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Playing With Food

An unusual ensemble makes sweet (and savory) music

Author Moises Mendoza

ILLUSTRATION BY PETER OUMANSKI

VIENNA—While strolling through the Naschmarkt, a crowded mile-long open-air market famed for its colorful vegetable stands, Ingrid Schlögl and Susanna Gartmayer stop to inspect some carrots. Schlögl shakes her head. “If they’re not crispy,” she says, “they won’t sound right.”

Gartmayer nods in agreement, and the women rummage with a little more urgency. Failure to find the right ingredients will present a slight problem. The women have band practice today.

Considered a novelty act when it formed in 1998, the 12-person experimental ensemble known as the Vegetable Orchestra is now a bit of a sensation. People have started to appreciate its music—performed solely on fresh produce—which has a kind of tribal/jazzy/electronic quality. Today, the group plays to packed houses around the world.

Before each concert, the musicians go off in search of fresh instruments. Schlögl, who plays carrot flutes and zucchini trumpets, says crisp veggies “usually make cooler sounds and take longer to fall apart.” Gartmayer, who plays the pumpkin drum and celeriac bongo, tends to focus more on size. “A bigger pumpkin just sounds fuller,” she says.

At the Naschmarkt, the women finally find a stalk of celery that’s firm enough to string and strum like a guitar, but there’s a problem with the pumpkin they’ve picked. While it makes a nice sound when slapped, it’s too big to carry home. They leave it behind. “Don’t worry,” says Gartmayer with a grin. “We’re used to improvising.”

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