The sounds produced by the vegetable instruments are incredibly multi-layered as they can be enhanced by electronics. The addition of amplification, looping, distortion and echo effects can help create texture and variation to the original organic sounds. For instance, the celery-scraping sound, when looped, produces what sounds like sampled disco beats.
The fruit and vegetables can create a variety of musical styles: contemporary music, beat-oriented house tracks, experimental electronica, free jazz, Clicks and Cuts – the scope of fruit music keeps expanding.
To make sure the audience hears the music, microphones are attached to the ‘instruments’. “Like when we’re cutting the vegetables, we put microphones under the chopping board, that helps amplify the sound very strongly,” explains Lane.
Most of the music played at the k-11 performance was improvised by chewing, beating, grating, ripping and shaking the vegetables. But the Orchestra also played written pieces like Clapping Music composed by Steve Reich, an American minimalist composer.
Unlike other conventional orchestras, the members of the Vegetable Orchestra must remake their instruments every time they perform.
At their studio in Fo Tan, Lane and fellow orchestra member, percussionist Louis Sin showed Varsity how to make some organic musical instruments.
Lane and Sin both seemed satisfied with the fruit and vegetables they had procured earlier at a nearby supermarket. “The fresher the better,” contends Sin, “get it an hour before the performance, or just pick what you have on hand.”
They lay the fruits out on a table on which a bowl, a chopping board, an electric drill, and several knives with different blades had been placed.
Lane first demonstrated the making of a carrot ocarina a.k.a. the Japanese flute. He switched the drill on and took it to a carrot. As soon as the center of the carrot had been hollowed out, Lane drilled a few holes in the front and a hole in the back of the carrot, just as he would for making any other woodwind instruments. Finally, he added a mouthpiece at the tip of the carrot.
Lane blew on it, and a tune that sounded in between a clarinet and a bassoon filled the room. He noted that it does not matter how big the holes of the carrot are, but the kind of mouthpiece used does.
Sin warned that it is sometimes dangerous playing fruit music, especially when working with tools like drills and knives.
While Lane was perfecting his ocarina with a curved knife, Sin had already been playing with the watermelon drum. It is made simply by holding the shell of an emptied watermelon upside down, immersed in a bucket of water. Sin hit the watermelon shell with a carrot drumstick. The pitch is varied by adjusting the amount of water inside the shell. More water in the shell will produce a higher pitched sound. “We try to explore sounds that we do not know or hear,” says Sin.
Fruit music also comes alive by creating rhythms through banging, squishing and ripping fruits and vegetables. Lane and Sin demonstrated the point as they peeled bok-choy and shook a bowl of peanuts with joy.
Another almost ritualistic element of fruit music is eating the fruit. For instance, fruit musicians can create different beats by munching on apples rhythmically. “There are a lot of sounds and textures when you are eating,” says Lane, “eating is a rhythm. So if you have seven people, you can create quite a nice rhythm.”