With respect to ASMR

I wasn't aware of this sub-culture until autumn 2017, when Ron Kuivila mentioned it while discussing the question of the sociality of algorithms. Glancing over this YouTube culture, for me questions or observations are:

- what motivates the creators of these videos? You (Erin) mention that Karuna Satori is one of your favorite artists. As the number of clicks is sometimes going even above one million, I would guess there is both an economic and a narcissist motive (perhaps next to others). You write that there is something 'anti-capitalist' to it, but at closer reading, I would actually see it fit also within a neo-liberal context. There is the Patreon profile linked, which I assume is a source of income; I'm not sure about YouTube itself, but I would guess the channel also creates a revenue. Also the self-help aspect, for me, is an indicator of capitalism as well ("help yourself, as nobody else will").

- it seems to be a phenomenon primarily found in USA (?), which makes it perhaps a reflection of cultural and social issues or conflicts particular to the USA, e.g. the division of the society into alt-right versus their perceived enemies ('social justice warriors', black lives matter etc.). For example, "safe space" seems to be a cliché in ASMR, where it is translated into a kind of eroticized intimacy between the creator and the (abstract, assumed) viewer. Again, this is just an observation in frequency, but it seem to be predominantly white women in a certain age group, with a specific way of self-portrayal of the artists that is shared among the creators.

- while this sub-culture may produce a particular kind of awareness for sound and the aesthetics of sound, it appears to me that it is not a primary product, but subordinate to the assumed therapeutic or fetish function. I'm therefore unsure about a cross-link (perceived by the creators themselves) to acousmatic or phenomenological ideas?

- like many other occurrences in pop culture, it seems to relive aspects of former episodes; for example, the aesthetics may resemble New Age, with esoteric overtones (including the make-up and styling). Apart from the one-to-many platform (YouTube), how could this become a new phenomenon and wherein lies the artistic interest? You write, the goal is to make people relax, but to which audience does that apply? For me, it may have the opposite effect – as in other situations where "relaxation" music causes me stress instead. It reminds me of the Muzak discourse in sound ecology on the 1960s and 1970, that is the functional design of a soundscape. And as a soundscape, it leaves me personally emotionally untouched, so I would not know how to comment on the relation between ASMR and emotions.

- in your blog you mention the location of the experience, regarding the mind-body question, you also mention synaesthesia. Perhaps here lies a problem to discuss, namely the obsolescence of this dualism (mind / body).


{function: comment, author: HHR, keywords: [ASMR, mind, body, emotions, sound]}

One suggestion I thus have about ASMR, it's to also look at the medial or socio-pathological conditions of this phenomenon, instead of merely the sonic phenomenological surface. Both creator and audience are perhaps not unlike Dr. Jacoby and Nadine Hurley in Twin Peaks: The Return, as depicted in the video below. Of course, this does not depict a mass audience, and the economic model is slightly different (Dr. Jacoby is selling the golden shovels), but in many ways one can identify similar mechanism. For example, the improvised "studio" with the absurd props brought in front of the camera, the esoteric thinking, the intimate relationship between the two (they meet later in the series which, as a personal encounter, of course is highly unlikely in the ASMR case, but, given the personal singular person address, might play into the imaginative of the audience). A core element seems to be, of course like most other social media, the eversion of public/private.

{function: comment, author: HHR, keywords: [ASMR, social media, sound]}

Responses {hhr, 19-mar-2018}

edited 09-dec-2019

meta: true
author: HHR

persons: [EG, HHR]
function: survey
date: 180319

keywords: [ASMR]

{EG} Hmm I think it's this that I most strongly disagree with.  Frances Dyson for example makes a critique of  academic practitioners in sound practice for having similarly spiritualized obsessions with sound.  For example she points out that some academics are fascinated by technical processes (technological fetish) and also a spiritual "connection" with the "world of sound" (from her book Sounding New Media).  So I find this judgement a bit interesting in itself ....if you are to say that ASMR is largely American, female, white, it makes an interesting contrast with the academic/institutional world of sound...and I think you already know the demographics there ;)


The top YouTubers are definitely pretty white females, but maybe this has more to do with the platform than the practice itself, I don't think it's fair to write off ASMR for these reasons specifically.


So to speak of the fetish in ASMR, I associate this fetish with the technique, or means of production.  Take this video by Dana ASMR. The focus is clearly on the way sound is made, the connection between materiality and aurality as linked or processed through the eye.  The content is the production itself.  Is this really so distinct from many advanced technological practices in sound, for their own sake? 
Dyson criticizes theories of sound as they are at once raised to spiritual heights and thus negated as objects that can be discussed.  So to Dyson, sound as theorized rests at an impasse between overtly technological process, and the erasure of these technological processes through spiritualized / cosmic discourse.

I return to this practice of ASMR and think: is the critique a question of gender and democratic access to tools of electronic sound production?


{function: response, author: EG, keywords: [ASMR, mind, body, emotions, sound, gender]}

{HH, 29-Mar-2018} I will try to formulate my objection as a collection of question marks. How, if ASMR is supposed to describe a medical/physiological/perceptive/auto-suggestive condition, is it that there is such homogeneity of "content producers" (which I suppose also experience/receive the phenomenon)? Where are the persons that deviate from this homogeneity (in gender, in abledness, in age)?

Thank you for the various literature pointers. I partly retract my assumption of being a very recent thing, as Hudelson's good analysis dates from 2012, and I can find earliest instantiation on YouTube dating back to 2009 ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XFuYDyLbYe8 ; fountain pen) and 2008 ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A9TRcRKwAv8 ; bulimic girl chewing on cheese). Nevertheless, the Hudelson text confirms some of my observations. For instance, that the aesthetics of sound may not be the primary output but a side-effect to the assumed therapeutic or fetish function (and consumers are overwhelmingly of the opposite sex).

You are saying that a strong demographic or gender bias can also be held up against academic electronic or acousmatic music. I wouldn't disagree, but gender disparity in one domain does not need to invalidate the problem of such disparity in another domain?

So to return to the beginning, my main questionmark would be, to understand what is artistically motivating you or challenging you regarding ASMR as the research topic. As a disclaimer, I simply find it hard to disentangle my perceived amplification of gender stereotypes, the "performance of gendered touching" and the viewers' "pleasure in the intimacy and complicity of pretending" (Hudelson), from a connection between materiality and aurality. But perhaps exactly this is an integral part of your artistic interest with this culture?

Thank you also for pointing out the work of Frances Dyson. I have started reading the book you were referring to, and I can see how it could be important for our discussion of body/embodiment, voice, etc. From the bit that I have read so far, I find particular resonance with the critique of VR ideologies.

{function: response, author: HHR, keywords: [ASMR, mind, body, emotions, sound]}

{EG} Maybe more like a citizen science? I see your point about the capitalism of ASMR, perhaps it is more accurate to highlight how it operates / grows independently and makers follow a wide range of practice / monetization.  The practice literally emerged from a forum conversation online as part of an experiment to electronically invoke "tingles" so I'm not sure the origins really had much to do about Patreon, but yes I can't overly romanticize this. So perhaps the science and synaesthetia element is more interesting after all, and there is certainly more written on these topics.
{function: response, author: EG, keywords: [ASMR, tingles, synaesthesia]}

"Human voices in Electronic Bodies"

"Electronic Voices in Human Bodies"

(it appears to me that despite all the emphasis on the personal level, the one-to-one relationship between ASMRtist and viewer, the individual responses of a particular viewer, etc. - the actual dynamics are social in nature?).

--> this aspect seems to be actually in your project, as you write of "processes of vocalization, vibration and language, as sites
from which meaning is collectively drawn from humanity, and later articulated by techne." (my highlight)

Can we think of the opposite of the prevalent ASMR aesthetics? One occupied with deafing loudness, with filled spectra, with the impossibility of touch, the remoteness, non-personality?

With respect to ALMAT

In the e-mail from 15-Mar-2018, you (Erin) write: "I have some ideas for technical research but also find this idea of embodied algorithmicity." I (Hanns Holger) also want to recall these two "titles" from your proposal:

- Human voices in Electronic Bodies
- Electronic Voices in Human Bodies

For me, these two questions/titles are very intriguing, and I hope that you and David could start develop an 'experimental situation' based on this. Without dismissing that we begin with ASMR, focusing on these questions might put the project from the head to the feet, that is to say, Then perhaps ASMR could be framed within this question? The ASMRtists rely on a particular articulation of their voice and on them becoming-electronic as they travel through the social media.


What could be critical in the next weeks, is to understand how these questions can form condensations as algorithmic experimentation. What is the nature of the algorithmic agency and mattering in this configuration?
{function: comment, author: HHR, keywords: [ASMR, mind, body, emotions, voice, agency, mattering, algorithmic, sound]}

[EG] Hmm, sounds interesting.












How could "a feminist perversion of human narcissism in machinic coupling" be operationalized in this project?

Narcissism seems to be a recurring topic in your work (e.g. Voice of Echo, Anim.OS).


Is empathy something for which psychologists or neuroscientists have the privilege of talking about? (The Cambridge neuroscience lab at which Aleksandr Kogan works who gave 50 million of the most private and pervasive Facebook data sets -- created through narcissism and "auto-curating" -- to be exploited by politics and power structures, ironically researches on

Prosociality, Well-Being, Empathy)


{function: comment, author: HHR, keywords: [narcissism, empathy]}

With respect to the research process

In your (Erin's) iteration in April/May, David will be more closely working on specific sound studies (we will see, if these can actually be coupled to your work, or if they emerge in parallel), so it will be important that he also gives you feedback in the sense of connecting with his ideas and thoughts, finding overlaps, common questions, frictions etc., all that would bring the process forward. I will try to go a bit into a position of observation of your process and your interaction with David's process, although we will not necessarily keep this distinction strict, as I also have many questions and interests that directly connect to your project, so I will probably develop these in parallel.

One central question for me is indeed the 'algorithmic body', with these elements:

- what does it mean to think the concept 'algorithmic body'?
- what would be the alignments with, oppositions or orthogonalities to 'human body'?
- how do bodies change, can one become the other, what happens in the process?
- how do typically 'human' elements relate to algorithmic bodies, e.g. emotions, gender, liquids, smells, aliveness, aging, illness and death, non-discreteness, non-ableness, otherness, ...

(This will also form of a series of pieces I will be working one, something only beginning to emerge here)

For example, you write "By linking sound concretely to gender and technology, one can employ sonic form as a model for complicating larger systems of assumption about the human body." This would be an intriguing question to follow.

{function: question, author: HHR, keywords: [algorithmic, body, sound]}

"…how voices and bodies can be extended, perverted, multiplied and

I have only recently revisited Genesis P-Orridge's 'pandrogeny' project, which is a case of challenging the boundaries of bodies and humans. (see video below)

Genesis P-Orridge and Lady Jaye 'Pandrogeny project' (1993–2009)

"… basically machines were not self-moving, self-designing, autonomous. … Now we are not so sure." (Haraway, Cyborg Manifesto)


planetary immunology


{EG} Haha, yes I agree with the stuff part: don't worry I'm bringing it!  At a certain point the bodies of our electronic devices also "speak" for themselves with vibrations and means that extend our human language and vocalization. I agree I didn't make the link between ASMR and algorithmic embodiment very clear, I didn't expect such a generous reading of my work so now I am extra happy to enter this conversation.

In particular, emotions and our physiological reactions to stimuli are of great interest to scientists working in affective computing and emotional physiology, in particular our bodies are already being treated algorithmically inasmuch as researchers are trying to understand exactly what emotions are "made of" (for example, if I am angry, what physiological processes are triggered, to what degree, does this imply that the body can be "read".

I follow this literature with some interest as it demonstrates this common thread in humanity, where we tend to use the most advanced technology as a metaphor for our body, when it seems clear to me that the most advanced technology is our bodies (themselves).  During the fordist era the metaphor of the body as a "machine" or an "assemblage" was popular, whereas now people are scurrying to understand how our mind is actually like a grand computer or algorithm.  The emergence of neural networks is interesting because it's unclear whether the body is a useful metaphor for models of information flow or whether these flows themselves were made to fit the physiological model!

So culturally there is this disposition that we have to imagining the body as already algorithmic, logical, and I am interested in making links to these very official emotional physiology practices with the "citizen science" of ASMR which concerns itself primarily with "triggers" and taxonomological categorizations of triggers and processes for achieving this europhoric state known as "tingles".  I think that simply, ASMR creates an interesting stimuli for exploring how physiological signals can be processed into sound that might feedback into this sonic trigger state.


For instance, I have previously concerned myself with using expert practitioners (actors) in generating very strong emotions from pure imagination, but I am curious to extend this to larger audiences.  I am attempting to make cheaper hardware solutions for engaging audiences in something like a "guided meditation" or something of the like, and I find ASMR an interesting model already out in the world, or at least something to reference and explore, as a way to provide a group stimuli that expects a physiological reaction from the listener, one based on perhaps intimacy, comfort, discomfort, repulsion...the physiological reactions of the group in themselves could provide useful data to the listeners as I transpose what is typically a situation between performer and "abstracted listener" as you say into a situation where the listeners as audience are in fact already more social than I am as a distanced performer, when listeners have this physiological "voice" through the biosensors that emit electronic sound, and I personally just have my performer "voice", a nice microphone, silence, my body.  It becomes a conversation between different modes of amplification of human voice: microphone amplification of larynx, FM synthesis amplification of physiological processes.  The collective bodies "speak" to one another, and listening becomes just as audible as my vocal performance, in fact perhaps more so.

You're right that I don't need to focus on ASMR specifically in my hardware/performance explorations but more that this is a genuine curiosity of mine, related to how to involve/integrate a wider circle and audience into electronic music research and to question what counts as a valuable inquiry in sound culture.  So I am listening and thinking on the video examples you have sent, how I can further pervert a format, if it is possible or if it is futile to attempt, how to build "triggers" so as to work with physiological reaction in a clear way that isn't confused by too much ........"art"......to allow the body the maximum bandwidth possible, to explore its agency (as an algorithmic agent) necessitates a certain silence or attempt to work sensitively, to choose carefully how to amplify or represent its voice.

Speaking now I wonder if by invoking the body as "foreign agent" if this in fact recreates classic dualism of subjective mind vs objective body!  Rather I hope to imply that our conscious "subjectivity" operates in tandem with our bodies as already automatic and unconscious process, and that our body is always both in a way that we are not culturally sensitive to yet, and that I hope in exploring social listening and emotional-physiological reaction to synaesthetic/embodied sound triggers that I can create a sonic fabric from these biosensors during the residency.

So in a sense I am yes, still "sonifying" emotion, but I wonder how the "trigger" of this emotion as meditation or sound on my behalf...might also become a part of this larger "algorithm" for an interactive performance.

Bring all the sensors, the actuators, the little hardware stuff!


Don't verbalize all!

{HHR, 03-Apr-2018}

'bodies … also "speak" for themselves'. I like this corrective to the usual perspective where we speak about bodies. I am also thinking that bodies are fundamentally constructed relationally, i.e. through their appearance and behavior with regard to other entities. So perhaps a useful discussion might be about what constitutes bodies. I have recently thought that the idea brought forward by anthropologist Tim Ingolds of our images of organisms is quite interesting. He proposes that instead of this:

We might think of organisms, purely relational / pure movement, as this:

and then with 'life as a bundle of lines' and interrelated:

The same might be valid for our concept of 'bodies'?
Do we only speak of bodies when pertaining to animate (having-been-animate in the case of 'bodies' (German would differentiate between body - Körper and dead body - Leiche))? Do any living organisms count? Would an algorithmic body thus imply a quality complementary to animate and/or living?

"... when it seems clear to me that the most advanced technology is our bodies". Indeed; I was thinking recently about the abstract machines concept of Deleuze + Guattari, in which they propose three layers: pure production, surface of recording (disjunction of subjects), consumption. I wonder if we can view ourselves and/or our bodies in these layers, and thus align bodies and machines? 'every machine is a machine connected to another machine' - at the level of 'disjunctive synthesis', bodies in relation to other bodies through disjunction ...?

"The emergence of neural networks is interesting because it's unclear whether the body is a useful metaphor for models of information flow or whether these flows themselves were made to fit the physiological model"; I'm very much interested in a critique of neural networks and their metaphors. The concept of 'flow' could be very useful also in understanding bodies, and making them distinct from 'rigid bodies' (such as a rock).

I read that your concern then is to question the relevance/validity of physiological flows for the description of bodies; I think we certainly agree on this reservation, although I would not equate the algorithmic and the logic, and by extension, to assume that the official conception of bodies is already algorithmic; or perhaps it is, but in a way of viewing the algorithmic that is distinct from my idea of the algorithmic.

From this relational properties, the next question I have, is whether there can ever be a true 'stimulus-response' perspective on, for example, emotions. What happens when you ask a professional actor to 'enact' an emotion? (What even is an emotion? I know psychological categories exists, but aren't these things continuous; I think it was you (?) who pointed out to me a book – which one? where studies concluded that humans certainly do not unanimously categorize emotions). Likewise, what does it mean that a performer "produces" a physiological "reaction" in an audience member? (and I thought I read in your statement above that there is a fundamental mismatch between physiological 'flows' and agential 'flows'?). Intimacy in particular is an interesting question; if you can artistically perform that? Of course, a lot a performance art is about making us uncomfortable with respect to boundaries and intimacy, but can they actually create intimacy, when it is defined as a coming together of two or more directions? Perhaps one can create an opportunity for intimacy.

Another interesting question with regard to the tele-* technologies, is can we replace the pair of presence/absence (still a dominant topic in Dyson's book?) by something else. In other words, is that really a good pair of thinking about corporeality, intimacy, etc.?

{persons: Tim Ingold}

{HHR, 03-Apr-2018}

Amplification is an interesting term as well. Some years ago I made an installation with that title, and at the time, I was interested in its meaning and ability to bring something tiny to the forefront using resonance (C.G. Jung uses the latinism 'Amplifikation' in German).

I recently read the article 'Artificial Communication? The Production of Contingency by Algorithms' by sociologist Elena Esposito. Departing from Luhmann's concept of communication, it is good to be reminded that "the arrow of communication" originates in the entity that "receives" (senses); I would estimate that this is also a good approximation of emotions, in the sense that they are actively produced by the individual that experiences them, with only limited control by other instances.

Like smell, sound can indeed 'trigger' memories and emotions, but that trigger is essentially outside the control of that "which triggers" (a problem of language). If I navigate to a piece of music, say, L.F.O. by L.F.O. - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RpZVPSCv79U - I have a personally reproducible physiological reaction; I can instantly feel a bundle of chemicals rushing through my body, producing the sensation of slight sweat in the torso and forehead. But is this true for you or anybody else? Unlikely. It is a resonance produced between the sound and my prior experiences. Certainly, there may be "communities" which would be more susceptible to perhaps similar reactions, perhaps due to similar contextualization, an association with the history of techno music, rave, etc. Who knows? Then, what does it mean that "an emotional response" is similar to another, how can you measure similarity? That reminds me of Bergson's duration which cannot be quantified.

I wonder how in your experimentation here the audience element could be worked with. Reading your discussion, I have the feeling that some iterative 'performance' with participants might be important; this would also constitute an interesting perspective on experimentation, which I had prior mostly thought of as 'happening in the lab'. (of course, we do have a 'workshop' situation in the very end, but it is possibly important to establish this situation throughout your stay).

"automatic and unconscious process" -- this term could also unite bodies and machines.

I'll go over now to David's replies and formulate my responses to them.

BTW - it will be interesting to see in Bergen how these ideas of corporeality come into play differently in your approach via physiology and emotions versus Thorolf Thuestad's kinetic objects that aim at the thresholds of anthropomorphic gesture (through articulation of movement).

How a body grows

and changes