With the Vegetable Orchestra, music is more than just food for the soul

January 11th, 2012

For the musicians of the Vegetable Orchestra, peppers make up horns, hollow pumpkins replace drum sets, and bound celery sticks resemble guitars. In an age when music is defined by its viral prevalence, The Vegetable Orchestra is literally going back to its roots.

The eleven-person orchestra records and performs all of its music by using fresh vegetables as instruments. Founded in 1998 in Vienna, their odd sound has proved to be exceptionally successful over the years, especially in New York City. Each concert takes considerable preparation, since each performance begins with no equipment. Unlike that of any modern band, the instruments themselves must be thrown away after every performance. Parts of the leftover vegetables become ingredients for vegetable soup, which is served to the audience after a concert.

The orchestra’s core philosophy revolves around the notion that every object represents an “intricate universe of sound” and that “each thing could be a tool to open up a point of view”, and its members seek to expand what is considered music and how it is created. The band describes their sound as “contemporary, beat-oriented, experimental Electronic, Free Jazz, Noise, Dub, and Clicks’n’Cuts”. Ironically, their music has been compared to that of modern electronic bands.

Like most musicians the members of the Orchestra are sensitive to the unique sound and sensation of each (vegetable) instrument used: “For low frequency sounds, special sorts of pumpkins offer a wide range of bass instruments,” explained band member Nikolous Gansterer, “whereas in the search for high frequencies, the skins of leek are very usable.” Orchestra members describe themselves as a “growing and living organism” since most of the band’s musicians have not been classically trained in the field.

While when developing the orchestra, its members considered vegetable instruments a “low-tech approach” that produces organic music without the cost of instruments, on their latest album, ONIONOISE, Orchestra members moved away from their low-tech origins, working with sound technicians to make micro-sounds audible. The band expresses their search for new sounds: “We believe we can produce a sound that cannot be easily produced by other instruments, it sometimes sounds like animals, sometimes just like abstract sounds.” But their latest sounds aren’t only the result of a change in their approach to studio recording. Last year, the Orchestra collaborated with Vienna biologists and life scientists to grow their own instruments at selected farms. Said one orchestra member, “Here we hope to shape the sound from its very beginning and concoct a yet unheard sound experience.”

Their heterogenous mix of artistic talent is reflective of their unique concept, says the band. “We have people who are musicians, people who are multimedia artists, people who are fine artists,” said member Jurgen Belakovich, “All of these different concepts come together in this project: Vegetable Orchestra.” The musicians relish more in the music’s innovative process rather than its seemingly low financial benefit. Fortunately for the band, concerts in Europe and Asia are funded entirely by performance venues. Meanwhile, touring in the United States is financially taxing since profits from performances are minimal.

The Vegetable Orchestra continues touring this year, beginning with shows in South America.

By Jessica Passananti