Vienna, Austria is one of the great musical cities of the world. It's been home to Beethoven and Schubert, Mozart and Brahms. And now: the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra.
ï¿½It happens that sometimes people come to see a funny show, and they expect Mozart on vegetablesï¿½, says Tamara Wilhelm, a member of the orchestra.
ï¿½But that's not what they get. What they get is the results of a lot of experiments and a search for new sounds in this new sound universe of vegetables.ï¿½
Wilhelm and her ten colleagues are backstage at a theater in Schenectady, New York. It's a few hours before their debut performance in the United States, and they're building their instruments.
They do this before every show. Drill carrots into recorders; carve clarinets out of squashes; slice grooves into eggplants to make percussion.
Their version of a saxophone is the ï¿½cucumberphone', a hollowed-out cucumber, with a red bell pepper stuck at one end, and a reed made from a carrot at the top.
Tamara Wilhelm told me that in the beginning they concentrated on replicating the sounds of regular instruments. Since then they've moved on. Now they're a group of sonic explorers discovering the innate musical potential of each vegetable.
Orchestra member Jurgen Belakovich, according to his official biography, is the co-founder of a ï¿½music and literature-performance project'.
ï¿½We have people who are musicians, people who are multimedia artists, people who are fine artists. All these different concepts come together in this project: Vegetable Orchestraï¿½, he said.
Many of his colleagues in the orchestra are members of something called The Institute for Transacoustic Research.
They all dress in black.
As we talk, all I can think of is Mike Myers on Saturday Night Live, and his parody of a pretentious German T-V show: Sprockets.
Is that what the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra is, I ask Berlakovich and Wilhelm? Overly-serious Austrian performance art?
Berlakovich says, ï¿½It is full of aesthetical ideas that have to do with fine arts and whatever, and that's the interesting thing.ï¿½
ï¿½Are you launching a revolution?ï¿½, I venture. ï¿½Is this is first stage?ï¿½
ï¿½It's possibleï¿½, offers Wilhelm. ï¿½Our instruments are now shown in school books. You never know what can happen.ï¿½
The Vegetable Orchestra's latest CD is called ï¿½Onionoise'.
One track featuresï¿½among other thingsï¿½a pumpkin bass drum, a ï¿½carrot overblow flute', and a leek zucchini vibrator.
Like much of the orchestra's output, it's a veggie version of the kind of music you'd normally make using a computer.
To be fair, Jurgen Berlakovich and the orchestra agree that playing vegetables is odd.. humorous even. Only that's not all it is.
ï¿½A lot of times people hear ï¿½vegetable orchestra' and they think ï¿½ho ho', so funny, so cabaretï¿½, he says.
ï¿½We're not cabaret. We're doing quite serious music; we see ourselves in a tradition of experimental music, of using everyday sounds. But we don't want to be seen as comedians.ï¿½
I asked another orchestra member, Ulrich Troyer, if they have a riderï¿½a list of what each venue must provide in advance.
He said, yes, firstly a technical riderï¿½what microphones they need, for instance.
ï¿½And a vegetable rider, and on this vegetable rider we have photos, and measurements, units: how big the carrots should be, how big the eggplants should be and so on.ï¿½
They ask for spares, too, in case the vegetables break apart during a show.
There's one other thing. The orchestra makes something else besides their instruments: soup.
ï¿½The last piece is serving the soup to the audience more or less from the stageï¿½, says Jurgen Berlakovich.
ï¿½This is also part of the whole performance. It's always vegetable soup.ï¿½
It goes down big with the crowd in Schenectady. So does the music.
ï¿½I remember a group called Stomp that used to use pans and garbage cans and play like thatï¿½, says local resident Julie Tammer.
ï¿½I especially like the eggplant,ï¿½ she adds, ï¿½Flappin', slicin' it the way that you did. That was great. I can't wait to go home and try it with all the kids.ï¿½
The Vienna Vegetable Orchestra says its central objective is ï¿½the continued exploration and refinement of performable vegetable music'. That may be entirely true, but they're also just playing with their food.
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