Suddenly, summer has changed into fall. The smell of cabbage soup pervades the air. The drizzle feels as if it never wanted to stop. It too smells of cabbage. On the one hand, this autumnal, seemingly banal vegetable soup becomes a metaphor of a subtle drizzle. On the other, it is a liquid that warms the insides of soaked passers-by, who, following a grayish and overcooked carpet of aromas, decide to enter a neighboring food joint.
When I was shopping at a market hall full of autumn fruitfulness, this double life of the soup made me think of the double life of vegetables given to them by the Viennese Vegetable Orchestra – Das erste Wiener Gemüseorchester. Since 1998, this brilliant musical experience has been created by a collective of professional musicians and artists engaged in various disciplines. Architects, designers, poets, multimedia artists and sculptors will also find their place here.
Jürgen Berlakovich, Nikolaus Gansterer, Susanna Gartmayer, Barbara Kaiser, Matthias Meinharter, Jörg Piringer, Ingrid Schlogl, Ulrich Troyer, Tamara Wilhelm and Martina Winkler, together with a sound technician and a chef, are the key figures in this unusual ensemble. You need to know that after each concert instruments turn into a soup the artists eat together with the audience! Contrary to what one may think, this is not a clear-cut conceptual art, for it does not limit itself to the idea shaped by intellect – the notion of a thought gaining flesh. The interdisciplinary approach is the key factor of this experiment, whose aim is to create a musical experience that can be perceived through all the senses, not only the sense of hearing. Musical concepts of the Fluxus movement, be it its “Branches 1976” compositions made in collaboration with John Cage (mentioned in one of the articles here on a different occasion), may be treated as the sources of inspiration for this extraordinary orchestra. Also, the musicians’ characteristic arsenal of compositions seems to be deeply rooted in the art of experimental sound and electronic music. You can feel (!) and hear it when you listen to their interpretations of Strawinski and Kraftwerk – interpretations nobody has heard before. They do house, electro, jazz, noise and polyphonic music. Each composition has a distinctive score, a graphic representation reminding of a unique seismograph picture.
With each concert, the Orchestra stresses the communal, egalitarian aspect of its work: each member’s opinion about a repertoire or a visual side of every performance is equally important; also, all of them are equally responsible for preparing and perfecting instruments. A one-of-a-kind effect is being created by piecing vegetables together, “designing” them to achieve a particular sound, and using new technology: this music would not exist without microphones and amplifiers. Each performance is preceded by a visit to a local market in the search of the freshest products – every time, the creation of instruments takes 70 kg of vegetables and a good couple of hours of drilling, gouging, peeling and knife-cutting. Worldwide travels require the members to “customize” their instruments according to the climate and available products. That’s why some of the concerts are preceded by a few hours of research and local market shopping. All of this is by no means easy, but it certainly provokes new experiences, explorations, sensory discoveries - in which the touch frees the sound - as well as a fresh approach to things learnt at a music school. As one of the members explains - carrots in the UK are weak and full of water; also, you won’t get small radishes in Asia, so you need to find something to replace them.
Flutes made of carrots and drums made of pumpkins. Pepper and cabbage instruments. A violin made of leek. Bold shapes limited by nothing but their function. A soupy performance composed of recorded bioelectric impulses that flow from plants and intertwine with the noise of knocked-out, blown-out and smacked systems of the vegetable drums is stirred with a ladle of melodic sounds uttered by gourds and pipes made of cut cucumbers. This musical laboratory relies on classical composition rules and tradition. A collage of unexpected rustles, whistles, shrieks and high tones singing out from the bottom of a celery or turnip heart for their own kind of throat, a separate tone and a stronger voice is disciplined and finished by a deep watermelon beat.
So far, the orchestra has released three albums: Gemise (1999), Automate (2003) and Onionoise (2010). They have been on a tour around Europe: they performed during the Museum Night in Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw, but they’ve also given concerts in the USA, China and Singapore.
It’s difficult to cope with the cold and rainy weather without a warming bowl of soup. In just a moment you will see the steam rising from my simple, vegan (and major, not minor!) etude on a Japanese cabbage-onion soup:
3 onions (cut into cubes)
6 cups of vegetable stock or water
2 celery ribs (cut into cubes)
2 carrots (peeled and cut into cubes)
2 garlic cloves (smashed)
leave bok choy cabbage and a handful of sliced spring onion for a quiet finale
the last thing you need is soy sauce, sesame oil and Sriracha (or any other spicy paste)
Pour a bit of oil in a large pot and fry the onion until it browns. Add the carrot, celery, garlic and stock/water. Heat until the mixture boils and stew it for 30 minutes. Add some flavor. Strain the stock from the vegetables. Now, you’ve got the hot stock of a wonderfully golden color (thanks to onion). Add single cabbage leaves to soften them slightly. Sprinkle with chives before serving. Enjoy!
Text: Anna Królikiewicz
Artist, teacher, author of numerous exhibitions and installations. She works as the Associate Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk where she teaches drawing and at School of Form in Poznań where she gives classes titled The shape of taste. In her drawings and objects she deals with a broadly defined corporeality of a body and the fragility of memory. Her latest works touch upon the issues related to the physiology of taste and the phenomenon of synesthesia.
Photos of the orchestra - courtesy of Powszechny Theatre, photo of the dish: Anna Królikiewicz
More photos, videos and concert dates you can find here: vegetableorchestra.org