Though the Austrian group formed in 1998, The Vegetable Orchestra (once known as the First Vienna Vegetable Orchestra) remains relatively unknown for its experimental instrumental music, and for its experimental instruments in general.
Twelve produce-players assemble the arrangements and instruments. Before each recording and live show, the orchestra hits the markets and loads up on fresh and dried fruits and veggies. The musicians then painstakingly finesse the harvest with various tools — testing them all along the way — to produce the sounds they need. Often, multiple vegetables become Frankensteined together. Following live shows, The Vegetable Orchestra's members often toss all their instruments into a big cauldron and boil up vegetable stew for the audience.
The group's third album, ONIONOISE, came out this past October. It proves that it's not just the V.O.'s innovative instrumentation and approach that makes it worth attention. The record seeps in almost as if by osmosis with its first cut, "Scoville," an ambient gallop of organic squeals and bullish whistles. This is experimental noise-jazz, made possible by your local grocer.
Heidrun Henke/Courtesy of the artist
The record gropes around the genre spectrum, making it difficult to peg. Tribally percussive rhythms drive tracks like "Malang." Later, the gang seems to pay tribute to John Cage's 4'3" with a four-and-a-half-minute silent piece "(...)." And, to get stranger yet, things get danceable with the borderline-clubby beats in "Transplants."
The final count of entirely edible instruments used in each track of ONIONOISE is astonishing. "Nightshades," the leaky-pipe number arriving second on the disc, seems minimalistic compared to the rest of the record. However, the arrangement employs no less than a dozen instruments, according to the liner notes: wiped aubergine, beaten aubergine, turntable with lee-pickup, beans on beans, train brake flute, carrot breeze flute, desert feebees, dried artichoke, onion peels, carrot xylophone, radirimba and water radish.
But wait. Do you hear rain falling in "Le Massacre du Printemps"? Not to worry. It's probably just the onion peels.