RIGHT FACE At a video camera while scrutinizing the viewer with serious and unwavering intent, Erin Gee does not hide the fact that she is looking for a willing collaborator. “Welcome,” she intones in a hoarse, half-whispered voice. “Thank you for joining this experiment in wave reforming mind technology. Don’t confuse your confusion or your doubt or your panic. You’re going to have to buy into this a little. Listen, listen, I’m gonna make it all make sense.
We watch We as waves, a 2020 collaboration with playwright Jena McLean which, as far as I can tell, is a sonic work of art designed to stimulate a pleasant, relaxed tingling sensation in the viewer – and perhaps, given its origins in the early days of the COVID outbreak, to serve as a balm to the sense of isolation many felt during lockdown. Gee’s soft tones and breathy whisper, his constant gaze, the electronic taps, clicks and rumbles behind his voice, and his instructions to “inhale, exhale” are all designed to trigger what has come to be known as Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or ASMR. .
ASMR is still not well understood, yet it has spawned a vast network of ASMRtists who to date have uploaded millions of sensory provocative videos. Some neurologists believe that stimulating the region of the brain that responds to ASMR triggers could potentially relieve pain or stress, but others warn that too little research has been done on ASMR to make general statements. .
Gee is a believer and someone who responds to ASMR stimuli. But the reason I qualify my response to his art with “as far as I know” is because apparently I’m not. I can happily listen to hyper-complex composed music or harsh noise while making breakfast, and yet I’ve tried and failed to watch Gee and McLean’s 10 Minutes We as waves four times. For me, it’s a psychically painful intrusion, the kind of forced intimacy that literally makes me squirm. Admittedly, maybe I’m the kind of weirdo who resists sustained eye contact, who can be awkward in one-on-one social interactions, or who, as some former girlfriends have suggested, lies somewhere on the autism spectrum, probably towards Asperger’s Syndrome. side of the equation.
Or I could be perfectly normal, and just different.
“According to some scientific research, 25% of people suffer from ASMR, which is this physiological tingling experience,” Gee says in a phone interview from his home in Montreal. “I first experienced this when I was little, when people read books to me. The sound of pages turning, personal attention, eye contact and someone’s soft voice reading you a story really made my tingles go up. And, furthermore, 25% of people enjoy ASMR but don’t necessarily get the tingly feeling, at least according to science. Another 25% can take it or leave it, they encounter it only in the form of music or sound.And then we have the famous 25% who suffer from extreme misophonia and do not support ASMR.
“I’m sorry you felt that way!” She adds. “It’s definitely is forced intimacy.