FACT Rated is our series digging into the sounds and stories of the most vital breaking artists around right now. This week Henry Bruce-Jones speaks to serpentwithfeet collaborator and Best of Bandcamp fave mmph about his new EP on Tri Angle, Serenade.
“You could read it as in the phrase, ‘Put a little bit of mmph in it’,” producer Sae Heum Han says of his moniker. “I just wanted to come up with something with a ph-ending, that was it… I thought it looked cool in the writing.” Like his post-orchestral Baroque pop tunes, Han’s attitude is nerdy, subtly impish and purely felt.
It is this mixture of the cerebral and the emphatic that defines much of mmph’s sound. “It was really just about making it as fun for everyone as possible,” he says reminiscing about the project’s start in the Boston DIY scene. “We didn’t really worry too much about making it sound pristine, it was more about getting that gut feeling out.”
The fruits of this early experimental period, including Dear God, initially released via vaporwave label Beer on the Rug, and the more recently released Serenade, Han’s new EP for Tri Angle, both combine intricate orchestral instrumentation with darkly jagged electronics for a sound that punches you in the stomach as it worms its way into your brain. The result is what the London Contemporary Orchestra interpreting a Ruff Sqwad instrumental might sound like, or if Rian Treanor decided to craft one of his deconstructed rave cut-ups using only recordings of Wagner and Debussy.
A distinctly DIY spirit informs Han’s music just as much as his classical training at Berklee College of Music, where he initially attended to study cello. “When I first came to Berklee, I didn’t even know how to use anything [to make electronic music], I didn’t know how to use Ableton”, he says. “It was only after meeting all these people and having them introduce me to Venetian Snares and Oneohtrix Point Never and all these artists that I’d never heard before that I started making the music I make.”
The importance of the musical communities of both Berklee and the Boston scene is something the young producer positions at the very forefront of his work, a collaborative urge made most apparent in the Serenade single ‘Woodlawn’. “Woodlawn was the place that I lived in Boston, in Jamaica Plain,” he says. “My friend was the landlord, so for four years we did literally whatever the fuck we wanted to do there.” The track itself captures this joy perfectly: it opens with sunny looping guitar and pizzicato strings before accelerating into a frenetic ambient wig-out. “That’s what Woodlawn is kind of about,” says Han, “just having a good old time with my friends”
It’s this fundamentally human aspect of mmph’s sound that makes it so immediately evocative. This is clear not only in terms of the many collaborators involved in its conception, but in the raw material of the music itself. ‘Tragedy’ splutters into life with the stuttering refrain of a synthesized choir, while EP opener ‘Minuet’ is built around a OPN-esque syncopated vocal loop. “I wanted just the texture of the voice,” Han says. “I didn’t want the voice itself to be there but the textural stuff to be alive.”
This preoccupation with the potency of the human voice is understandable. Han’s collaborations outside of his own work include ‘Doing The Right Thing’ from David Byrne’s American Utopia and contributing to standout tracks ‘Cherubim’ and ‘Waft’ from label mate serpentwithfeet’s breathtaking debut Soil. He says, “The whole thing about the voice is that it has some sort of magic to it.”
From Han’s point-of-view the elevated atmospherics of mmph, Byrne’s boundary-pushing and serpentwithfeet’s soul-bearing ultimately share a creative commonality: “they’re trying to create their own world,” he says. It is this generative urge that underlines the essence of his artistic ambition: “At the end of the day your job is to try and make their world possible.”
Henry Bruce-Jones is a news writer at FACT.