The Vienna-based Vegetable Orchestra is just what it sounds like: an orchestra that plays instruments made of fresh vegetables. The 13-year-old musical ensemble has played its experimental pieces in concert houses all over the world.
Now they are working with scientist Wolfgang Palme from the Horticultural College and Research Institute Schönbrunn to develop the next generation of carefully cultivated instruments. Palme approached the musical group because he is interested in promoting the diversity, beauty, and seasonality of vegetables to the public. "Vegetables are extraordinary," he says.
The orchestra told Palme that they could use two new types of instruments in particular: trumpets and guitars. For both, Palme thought gourds would be a good choice, in part because they can be dried and used over and over. To create these new instruments, he is taking two approaches: First, he bought the seeds of some unusual cultivars that grow in trumpet- and guitar-like shapes, and he's growing them in the outdoor garden.
Second, he is adapting an ancient Chinese technique of growing gourds into forms, or moulds. The Chinese used the technique to make elaborate drinking vessels. For the instruments, the Vegetable Orchestra made plaster casts of trumpet shapes, both straight and spiralled. They also bought a cheap ukulele to use as a mould. Palme has hung the moulds in a greenhouse and is attempting to coax gourds to grow into them. He says that strings for the guitar will likely come from cucumber or melon plants, which have strong fibres.
This year he has about 20 plants in the greenhouse devoted to the project, but Palme envisions more for next year - and possibly a more scientific approach to the question of growing vegetables in special shapes. Of course, how he proceeds depends on how this year goes. To his consternation, one of the plants has been throwing off its fruit. But, since the plants tend to grow better in the late summer and fall anyhow, he isn't too worried. "I think it will be successful," he says.
The garden and greenhouse are located on the site of a favourite retreat of the beloved 19th century Austrian Empress Elisabeth (Sisi), in the woods behind the Imperial Schönbrunn Palace. It is a fitting location, Palme says, since Sisi was passionately - even obsessively - interested in the health of food, something that people of her day rarely thought about.
There is still a long way to go when it comes to interesting the public in vegetables, which still have a reputation for being boring, Palme says. If this project is successful, though, he hopes it can grab the attention of other artists and craftspeople. And that kind of publicity, he says, is just what vegetables need.
Top Image: Nils Jorgensen/Rex Features. Middle image via The Vegetable Orchestra. This post originally appeared on New Scientist.