Thomas Grogan is a post grad student in Design Interactions at the Royal College of Art in London. He’s also an ASMR viewer, has a great work ethic and is just about one of the calmest lovely people you could meet. He emailed me and asked if I would be interested in working on a project with him for the Changing Minds festival at the Southbank Centre in early February 2016. His email was music to my ears, ‘the power that sounds have to alter our moods’ ‘ASMR could be a therapeutic process’ ‘hyperacusis (intolerance of everyday environmental sounds)’. You see I know that the ASMR feeling and ASMR videos are a therapy already. I know the value of what it is I do, even if I don’t fully understand everything about it. I’m on a journey with my friends (the ASMR community) towards ASMR being seen as a recognised therapeutic tool. I also have a dream that one day live, in person, sensory based ASMR sessions will be commonplace and I’m working towards that dream now. Of course I jumped at the chance especially as ‘Changing Minds’ is all about the role of art in wellbeing with an emphasis on mental health. How ASMR can you get really?
So with only around a week to prepare we set to work deciding how to go about this. It really isn’t something done by ASMR content creators, we never sit in front of people when we do our ‘thing’, how could this even work in a live setting anyway? Basically I wanted to create something simple with a very small audience connected to me via headphones. My intention as this stage was not to try to induce tingles but to step out of my recording room (shed) and see faces in front of me. A big step indeed! This dream (which believe me I’ve been having for years now) consists of a quiet soundproof space with a comfortable audience, darkness, aromatherapy, textures you name it, the whole caboodle. The Southbank Centre on a busy weekend during a festival doesn’t provide this of course so we (very gratefully) went with what was available. We organised as many headphones as we could manage with the equipment we had (20 in all), found a couple of sofas in the room and closed those doors tight! The background noise was loud but we decided to incorporate this into the session taking the audience on a virtual trip around the rooms outside using sounds from objects we found lying around. Leaflets from the stands, a paper cup and wooden stirrers from the cafe and even a piece of carpet to describe the texture of the floor. I imagined encouraging presence by describing items in the here and now and exploring the sound and feel of them. It’s sometimes overwhelming to be around so many people during a public event, to focus on small details in the room could serve as a helpful technique for distraction from anxiety. With the basic layout planned we decided to publicise our event, with two days to spare! I honestly didn’t think anyone would come. I thought it was too late notice and too far for most people who even know about my channel.
People came!!! Saturday was mostly art students who know of Thomas and his work, great practise for me and a chance to explain what ASMR is to new people. Sunday was a day I will never forget. A room full of ASMR experiencers apart from two who didn’t know what it was. All knew about the channel and some I had conversed with in the past. It was a truly awesome experience. The background was a little loud but honestly I just didn’t notice it that much. I was in my own world with these beautiful souls sitting in front of me. Kindness on their faces telling me it’s alright, calm down, nothing to be worried about. I was a bundle of nerves at the start with a loud voice and shortness of breath. However funnily enough (or not so) as the session went on I calmed down immensely. It was just so lovely to see all this people chilling out in front of me. Some with their eyes shut and some not. We had a moment together. Not so many tingles as to be expected in the setting but a moment where we all knew what this was about and knew we were part of something special.
I came away knowing it was the start of my dream coming true. That live sessions can and will happen. I have more ideas now on how to make the experience something different. A chance for ASMR people to come together and celebrate what we love with an extra sensory experience. Watch this space!
For now, here is the video we made of the session. A document of what we manage to achieve. It’s not the same as being there of course but I hope you enjoy it.
With my love, Emma XX