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The Sweet Sound of… Vegetables?

Vienna's Vegetable Orchestra makes music by thunking on pumpkins and making carrot recorders and cucumberphones

smithsonian.com

With veggies like these, would you make soup or music? Image courtesy of Flickr user SF à gogo.

Kids are usually admonished for fooling around with their food, be it making duck lips out of a pair of Pringles or claws from Bugles corn chips. (Although big kids aren’t always above the sort of mealtime horseplay that would make Miss Manners say “ahem.”) But while playing with one’s food is the sort of behavior that might not be appropriate for the dinner table, it does have its place—namely, the concert hall.

Since 1998, the Vegetable Orchestra, a Vienna-based experimental musical group, has explored the sonic qualities of goods found in the produce aisle. The 11 musicians in the group are a collective of artists and writers who, one evening, began to ponder what would be the most difficult things they could use to try to make music. As luck would have it, they were making soup that night. Their first experimental outing had led to more than a decade’s worth of music making around the world. (They enjoyed their first play dates in the US in 2010, and sadly, their current schedule doesn’t have them on this side of the pond anytime soon.)

Of course, given the impermanent nature of the materials, the orchestra needs to be purchased—as much as 70 pounds  of produce—before every concert. Some veggies have ready-made musicality, such as the percussive sounds that can be produced by thunking on a pumpkin. But other instruments are crafted before each show, such as the carrot recorders and cucumberphones. After a show, the veggies are divvied up, with some going into a vegetable soup shared by the musicians and audience members while some of the instruments are given away. In terms of style, the group’s compositions—yes, you can compose music for vegetables—is more or less its own genre, though it draws on experimental, electronic and pop music.

And no, they’re not vegetarians.

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