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Meet Humm, the Music Collective Blending Soft Tunes With Orchestral Instruments

Though palpably yearning in nature, Humm's music invites listeners to embark on a journey where healing is the quintessential experience.

My first impression of Humm was one of curiosity and amusement. The members, despite being in the same band, exude vastly distinctive personal and performance styles. If it wasn't for the stage that they shared, one would assume that they were individuals on unrelated paths. But through their musical bonds, these seemingly jagged puzzle pieces fall into place to make a whole and vibrant Humm.

(No) strings attached

One of Humm's defining traits is that the group operates on a rotational basis. With the exception of the Humm's ace Châu Nhi, who composes and provides vocal, other members can choose whether or not to participate in a production or performance.

“Since the very beginning, we have never really been a formally founded collective with roles set in stone, so our members aren't obligated to take part every single time either,” says Châu Nhi. Their participation, instead, depends on whether they find themselves a good fit for the score.

Humm's complete lineup.

With their flexible arrangement, Humm can be anything from a full-fledged ensemble of a cellist, violinist, guitarist, pianist, flutist, and beatboxer, to a more stripped-down version led by Châu Nhi and two or three instrumentalists. But regardless of the number of presenting members, Humm's core strength lies in their soaring harmony — where Châu Nhi's lullaby-like vocal meets the delicate tunes of the instrumental virtuosos.

Humm's full lineup includes Thái Bùi (lead guitar), Trí An (violinist, cellist), Nhật Minh (pianist) and Trung Hải (flutist), Xuân Huy (beatboxer), Khánh Du and Nam Đình (violinists). As a band heavily invested in the instrumental side of musical performing, Humm is confident that any of their live stagings will be a step-up from listening to their recordings alone, as it can "incite raw emotions from the audience" and "introduce classical instruments to listeners that aren't as familiar."

On making music that heals

While Humm consists of multiple gifted composers, Châu Nhi has been vested with the leading role of composing for the band. Trí An, her trusted assistant, upon receiving the composition's first draft, will proceed to experiment with the sound mixing and the timbre of each instrument to match the song's synergy.

For instance, in songs that carry a more somber undertone like 'Triền Miên,' the electric guitar will be taken out of the equation. Similarly, works with a softer and delicate sound like 'Nắng' won't make much use of beatboxing as a base. Meanwhile, a flute is utilized in songs that are more melancholic such as 'Gió Hát Lao Xao,' while the violin's resonance is used to drive tension and passion in songs such as 'Tôi sẽ là gió bay.' 

Humm draws their strength from the synergy between classical and modern instruments.

Thanks to Humm's impeccable arrangements that incorporate classical instruments, the band's covers of Vietnamese classics such as 'Dạ Cổ Hoài Lang' (Cao Văn Lầu), 'Tôi Ước Mơ' (Thích Nhất Hạnh, Phạm Duy) and 'Đóa Hoa Vô Thường' (by Trịnh Công Sơn) pay homage to the timelessness of the originals while offering younger listeners a fresher contemporary take.

While the band takes pride in its expansive musical repertoire, the one song that Châu Nhi believes best represents the band's spirit has to be 'Mùa Xuân.' "'Mùa Xuân' was written when we were yet to face the pressure from our own expectations, from others around us, and from the success of the other songs we have released, so its melody is just the simplest and purest thing ever." It was also a production that all the members took part in, so the making of was "teeming with joy," says the main vocalist.

"'Mùa Xuân' is the simplest and purest melody that we have ever written."
— Châu Nhi.

As for me, 'Triền Miên' is still the song that should be mentioned when introducing Humm to anyone. A Humm "signature" with Châu Nhi's tender voice on a piano and violin score, the track's endless resonance parallels the anxiety one experiences on their journey to discover themselves.

“I wrote 'Triền Miên’ for a songwriting challenge at Homeland Artists, whose theme was 'To live is to let.' The challenge's theme was intended to be a message about living with a purpose, but when I got down to writing the piece, I began to wonder if I'm truly 'living' and if my existence has a meaning at all," Châu Nhi recalls.

The intrusive thought put Châu Nhi in a trance, where she felt as if she was walking in a dream, a vicious circle with no way out. “So ‘Triền Miên’ is a work that is reflective of the person I felt I was at the time — struggling, stuck, scared, and small.”

The official music video of 'Triền Miên.'

With that in mind, 'Triền Miên' was composed in just an afternoon, and its music video shot in 24 hours. Though the production was fast-tracked, its quality wasn't compromised, and the result was a harmonious mix of instrumentals and visuals built around the concept of shadow play. When watching the metaphorical images in the MV, viewers will find themselves pondering the multi-layered meanings contained therein, and choosing which meaning is meant for them.

An even cheesier production

As they make their way through the 2022 music scene, where public taste and trends are ever-changing, Humm has remained unwaveringly loyalty to one thing when it comes to crafting their debut album: "Being Cheesy!"

"Our upcoming album will be full of songs composed for hopeless romantics," Châu Nhi says. She also uses the same word to describe Humm's music, so audiences can expect an album that's faithful to the band's core, alongside their signature positive, bright, and hopeful sound. Nhi also reveals that the next EP may feature a more elusive track — 'Châu Nhi' — the demo of which is already available to the public on SoundCloud.

As it was written for herself on her birthday, she associates the songs with utmostly hidden emotions. "I was sobbing as I wrote the score. Later on, I would just call it a 'birthday song' because I hope it can be a present for everyone on their special day," she says.

But it is not only Châu Nhi, but all members of Humm that strive to bring comfort and ease to those that are hurting through their music. And it is perhaps this “healing factor” that time and time again makes Humm beloved for listeners on their own path to mend and heal.

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