There’s a good chance that you have never heard about ASMR, and if you have, you almost certainly haven’t talked about it. But almost everyone has experienced it in some way or another, either as a tiny child, in romantic encounter, or maybe even during a game of telephone. When somebody whispers in your ear, it can trigger a very relaxing, somewhat paralyzing chill that spreads in a wave over the head and sometimes in the lower back. This is caused by a relatively unknown mechanism in the body called the autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR). Depending on the context, it can foster a feeling of tranquility and/or sexual arousal. While the scientific reasons for this response are still unknown, the sensation has found a significant appeal among a growing YouTube community.
A simple search of the terms “ASMR” or “whispering” will result in an array of videos that oddly enough comprise of many people just whispering to the camera, most of the time for about twenty to thirty minutes. Sometimes they just make lip sounds. Sometimes they tap and scratch random objects. Sometimes they pretend to give the audience a fake haircut.
So what’s going on here?
It turns out that for many people, ASMR videos provide a drug-free way to relax by tapping into a sensation in the body design for exactly that. In order to fall asleep, people will listen to YouTubers (sometimes known as ASMRtists) whisper and tap objects to create this sensation in their headphones. There are all different kinds of people making these videos but certain voices are more effective to certain people.
And as it happens, certain audio recording techniques are more effective as well. After finding out that ASMR videos exist, I found myself very intrigued not only by the idea of using this sensation to relax, but also how to use 3D audio recording techniques to best recreate natural human hearing. I developed an ASMR series of my own called “Ultimate Plane”. The idea behind it was to create a found footage style narrative using ASMR to tell a post-apocalyptic story. In terms of stereo recording, I used two omnidirectional stick microphones places just outside the frame of the shot, replicating approximately where human ears would pick up sound. When two omnidirectional mics are recorded together and then hard panned left and right, it creates a three dimensional listening environment, meaning that even without visuals, a person would be able to pinpoint the direction and distance of the source of the sound.