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Carrots

There's a lot to learn if you want to join this group.
December 1, 2003, 12:00am

Todd Forrest says: "Pumpkin soup is great when it's winter and you've got a cold." Photo courtesy of Dense

Nikolaus Gansterer can’t walk past a market stall without getting hot under the collar. If he catches sight of a good-looking, nicely-weighted carrot or a plump, near-ripe aubergine, he has to buy it before anyone else does. That’s because Nikolaus is a member of Vienna’s world-famous Vegetable Orchestra. “I’m not a vegetable addict,” he says, “but I guess we learned to know at first glance if the item is suitable to be played as a musical instrument. I can’t just pick up some random potato, carve it out and play that. The tonal values of different vegetables differ massively. I’d look like a right idiot if I picked the wrong one wouldn’t I?” The First Vienna Vegetable Orchestra, to give it its full title, has been going six years this month. Ten in number (nine musicians and a sound engineer), they’re the only musical ensemble we know who eat their instruments after each concert. A chef turns their radish-marimbas and cucumberophones into soup which is then shared with the audience, who get to enjoy the vegetables twice. Using all manner of vegetable produce and a few kitchen utensils like knives and blenders, which are amplified via contact mics and voices, the V.O. create a bewildering array of sounds and textures, just like a traditional orchestra. Their second CD, Automate, manages, with tomatoes and celery sticks, to generate complex ambient hums and drones that highbrow electronic acts like Autechre have spent years developing on mega-advanced super-computers. It’s not exactly the party album of the year, but when the V.O. get into their organic groove, or whip up some crazy courgette/parsnip tribal rhythm, you can see why they do it. VICE: Do you ever perform with fruit?
Nikolaus: No. We are the Vegetable Orchestra. We simply perform with vegetables. This is our Dogma. Let’s say Dogma ’98. Which is the best vegetable for playing, say, disco?
Nikolaus: A percussive one I guess.
Ernst Reitermaier: For example eggplant clap, pumpkin drum, celery bongo, pumpkin bass. Where’s the best place to buy your instruments?
Nikolaus: In Vienna it’s definitely the “naschmarkt”. In other cities we love to go to open markets. Supermarkets’ plastic-packed veggies are not good instruments! Who plays what?
Nikolaus: When we started our project in 1998 everybody played everything. In the meantime we found out that some of us are better with leeks and others more skilled with carrots or pumpkins. SUBURBAN DWIGHT