5 min read

Week 1, 2: Therapeutic Sound Exercise

Version 1

For this exercise, I wanted to learn more about and experiment with ASMR, however I realized belatedly that saying I want to trigger ASMR is not articulating a specific therapeutic goal. What do I want to accomplish for the listener through ASMR? Relaxation? Better sleep? Or maybe just a warm and comfortable feeling?

Yoko Nakazawa on Kintsugi (ABC Australia Edit)

This first clip uses the audio from this introduction to kintsugi, a method of repairing ceramic and pottery using laquer. I watched this video for the first time a while ago and inexplicably felt a pleasant tingling – I want to see if I could identify the qualities of the speaker Yoko Nakazawa's voice and inspire a similar response from my classmates. This video happens to be about five minutes long, so I only removed some background noise and cut the outro. I was worried that cutting certain frequencies through the denoiser and equalizer would eliminate the qualities of Yoko's voice that triggered my ASMR, but I found that the effect was the same.

Yoko has some other videos, including the one below on folding furoshiki. I think the Australian network that filmed her picked up on the qualities of her voice and used a better mic for this video. I might use this video for a second version. Perhaps there's a way of using both in one recording?

I've been asking some musician friends, including one musical therapist, about the musical qualities of ASMR, and of relaxing sounds in general. The musical therapist told me that things with consistency or predicitibility in sound can be calming and lead to relaxation, as does sound that takes up space. My other friend mentioned resonance and harmonics. I'd like to look into this ideas some more – what if we simulated that experience in Unity by placing an Audio Listener between several Audio Sources, each with a different section of the piece?

Looked briefly into any research on ASMR, and it looks like there's not much out there. People seem to know when they're feeling ASMR, but specific links to biology are still unclear, at least according to this 2015 study I found.

An examination of the default mode network in individuals with autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR)
Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is a perceptual condition in which specific visual and auditory stimuli consistently trigger tingling sensations on the scalp and neck, sometimes spreadi...

Unfortunately, I'm not able to find a recording of Yoko Nakazawa speaking without background music, otherwise I'd try layering her voice with other "relaxing" music, like parts of this track from the game Dragon Age. I might try anyway, though I feel like certain pairings of music and voice get in the way of relaxation, never mind ASMR.


"In ASMR and misophonia, it is the interpretation of the sound by the individual that seems to drive the subjective emotional response, rather than any specific physical property of the stimulus itself. The auditory-insular synesthesia model provides a neuroanatomical basis for why, in certain individuals, particular sounds subjectively evoke distinct emotions. We suggest that at an individual level, environmental influences act in conjunction with a genetic or developmental susceptibility to shape particular triggers and predict that functional connectivity between Heschl's gyri and insular cortex plays a crucial role in this shaping." (Source)

"There are a number of phenomena, from different fields, in which sounds inexplicably affect wellbeing, without a clear explanation based on the physical properties of the sounds." Connection to tinnitus? (Ibid.)

Instead of trying to trigger a feeling, perhaps consider trying to communicate a specific place, or finding an example of a sound that could be universally coded as relaxing. For example, deep breathing? The rustling of a comforter?

Version 2

I had a lot of help last class thinking about how to design a sound experience that's relaxing for a general audience. At first, I struggled to figure out a therapeutic goal that wasn't specific to my own experiences or to a specific individual's symptoms, but we discussed how there are certain exercises that work for most people, e.g., controlling breathing.

What could the role of voice be? I often find guided meditation or breathing difficult to immerse myself in because I end up stressing out about whether I'm following the directions correctly. One idea is that voice can direct a listener to a sound instead of action. Thus, with this second version I tried leading my listener to the sound of slow breathing. The track begins with a relatively fast-paced monologue describing the motion and tension of a day out, that transitions into contemplation, and then to slow breathing for the remainder of the track. The goal of this sound piece is to ease the listener into relaxation from a state of excitement or agitation, hence the contrast between the first and second halves.

Version 2

The script is below:

You arrive at The Strand first, browsing new arrivals, and when they catch up you both joke about the growing list of books you'll never get to finish. Yet neither one of you hesitates, as you circle tall shelves together, to record each and every recommendation between you, through a picture, or a note, as if to constantly reaffirm your shared taste.

Outside, you begin walking downtown without a particular destination, tracing a familiar route through East Village so that you have ample room to think of stories to tell each other, from lives you hadn't shared.

You make a stop for ice cream, another to split an order of fries, again at another bookstore, and eventually a bar, for a break from all the walking. And along the way, you take turns offering new topics of conversation, diligently making your way through a growing list you'll never get to finish, as every thread between you creates another to explore.

But over drinks, between slow sips as you wait for food, the conversation falls into a lull.

You watch as they stare into their glass in contemplation, and then you look into your own, and notice how the light  above refracts through liquid. You wonder at first if there's any need to fill the void between you two, until you hear their long, deep breaths. You focus on each inhale, wait for the exhale. In. Out. In. Out. One after the other, you learn how to listen to their silence.