Here's the first clue: Sonica's logo has its first five letters in black, with the final "a" underlined in red. What you won't see at Sonica events is musicians dressed in formal concert gear reading off music stands in front of a seated audience. That emphasised "a" stands for arts, plural, and the backbone of the programme is music presented with some kind of visual, interactive or immersive twist. Exactly what all that might look like – well, that's the fun part.
Sonica claims to be "a Glasgow-wide celebration of international sonic art", and its inaugural edition runs from November 8-18. It's a three-way brainchild. The artistic director is Cathie Boyd, whose Glasgow-based Theatre Cryptic has pursued a fusion of visual arts, stagecraft and music for nearly 20 years now. Boyd has teamed up with Graham McKenzie, formerly director of the CCA and now director of Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, and with the free-thinking, genre-stretching opera producer Patrick Dickie.
"I was interested in the dynamic of collaboration," says Boyd. "The process in which one can hate, two can love, all of that." Mostly, she says, all three have loved what the others have brought to the table.
The impulse to create Sonica grew partly out of frustration with the usual process of commissioning new work. "Initially I approached Graham because I remembered a Julia Wolf piece that had premiered at Huddersfield but that didn't go anywhere else in the UK," says Boyd. "It was such a shame; that piece should have toured everywhere."
She explains: "Having spent 16 years commissioning new work – some of it good, some of it frankly awful – I've come to realise something needs to be done to ensure the good works are seen and heard more than once."
So another thing you won't see at Sonica is its curators tallying up premiere points. "Obsessing over premieres is a very old-fashioned way of programming," says Boyd. "I'd rather focus on giving a platform to works that deserve another outing."
Sonica is not strictly a festival, she stresses. It's a brand, a way of thinking, a gathering, a celebration – but not a festival. "We're launching with a 10-day event this November, but Sonica is something fluid. It doesn't have to be fixed to a particular time of year or format. If we hear of an amazing piece that we'd like to support we can do that any time or place. Sonica could pop up for weekends in other cities or as a part of other festivals. What has to be clear is the identity of the label."
Some of Sonica 2012's programme has come directly out of Cryptic Nights, whose open call for works has seen "an astonishing amount of sonic art coming through the door," says Boyd. "There's no question that a growing number of visual artists are working in sound and that sound artists are wanting to work visually."
This phenomenon holds true right up to Turner Prize level, but Sonica hasn't gone for the big names. "You won't see Heiner Goebbels here – not for lack of interest, but because this platform is meant for emerging artists. When I was starting out I didn't fit in anywhere. I wasn't music, I wasn't theatre, so I was constantly pushed from pillar to post. So I want to ensure we support other people who don't fit in, not artists who have already had funding from The Arches or National Theatre of Scotland. Those artists don't need us."
Highlights from the line-up, then? Anyone who's seen a spiffily dressed chap riding around the west end of Glasgow on a penny farthing will recognise Sven Werner, the steampunk filmmaker who presents Part 2 of Tales of Magical Realism. Kathy Hinde's Piano Migrations sees birds perching on the strings of an old upright piano in the window of the Scottish Music Centre. In Janek Schaefer's Extended Play, the movement of visitors walking around the instillation prompts record players to start and stop. Robbie Thomson, whose degree show at Glasgow School of Art featured enchanted pianos twinkling in the dark, presents a new work called Ecstatic Arc: a piece of "sonic-kinetic sculpture and mechanical puppetry" made out of found materials and recording devices.
Lithuanian composer Juste Janulyte is someone whose music deserves to be better known in the UK. In Sandglasses, four cellists are shrouded in transparent columns that light up, or rather down, like the grains of sand in an hour glass. How audiences interact with music, visuals and performance spaces is key to many of Sonica's events and, for Sandglasses, shown at the Tramway, seating will be removed and the audience can sit or lie on the floor as they watch. "It's about giving people a different way of experiencing," says Boyd. "Sandglasses is hypnotic, and its effect is amplified if you're able to get away from concert etiquette."
Claudia Molitor's Remember Me, a multimedia opera about Dido and Eurydice, is staged inside a desk in front of small audiences at Scotland Street Museum. Meanwhile, the Dutch company 33 1/3 presents a chilling account of the Bluebeard legend – "incredibly contemporary and powerful," according to Boyd. "I doubt whether any house in the UK would have the guts to show it." Already she's warned several inquirers that this is not a straight performance of Bartok's opera.
If any of this sounds daunting, fear not. Most of the programme is designed to stimulate the senses, and there's no need for prior experience of sonic art. Sonica even includes a children's strand: Sonic Dreams, first shown at the Edinburgh International Science Festival, is an ambisonic instillation designed for and performed by kids. There's storytelling, workshops, games and gimmicks: Sarah Kenchington shows her mechanical instruments, including a pedal-powered hurdy-gurdy, and Kathy Hinde uses music boxes to tailor individualised sonic journeys. The event's hub, Secret Sonica, will be open late after Tramway closes in premises at 14 Albion Street in the Merchant City.
Boyd talks about it all with an enthusiasm that would tempt even the staunchest of sceptics to have a go. For her personally, having stepped back from directing productions at Cryptic, this kind of broad, bold curating is exactly what she wants to be doing.
"We've got big plans," she says. "This is just the start."
Sonica is at venues around Glasgow from November 8-18. Visit www.sonic-a.co.uk.