Touching Your Ears: Towards a Materiality of Sonic Intimacy in ASMR Videos
Harten, Z.S. van
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In recent years, the intimate aesthetic of ASMR videos has challenged the boundary between real and mediated performance. ASMR refers to a physical reaction as well as an online subculture. What started with a Facebook group has grown into a large online community of ASMRtists posting their self-created videos that evoke a physical reaction called Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR): a tingling sensation down the spine which can be classified as “goosebumps in the scalp” or a “brain-gasm.” Within such videos, ASMRtists offer a mediated sonic experience by a set of performative techniques with their microphones such as whispering, ticking softly on objects, and microphone brushing. However, these performances produce a physical experience of a “touch” of the ASMRtist, a “tactile presence,” in which the boundary the mediated and the real seems to blur. In this thesis, I explore the apparent paradox posed by microphone performance in ASMR videos: the production of a seemingly “real” experience through the act of recording sound. Building on scholars from science and technology studies, popular music studies, sound studies, and media studies, I show that these conditions can be uncovered through an analysis of the relationship between the ASMRtist and the microphone. First, I explore a theoretical framework through which the experience of presence and tactility can be deconstructed, arguing that these experiences are constructed through a set of historically and culturally specific human-microphone relationships. Second, I trace how these performative relationships with the microphone have developed. Through a historical analysis of the microphone in performative practices such as radio, funk, nineteenth-century theatre, and avant-garde, I show that the microphone has always served as a tool to mediate the epistemological differences that shape the intimate experience of ASMR videos today. Finally, I analyse how the current mediation of differences are channelled by the digital writing system of the microphone allow me to produce an intimate aesthetic in recording my own ASMR video. Ultimately, I argue that it is through a process of touching upon these the boundary between these differences that a tactile presence is mediated. Together, these chapters aim to provide an approach that can account for the underresearched role of the microphone and the intimate listening experiences that have surrounded them. It is through such an approach that I aim to uncover the technological and material conditions through which the experience of presence and tactility through sound recording are produced.