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Sandbox Percussion / Astrid review – virtuosos bring the fun of the fairground

Various venues, Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan. Vale of Glamorgan festival celebrates its 50th with mesmerising performances on wine glasses, electronic inventions and a Dutch street organ named AstridThe vibe for this year’s Vale of Glamorgan festival – celebrating its 50th anniversary – has been celebratory and upbeat, with Sandbox Percussion reinforcing the feelgood factor in their exuberant St David’s Hall concert. The virtuosic New York quartet play from memory, so attuned to each other that it all becomes performance art, utterly mesmerising to watch.

Jason Treuting’s Extremes was an introduction to their slick coordination, four around a single bass drum, two peeling off to play metal pipes, but Charlie Peck’s Synthetic Twin by contrast used two specially constructed instruments. Electronic sounds were triggered by finger pressure with infrared sensors interpreting hand movements to alter those sounds. With such gestures guiding the ears to the aural patterns, we listened transfixed.

Steve Reich, festival patron this year, was represented by his Mallet Quartet, characteristic Reichian rhythmic propulsion subtly softened by Sandbox’s careful weighting of the harmonic changes. Andy Akiho’s Pillar IV beat out a vast array of notes on wood, glass and metal, a world away from the eerie and ethereal sounds created on 14 wine glasses of different shapes and sizes in Viet Cuong’s Water, Wine, Brandy, Brine.

By far the most innovative feature of any Vale festival yet, various weekend appearances of a Dutch street organ named Astrid, owned and operated by Francis Stapleton, had already conjured the fun of the fairground with 10 new commissions. Composers put the instrument through its paces – pianola-style perforated rolls working pipe-mechanics in conjunction with 21st-computer technology – exploiting Astrid’s ability to do manically fast what humans can’t. Guto Puw took Bach to Amsterdam; Graham Fitkin’s was a jazzy toccata; Steph Power’s Tulips or the Madness of Crowds danced an off-kilter waltz with darker overtones; Ben Wallace’s ASTR was a zany kaleidoscope of genres. Astrid reappeared in this Sandbox concert to join forces with the quartet, now with scores, for another Wallace premiere. Dr Thadius’s Elixer for the Common Cold offered one great mash-up of musical cliches, but wittily crafted and brilliantly delivered.

Sandbox Percussion at Vale of Glamorgan festival. Photograph: Gareth Griffiths

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