Blindfolded. Being led round and about in a human chain of trusting hands on shoulders. Occasional trains clanking and grumbling overhead - it is Glasgow's Arches, after all. That much we know. But at this first event on the opening day of the National Review of Live Art (NRLA), the sense of stepping over a threshold into the unseen unknown is given quite a push by the Quebecois company When our blindfolded trudging stops, we're released into the near-darkness of a small room where a miniature pop-up book (simple idea, sophisticated technology) acts like an exquisitely crafted peep-show into the quest for the poetic in a time shadowed by fear.

The title, Phobophilia, means arousal from fear. It could almost apply to the urgent, excited way in which each daily diary becomes like a treasure-hunt map - if I queue for this, will I miss that? Brochures become overly-thumbed, as if constant fingering of the pages will reveal some secret "choose this - go there" message. By the end of five days, we are walking peep-shows, minds crammed with images we've glimpsed.

Images that shift in our understanding as we take in more and more. Billy Cowie's The Revery Alone, a seven-minute looped 3-D installation that is projected on to the ceiling, was compelling in its own right. Lying on the floor, we gazed up at the palely naked, flexing and contorting body of performer Eleonore Ansari. Our 3-D glasses brought her arching back within inches of our faces, confounding reality and replacing it with something mystical, haunting, rare. When she looked down, only once, dark eyes locking with ours, it felt as if she saw us Afterthoughts are turbulent. Voyeurism is an increasingly tainted accusation. Yet we are, in our daily lives, forever watching and being watched. No blindfolds to absolve us here.

The innocence and beauty of Cowie's piece came to mind while witnessing Franko B's solo, I'm Thinking of You (part 1). While a pianola tinkled little tunes, a naked Franko B sat, beaming beatifically, on a golden swing. The room glowed with the sunlight of a carefree childhood, the scars of Franko's previous body-work were like memories alongside the vivid colours of his luxuriously tattooed flesh, his eye contact with onlookers invited reciprocal smiles. Art and humanity, FrankoB and us - a restorative group hug for the heart and mind. Simply superb.

Andree Weschler, in her little white slip, seemed playfully child-like when she first started looping yards upon yards of white porcelain beads around her waif-like frame. She'd made the beads by hand, strung them herself and now, even as they visibly weighed her down, she was obsessively gathering them to her. When the thread broke, she crammed the loose beads into her mouth and continued to snake the strand round her like a boa constrictor. The blight of greed, the burden of responsibility, the drawbacks of trying to hold on regardless the hissing, clanking sounds, the sight of Weschler stooped and staggering, sent the imagination into a freefall of personal connections. A sudden flurry of new sounds. Poppings, patterings, rapid-fire rattlings. Beads flew far and wide as Weschler systematically freed herself from self-imposed bondage. And, yes, we scavenged for souvenirs. Weschler didn't intervene. She has other performances to string together.

Flour, carefully sifted through stencils, was Lesley Yendell's way of drawing us into her durational installation, Buscandose el Pan - its literal meaning of "searching for bread" is a poignant metaphor for economic migration. Bit by bit she covered a floor space with a lacy scatter of forks, spoons, sandals, laptops. Hour after repetitive, precise hour, Yendell silently sifted flour: her own labour a quiet reminder of the menial tasks so many migrant workers inherit on their travels. At 10pm on the second day - whoosh! She swept this painstakingly delicate artwork away, the motes of flour now dispersed in a final image of transience.

Elsewhere, wordplay was also having a field day. Australia's Rosie Dennis lammed into the power-game tactics of office politics, first as the fragmenting worker buckling under too many tasks and unreasonable deadlines, then as the strutting middle- manager, high - like a card-sharp - on the business of flim-flam and double-dealing. Her body ratchets and wrenches eloquently as she sputters and syncopates key phrases of panic or arrogance, all at a fierce speed that thrills, but terrifies, with its brinkmanship. You know, absolutely, what she means even as the words hurtle past your ears.

Two different programmes, tagged as Vocal Sonics, took this sound-streaming even further. With Phil Minton's Breathing Out, the human voice went travelling beyond words - gutteral cadences hinted at foreign tongues, high twitterings at rural landscapes. Tagaq opened her throat and not only spirited us into the ancient, shamanistic realms of her Inuk heritage but into a new music-poetry that tugged at our emotions, and connected us generously to hers.

Five days. And the above are only a few moments from my personal peep-show. Some encounters were dire - come on, folks, where does it say "live" equates to being unprepared or busking it on the basis of being cute/personable/caring? But others, like those with the six Belfast artists or Hancock and Kelly, were profound and meaningful. It started with a blindfold. It ended, as in previous years, with the blinkers off and the outside world seen in a new light.