In every way, the Vegetable Orchestra has ignored that old warning not to play with your food.
The Vienna-based group composes and performs music on instruments made out of vegetables - from carrot recorders to leek violins. Its members craft instruments freshly before every performance, and the off-cuts are used to cook a soup, which is dished out to audience members after the show.
"As you can imagine a 'leek violin' is not the most powerful instrument in the world and needs to be well amplified."
I love cooking and I have a passion for music. What then could please me more than an orchestra that plays music with instruments made out of vegetables?
I cannot remember when I first heard about the Vegetable Orchestra. But when I realised that they were planning to hold a concert some 40 kilometers from my home, I got in touch and was given the opportunity to watch them prepare for a performance.
Based in Vienna, Austria, the orchestra was created in 1998 by artists from a range of backgrounds, from musicians to people in visual fields like painting and design. Their website describes their sound as: “influenced by experimental contemporary, electronic music, musique concrete, noise, improvised music [and] pop music”.
Their brand of playing is summed up simply as: “vegetable style”.
Preparing a concert is a lot of work, as almost all the instruments have to be remade for each performance. The orchestra’s website even explains: “it is hard to play on bad or non-fresh vegetables as they prove to be unreliable... if an instrument breaks just before or during a solo for example, it is often because of a low quality vegetable.” The fresher the produce, the better the sound!
After spending three hours with drills and knives preparing their instruments, the musicians and technicians have to do another three hours of sound checks. As you can imagine a “leek violin” is not the most powerful instrument in the world and needs to be well amplified.
But in the meantime something very important happens backstage; a soup is prepared by the musicians using the leftovers from their instruments. After their concerts, the Vegetable Orchestra always shares this dish with its spectators.
People say all sorts of interesting things about the relationship between sound, taste, and touch. Some biologists or gardeners claim that playing music to plants will help them grow. Many string musicians say that the more you play an instrument, the better it will sound; they even suggest that an instrument “dies” when it is not played because the wood is never opened up by the sound vibrations. A French cook and food critic says that he always speaks to carrots or tomatoes when he peels or cuts them, to prevent them from stressing out.
For hygiene reasons, the Vegetable Orchestra never serves soup made from instruments that have been played. But if they tried, would the soup taste better? I’d love to have a taste!