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Daily Archives: October 22, 2008

US military chief warns Iraq on security deal

US military chief Michael Mullen bluntly warned Iraq yesterday that it risked security losses of "significant consequence" unless it approves an agreement on a legal basis for US forces there.
Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also charged that Iran was working hard to scuttle passage of the so-called Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA.
"We are clearly running out of time," said Mullen.
Mullen said that when the current UN mandate runs out December 31, Iraqi security forces "will not be ready to provide for their security. And in that regard there is great potential for losses of significant consequence."
The admiral, who is on a visit to Europe, made the comments as the Iraqi cabinet took up a draft status of forces agreement negotiated over a period of months with the United States.
It calls for a drawdown of US combat forces from Iraq by the end of 2011 and includes US concessions on jurisdiction over US troops accused of serious crimes while off duty or off base.
But the agreement has ignited fierce debate in Iraq with radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr leading protests against it.
Mullen said debate was healthy in a democracy but he was "increasingly concerned with what I see in terms of the public rhetoric as this debate goes on in Iraq," because Iraqis did not appear to recognise the seriousness of the situation.
"It is also clear that the Iranians are working very hard to make sure this does not pass," he said. "This should not be lost on the Iraqi people."
He said US diplomats and military leaders in Iraq had made an "extraordinary effort to move this to conclusion on the part of the United States."
"It's time for the Iraqis to make a decision," he said.


Slice, dice and play: Vienna Vegetable Orchestra fetes 10 years

by Philippe Schwab*

The Vegetable Orchestra has been playing with its food for 10 years, delighting audiences from Belfast to Hong Kong with its self-made cucumberphones, celery bongos, pepper trumpets and leek violins.
Drawing inspiration from electronic music artists such as Germany's Kraftwerk or John Cage, the dozen musicians from Vienna carve and chop their own instruments to create a truly organic sound.
"The concept might make people smile, but our group is unique because of its range and seriousness," said one of its members, Tamara Wilhelm.
With around 200 performances under its belt, the one-of-a-kind orchestra just celebrated its 10th anniversary with a concert at Vienna's prestigious RadioKulturhaus before embarking on a tour of France and Germany.
It started on a much less serious note back when its members were still students in Vienna.
"The idea started off as a kind of joke, a challenge," said founding member Joerg Piringer. "But we quickly realised something more ambitious was possible."
With backgrounds in music, architecture, design, plastic arts and video, the orchestra's musicians created a unique world combining vegetables and technology.
"We make what you could call electronic organic music," Wilhelm said.
"Without technology, especially without sophisticated microphones and amplifiers, our music could not exist."
"On stage, we play live without any pre-recorded effects, so our concerts still feel like artistic performances."

Making vegetables sing is a long process
The result is a unique, mostly percussive, sound, where the rustling of leeks, the banging of aubergines, the squeaking of cucumbers and the crackling of cabbage leaves combine to create hypnotic melodies somewhere between techno music and whale song.
"Vegetables make it possible to create an absolutely unique sound world that could hardly be duplicated with synthesizers," Piringer said.
Making vegetables sing is a lengthy process.
Each performance is preceded by a visit to the local market to purchase the freshest roots, bulbs and stems.
"We need 70 kilograms of fresh produce per concert and three hours to carve the 40 or so instruments we use," Piringer explained.
Some instruments indeed have to be replaced several times during a performance, due to the relatively intense heat on stage.
The orchestra's instrument cases are full of the most wonderfully odd and unique pieces, such as the rhubharp, made from rhubarb strings, and the trumpet-like cucumberphone — a half-cucumber stuffed into a bell pepper at one end with a small carrot mouthpiece at the other.
Having performed in such diverse places as Singapore and Moscow — and released two CDs — the musicians have learned to adapt their repertoire, depending on the weather and available produce in each city.
"In Asia, you can't find our usual radishes," Wilhelm said. "In Italy, it's often too hot. And in the United Kingdom, the carrots are full of water and have no durability whatsoever."
"It isn't easy, but it's what makes the whole experience exciting. Limiting ourselves strictly to vegetables forces us to constantly look for new ideas. The subject never gets old."
The orchestra — which has racked up almost two million hits on the video-sharing YouTube website ( — also offers its fans a treat after each concert: vegetable soup.
"But we're not necessarily vegetarians or militant environmentalists," Wilhelm said. "Besides, our instruments aren't organic. That would make them too expensive."