ASMR has probably existed for thousands of years, but it is only recently that it has been formally recognised and given its name. Standing for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, it describes the physical sensation many people get when listening to certain sounds, viewing certain actions or even smelling certain scents.
Have you ever got goosebumps or a tingling sensation through the back of your head when listening to someone tapping a keyboard in a library, or watching someone comb their hair? This is ASMR, and a growing YouTube community are creating videos to deliberately trigger these feelings.
Before I discovered the ASMR community, my only way of getting ‘tingles-on-demand’ was watching the Bob Ross Joy of Painting show on the Discovery channel. Although not intended to generate tingles in the viewer, his soft voice, personal attention to the viewer and the motion of his brush dapping into the paint would often put me into a morning trance.
Since 2011, public awareness of ASMR has exploded. It has always surprised me how many hands go up during a VR Meetup when I ask who has heard of ASMR. The media has picked up on it to, with it trending on the BBC, Russell Brand devoting a Trews video to it and techno artist Holly Herndon even incorporating ASMR elements into a track on her new album Platform.
Although ASMR clearly exists and offers de-stressing benefits, there is currently no scientific research to support the anecdotal claims but the medical profession is starting to consider it as a sleeping aid alternative to drugs and alcohol.
The power of ASMR can also be dependant on the mood the viewer is in, how receptive he or she is, and ASMR ‘overdosing’ which can lead to ‘tingle-immunity’.
The variety of roles plays, objects tapped and characters portrayed is mind-boggling, and some ASMR artists get a huge loyal fan base, with millions of views each. One such artist is Ally from ASMRrequests.
When I last looked, ASMRrequests has clocked up 38 million views in just three years with 234,000 subscribers, and as an ASMR fan myself, I first watched one of Ally’s videos about a year ago during a particular bad night of insomnia.
As I watched her other videos, I was blown away as to how sophisticated some of her videos were, in terms of creativity, production values and even use of special effects, one particular stand-out piece being Departure – a sci-fi based ASMR show that features an absorbing storyline that further evolves over each episode. In Departure 2, Ally teamed up with another ASMR queen – Heather Feather, well known for her Candy Queen video, the start of a collaboration that continues with The K3YS.
Perhaps indicative of how close not the creators of ASMR are, Ally and Heather teamed up with Maria from GentleWhispering who has clocked up a staggering 115 million views since her channel launched in 2011 – The three biggest ASMR stars together in the world’s first ASMR virtual reality production (enough to send shivers down my spine already!)
The meeting of the tingle-generators was to create a 360 degree video in partnership with new 360 degree content platform Littlstar. Shot in Queens, New York with a 360 Heros rig under the direction of two music video producers and edited by PixelWhipt, the 17 minute sequence is split into three themes – Time, Courage and Wisdom.
Each monologue is delivered in a darkly lit slightly other-wordly setting, with each artist delivering their theme related metaphors against a hypnotic ambient soundtrack
To promote the K3YS, regular 2D versions of their each artist’s own segments have been posted on their respective YouTube channels, with 500,000 viewers so far. At the beginning, the viewers are invited to watch the 360 degree version on Littlstar which, if viewed on the mobile Android or iOS app, can be switched to gyro mode for the VR versions when using a mobile powered VR headset such as the Freefly.
On a wider note, I believe relaxation and ASMR virtual reality is a perfect marriage. The very closed nature of a VR headset isolates the viewer from the world, especially if they are wearing noise cancellation headphones. Most ASMR videos are directed towards the viewer – and a VR headset further enhances this individual attention and intimacy.
We are already beginning to see dedicated relaxation VR experiences such as Guided Meditation VR and Eden River by Unello Designs and as I predict most people will use VR in bed, relaxation content is what they will want. And I am not talking just 360 beaches here – you can still thread in compelling storylines, as the K3YS and Depature do so well, but within a slower paced, less ‘in-your-face way.
Pro-sumer priced technology is becoming available for others to make tingle inducing 360 content. The 3Dio headset captures 3D binaural sound, often used in the higher end ASMR videos on YouTube which draws the viewer even further into the scene with lifelike sounds of whispering, crinkling and tapping. Before the ASMR craze, the virtual barber video on YouTube demo’ed how 3D binaural sounds could send shivers up a viewer’s spine.
360 cameras are also starting to trickle into the market such as the Bublcam and platforms like Littlstar and YouTube supply the access and distribution for such content.
I am looking forward to seeing where ASMR goes, and how it could relax people in high stress environments such as dentists, flying and hospitals. That impending operation or period of turbulance would be far more bearable with a reasuring voice whispering “everything is going to be okay” from ear to ear.