawberry with countertenor Patrick Terry, and in Bye... six excellently orchestrated and, performed pieces... moments of reverence amidst the well-known insane playfulness and joy... which remains virtually impossible to resist"

"textures and styles morph and meld with astonishing speed across th six pieces on this disc ... cartoon music, math rock, movie music, free jazz, commercial jingles, cheerily little diatonic tunes...rococo of a hoarder's living room...dizzying and impressive... very contemporary: very very complicated emotions that are no less earnestly and strongly felt for it ... like lying down on a couch completely exhausted but still scrolling on a smartphone ... sheer super- abundance of novelty and thrill ... hyper-virtuosic noodling...post-(post-post-post-)punk style ... panying the flushing of a toilet...so much to enjoy in this music ... extraordinarily vibrant and virtuosic playing from the Dreammusics Orchestra"


full review here


"Represents his real masterpiece...Updating his multifaceted fecundity to the size of an orchestra...cartoonish assault on the senses, music in which improvisation and composition conceive a magical journey between splashes of color and impetuous brushstrokes, bursts of exuberance and rare moments of recovery, in constant movement. Anything to snatch a moment of happiness....game of extreme compositional expertise and rebellious improvisation...vibrant euphoria...Carl Stalling's legendary soundtracks were remixed by a dazed free-jazz interpreter...A true fantasist of his instrument...loving puppeteer"


"...some of the most genuinely extraordinary orchestral music you’ll ever have the good fortune to experience....staggeringly happy...unstoppable, continue-at-all-costs need to sing. Melody is literally everywhere... exuberant kindred spirits letting rip with the simultaneous elegance and zeal of football supporters....a demented dawn chorus...ultimate experience for the aural senses – it’s undeniably a superabundance, yet it’s also an unbelievable, glorious treat"

5 Against 4

"exudes pure, unconventional joy ... exuberant imagination ... combines jazz and classical music, wild improvisation and complex notated scores ... a desire for excess and often childish humor, tumultuous euphoria, ecstatic free jazz and sounds like comic cartoons ... huge panorama made up of a thousand bizarre details that brighten, cheer and ultimately disappear in quiet magic ... a creolisation of idioms ... symbolizes freedom"

Release Date: 28 April 2023
Catalogue No: DCD34290
Total playing time: 46:28

Recorded on 21 April & 6 October 2018, 19 May 2019, 8 March,
5 & 29 August 2021
Recorded & mixed by Alex Paxton

Design: Drew Padrutt
Booklet editor: Henry Howard
Cover image: Alex Paxton

Featured interview


Alex Paxton on Happy Music for Orchestra

‘I want to make the music that makes me feel most alive to write'... composer Alex Paxton is interviewed ahead of his album launch in the Financial Times ...

Album Booklet

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