Sapphire Haze wants listeners to engage all of their senses

    1 of 2 2 of 2

      On the Music on Main website there's a quote from one of the members of local duo Sapphire Haze—it doesn't specify which—that reads: “We want the audience to engage all of their senses as they listen: touch, taste, smell, vision…"

      Now, that might seem like a pretty tall order, but Cindy Kao (violin) and Aysha Dulong (electronics) believe it's possible for music to be far more than just an aural experience.

      "Just think about what the sound is doing to you," says Dulong, calling with Kao from downtown Vancouver. "And for us, a lot of times a sound relates a colour, but also sometimes the sound would trigger a body part—I feel like tingling in my left pinkie or something. So we want the audience to try and imagine what that is doing to their bodies, but also where they physically feel like they're being taken to."

      "We want people to engage their full body when they're listening," adds Kao, "because a lot of the time we just listen and we don't really focus on like 'What does this really feel like?' And I think that's what we really want people to do. We want you to engage all your senses in a way that you never really thought about doing."

      Kao and Dulong first met at Simon Fraser University in an electroacoustic class, when Dulong needed a violinist for a composition she was working on.

      "I knew Cindy was really good at violin," says Dulong, who uses the pronouns they/them, "and so we got together that way. But then we noticed that when we were improvising and coming up with little parts for the piece we really liked the same things, and the same sounds. And I think that had a lot to do as well with our synesthesia experiences, because I don't know very many other people that have that same feeling when they hear sounds."

      (Note: according to, "Synesthesia is a fancy name for when you experience one of your senses through another.")

      Dulong uses their laptop along with software like Ableton Live and Logic Pro to create Sapphire Haze's sonic soundscapes. They developed their interest in electronic music quite late in life; it wasn't like they grew up on a steady diet of Kraftwerk and Brian Eno.

      "I didn't really start electronic music till I got into university," they explain. "Before that I played solo piano and flute in wind ensembles, and once I graduated high school I felt like I was hitting a wall with music—I needed something new. So I thought, 'Why not try out composition?' And when I enrolled at SFU I discovered my love for electronic music, there was so much of that there, and sound designing as well comes with that.

      "I'm all over the place with my music tastes," they add, "but I do really love an artist called Caterina Barbieri right now—you can look her up. And also Amon Tobin is really cool. I also listen to a lot of really experimental pop styles, and there's an artist called SOPHIE that I love. She actually recently passed, last year. But she was amazing."

      As far as Kao's connection to her instrument goes, she started playing at a young age, but not of her own volition.

      "I wasn't actually interested in it," she says, "but I was pretty decent at it so I got pushed. Then I got stressed about it, so I just stopped playing for a while until I went into theatre school, to study acting. A few people found out that I have a background in music, so I got to do some sound designs while I acted, and it kinda brought my music-loving self back."

      Dulong earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Music Composition from SFU last year, while Kao got herself a BFA in Theatre Performance.

      "It just made me more open to being spontaneous when creating art," says Kao of the education. "There's no one way of doing that, and a lot of times I play music now and I'm finding that I compose and devise my actor body a lot, and visualize things a lot more than just sound. And utilizing synesthesia that both Aysha and I have. So just being more spontaneous and open."

      The local buzz on Sapphire Haze got a boost last November when the duo performed their composition "Asphyxiation" at the Roundhouse during Music on Main's 10th Modulus Festival.

      "That piece is mainly about the environment," says Kao, "and our relationship to technology, so we're kind of juxtaposing my acoustic sounds with Aysha's more metallic sounds, and how it blends, and if we can find a balance or not..."

      "How do we balance with nature and how do we balance with technology," injects Dulong, "but what would it sound like if we went too overboard and nature couldn't keep up, or vice-versa. If nature was to take over us, who belongs to what?"

      Interested Vancouverites will get their own chance to hear—not to mention touch, taste, smell, and see—Sapphire Haze when it plays the Fox Cabaret this Tuesday (April 12). The program includes one composition by Kao (Falling), one by Dulong (Standing Still), and three cocreations (Pastel Places, Gently Catapulted into Nothingness, and Seasick Velvet).

      "All the pieces kind of string together in a straight line," says Kao, "and it's all based on like a dream sequence. It started off as a dream that Aysha had, then I started improvising, and that's how we created the first piece [Pastel Places], and we just kinda took it from there.

      "I think the idea of dreams fits with us really well," adds Dulong, "because a lot of the time when you're dreaming you can't really control what happens next, you kind of let yourself go with it, and we want the audience to feel that way when they're listening. You don't really have control over what's happening next, just let it happen and think into it whether it feels good or feels bad or feels whatever way it feels. It's happening."

      Music on Main presents Sapphire Haze at the Fox Cabaret on April 12.