The Vegetable Orchestra

Onionoise
Transacoustic Research/Monkey TRES008

With popular concern about fresh and organic produce as its height, Vienna’s 12-piece Vegetable Orchestra (VO) should garner kudos from environmentalists. That’s because all of the instruments the members play are painstakingly fashioned from fresh vegetables.

More than gimmickry – although most of these sound legumes can only be played once and are then turned into soup for the concert audience – these compositions and improvisations are part of the Viennese tradition of sonic experimentation that dates back to Schoenberg and Webern; although it’s more bio-degradable. Unlike self-contained serialism however, the VO’s repertoire draws from pop, concrète, noise, improvised and electronic music. Krautrock, for instance, approximates the sound of that noisy genre with distorted cabbage scrapings. Meanwhile Le Massascre du Printemps reaches a level of timbral intensity by layering repetitive percussion from a pumpkin bass drum, an eggplant clatterer, a carrot xylophone and a bell pepper hooter with parsley, leek and celeriac crackles that seem to emanate from a frying pan. The mélange finale showcases an opposing lyrical airiness propelled by radish bass flute and carrot flute.

There are other tasty interludes of sound mulching. They include Regen which suggests electronic oscillations, actually created by leek membrane pulsations as well as French bean crackles processed through a bean tip pick up; and Brazil, whose swinging Latin-American-like maraca motion plus percussion and castanet-like resonations result from a bean shaker, eggplant clapper, celeriac bongo and leek pulses. The tune even ends with some swaying vamps from carrot xylophone and calabash bass.

High quality rather than high caloric sounds, it seems somehow appropriate that this sonic salad is served up on a CD, which after all is the same shape as a dinner plate.

—Ken Waxman

— For Whole Note Vol. 17 #5