Sonar festival, Various venues, Barcelona, Spain

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The Independent Culture

The Spanish take their laptops very seriously. The 11th annual Sonar festival of electronic music has aural art at its core, but it is also concerned with multimedia developments that unite video, film, lectures, seminars, exhibitions, software demonstrations and even what amounts to a lowly record fair.

Sonar By Night takes place in a massive industrial hangar on the outskirts of town. Here, Ryuichi Sakamoto was reunited with his old Yellow Magic Orchestra partners, Haruomi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi, as the one-off project Human Audio Sponge. Eighties nostalgia was rejected by the trio who, actively aware of current electro developments, spread their array of keyboards and laptops along an illuminated table. On the other stages, So Solid Crew were jumping with manic intensity, and Tim Wright played extreme techno.

Sonar By Day is a relaxed affair, based around the courtyard of Centre de Cultura Contemporania. One of the best open-air performances was given by Madrid's La Excepcion, an enthusiastic rap posse who feature a flamenco-style cajon, or slapped wooden box, percussion.

The final evening climaxed with Argentinian singer-songwriter Juana Molina, who strummed acoustic guitar and breathed soft couplets, accompanied by a fizzing mixture of electric guitar and synths. Max Tundra introduced humour, with chirpy, accelerated house and silly, sometimes irritating, vocals.

A sudden downpour ended To Rococo Rot's hopes of performing, but the Astroturf dried up for Four Tet's set, with Kieran Hebden in an almost crowd-pleasing mood as he romped along the borders of house and drum'n'bass.

Even though laptops and turntables are the essence of Sonar, three days of watching artists staring at their sickly glows can lack a certain entertainment factor. The big concert at L'Auditori was in sharp contrast, with the gigantic Orquestra Simfonica de Barcelona accompanied by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Pan Sonic and Fennesz, collectively billed as sound-hacking interventionists.

This was an unusual evening in that it revolved around an established repertoire (Dvorak, Prokofiev, Bach), with an improvised solo response from the electronically inclined guests. The prevalent tone was too respectful, though consistently interesting. The best piece was Pan Sonic's own Vaihtovirta, which utilised orchestral forces in the pursuit of sympathetic plates of sound. The Finnish duo had the confidence and vision to bend the Simfonica to their own ambitious desires.

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