The Vegetable Orchestra – Onionoise

The Vegetable Orchestra - Onionoise

A Calabash bass, carrot flutes, bell pepper horns, pumpkin drums, and a celery guitar hardly sound feasible, but for the Vegetable Orchestra these creations are the building blocks of a very, very interesting sound. The Vienna based ensemble has been playing instruments made of vegetables for more than a decade. All jokes about playing with one’s food aside, Onionoise is a strange album – sometimes wonderful, sometimes grating (no pun intended) – that perhaps needs to be experienced in person to be fully appreciated.

As you can imagine, vegetable instruments don’t last long and so the group must be built fresh for each rehearsal or concert. The Vegetable Orchestra is therefore constantly refining their instruments and finding new ways to use the vegetables – alone or together – to create specific sounds. Listening to Onionoise, you aren’t always sure what you’re hearing. Is that crackling sound onion peels or celeriac? This is why seeing the spectacle come together seems like such an important facet of the orchestra. Not to mention, a Vegetable Orchestra show apparently comes with live video projections, the smell of the actual vegetables being played, and the all-important bowl of vegetable soup for each member of the audience at the end.

Onionoise features twelve tracks, all instrumental of course, that run the gamut from free-form jazz to drone. Second track “Nightshades” begins with some soft percussion (beaten aubergine?) and a low droning sound that could be some sort of deep-sounding horn. Although the CD’s liner notes include a list of each vegetable instrument played on each song, it’s impossible to tell exactly what is what. While this doesn’t necessarily detract from the pieces, it can definitely be a source of frustration for the listener. On “Transplants” you’ll be able to hear the unmistakable sound of a (carrot) xylophone, and the excellently built rhythms will certainly keep your attention. Unfortunately some of the songs, such as “Pocket Stampede” and “Krautrock”, become to cacophonous for this listener.

I cannot imagine seeking out Onionoise for repeat listens unless music that heavily leans on the experimental side is your bread and butter. The members of the orchestra certainly deserve credit for taking such a unique approach to creating music and certainly seem dedicated to their craft after sticking with it for so many years. It is fascinating, just not in an every day sense – though this is perhaps exactly what makes it worth seeking out. Catching one of the Vegetable Orchestra’s handful of live performances seems to be the way to go if you live in one of the European countries they visit. Forgoing that, check out their “making-of” video to see what it’s all about: