New Zealand gets its first ever Sonic Art Festival

A Wellington exhibition hopes to find new ways to connect art and the audience - through sound.

"Sound's a really fundamental thing for everybody," says curator Dugal McKinnon.

"It's the first thing we actually become conscious of in our mothers' wombs, and it often doesn't get explored as material for experience. So that's what this festival is all about."

Aotearoa Audio Arts is the country's first ever sonic-art festival, and explores how audio, space and movement can play off each other to create art.

"Sometimes it's really hard to decide if what you're hearing is music, or sound art, or if you're looking at a piece of visual fine art. Often it's those things working together," says Dr McKinnon.

The three-day exhibition at Potocki Paterson Art Gallery is being curated by the New Zealand School of Music at Victoria University of Wellington, where Dr McKinnon is associate professor.

"It's one thing to buy a piece of technology and use it in your practice, in any type of music - but here, to have people making the various stuff they're working with, that is quite new and I think it's about time it was celebrated here," says Dr McKinnon.

Art from Canada and the US is on display, but there's also a Kiwi contingent - Wellington-based Blake Johnston uses the audience's own experience as an artistic material.

"The idea behind [the artworks] is the audience is drawn to their own perception, their attention is drawn back to their own perception," says Johnston.

Certain works at the exhibition require the viewer to stick their head into a speaker, stand in a certain place while sound bounces off glass panels - or in Johnston's piece, put on a pair of handmade headphones which have pads that sit on your cheekbones, sending vibrations into your skull.

"If you've been to a live show before, you have that very bodily sense of music and sound. But this work is much more directed towards that experience," says Johnston.

Showing sound isn't just something we feel through our ears - it's a full-body experience.