Vienna, world capital of classical music and opera, might have more musicians per capita than any other major city. It certainly feels that way when you walk through the city’s bustling 1st district, where a man dressed up as Mozart will offer to thrust a flier for a classical concert into your hand and you’ll probably hear someone practicing the scales through an open window.
If any city were to spawn an ensemble of musicians playing actual music on actual vegetables (and releasing actual records), you’d have to bet on Vienna. And thus we come to the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra, or Das erste Wiener Gemüseorchester. (That word “erste” there means “first,” so technically their name translates as the First Vienna Vegetable Orchestra—the presumed joke being that there ain’t a whole lotta competition for the title, right?)
When the orchestra plays, it uses drums made out of pumpkins and celery roots, carrots become flutes, and they’ve invented a “cucumberphone” that employs a hollowed-out cucumber with a bell pepper at one end and a carrot (serving as a reed) at the other. At the top of this post you’ll see a picture of a man playing a “leek violin,” but how it works is anybody’s guess. There’s a wealth of information about the instruments on the group’s website.
Since every concert concludes with the preparation of a vegetable soup using the instruments that have just been used to produce melodious tones, it belongs to the very concept of the group that much of the effort of each show goes into creating the instruments from scratch, every time. As a matter of fact many of the photos on the group’s website depict the various members in the act of forging the new instruments, as shown below.
The Vienna Vegetable Orchestra was dreamt up by a group of students in 1998 and has released three albums: Gemise (a pun on the word Gemüse—vegetables—I can’t quite parse, it may play on the word mies, which means “lousy, rotten”), Automate, and Onionoise.
The tenth track off of Automate is a cover of Kraftwerk‘s “Radio-Activität,” known to you and me as “Radio-Activity.” Listen below:
Compare the original:
Here’s a promotional video from 2007 documenting the group: