Playing with your food - A brief look at the world of food and plant-based musical instruments

As spring approaches and the world blooms with colour, we take a look at how the natural world and music have intertwined in a very specific way. 

Human ingenuity is an incredible thing to behold and something that we often take for granted. With every passing day, technology makes new leaps and bounds, breaking the rules of what we previously thought possible.

Among these technological marvels, there are those who look to innovate in different ways; fusing unorthodox tools and techniques with modern technology to create something new: food and plant-based musical instruments. 

Junji Koyama

Japanse school teacher Junji Koyama was always passionate about music, yet didn't possess the skill to learn a traditional instrument. Remembering how he'd once created a flute from bamboo, he was struck by an idea; creating instruments using fruit and vegetables. However, this came with another hurdle - food rots after several days. 

The solution was to document and upload his creations to YouTube, a move that would see Koyama become an internet star. Over the years, he has created ocarinas from a variety of fruits and vegetables, a cabbage slide whistle and a carrot panpipe. 

Vegetable Orchestras

Where Koyama kept his creations to a single instrument, there were those who wanted more from food-based instruments. Predating Junji Koyama's YouTube stardom was Vienna's Vegetable Orchestra, who began in 1998. 

In their 20+ year career, they've performed over 300 shows to audiences across the world. Facing the same issues as Junji, the orchestras instruments have a lifespan of around six hours, and each show requires an excursion to the local greengrocers. Any veg that's not used gets boiled down into a soup and is served to the audience after the show. 

They're not the only orchestra on the scene though, having inspired other orchestras such as the London Vegetable Orchestra and the Long Island Vegetable Orchestra to form in more recent years. 

Mezberg and Playtronica

You could consider Junji Koyama and the vegetable orchestras as more traditional - we can't believe we just said that either - creators within this niche. Until now, we've yet to look at how modern tech and food have come together and we're wagering that most reading this feature will be familiar with Mezberg's watermelon keyboard.

Created using Playtronica's MIDI controller Playtron, Mezberg is able to create a 16-note instrument using objects that can conduct electricity. If you're looking to create your own biodegradable instruments the Playtron is currently available for £50.99

Yuri Suzuki and Mark McKeague

Before we talk about our final example of food and plant-based music, we wanted to give an honourable mention to Ototo; an all-in-one musical invention kit designed by Yuri Suzuki and Mark McKeague. 

Ototo works in much the same way as Playtron and uses conductive materials to trigger sounds. What's fascinating about Ototo is its uses beyond conductive materials and using other inputs such as light to trigger sounds. You can see what we mean in the video below.

Stan Smeets

While plant-based food has become a huge industry in the last decade, fewer examples of plant-based music exist - that is until you discover Stan Smeets

Instead of using the more direct impetus of the conductivity of an object, Smeets developed the plant-based instrument; a modular synthesiser that uses nature to create original compositions.

Music and visuals are generated using microscopes and sensors that are placed on the plants and surrounding environment. The leaf structure and growth patterns form the sequencer of the synth, while natural occurring elements such as wind, sun position and colour create the sound. 

The raw data that is turned into sounds and beats needs a helping hand from the performer to be shaped into a coherent piece. 


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