I first discovered ASMR one evening as I was standing in my then boyfriend’s kitchen, idly rolling a grapefruit across his marble countertop. It made a thuddy, rubbery swishing sound. “Do you hear that?” I asked. He listened, then replied judiciously (wistfully?): “Hm. I just don’t hear it the way you do.” Though we eventually got married, we still don’t always hear things the same way.
They next ran their fingers along the teeth of two plastic combs, sometimes tantalizingly slowly, releasing each tine before clicking onto the next, and sometimes fast, creating a tinkling, zippery ripping, holding the combs next to each participant’s ear. I couldn’t help smiling, though I didn’t quite get the tingles. Punctuating the ASMR noises was the plangent, elephantine squeeze of a harmonium.
A Tibetan singing bowl keened and hummed, like a finger run over the rim of a wineglass.
Andrew then asked us to slip on our latex gloves and rub our fingers together to “make noise for the room,” then to bring our fingertips next to our ears and “softly, secretly, make some sounds just for you.” The powdery whisper felt intimate and alive, like the static between tracks on an LP. When we cupped the glass beads in our gloved hands, they washed against one another with watery clicks. Then Andrew and Will swept around the room, crumpling sheets of tissue paper with a crashing roar, then bending rolls of thicker paper back and forth, which sounded like a flag whipping in the wind. Held next to my ear, the tissue had the effervescence of lather foaming on one’s ears during a shampoo. Then came the springy pings of a thumb piano.
After a wafting of sage incense, Andrew played the ocean drum, which is filled with metal beads that sweep against stretched fabric like wind blowing sheets of rain across an expanse of water. Andrew flashed about the room, casting his shadow across the pressed-tin ceiling.
I realized that noises that might otherwise have annoyed me had now become part of the ASMR landscape: the rustling of a parka, joints cracking, a zipper, snoring (!), and even the meteoric growling of a rumbling stomach. My most recent Waves sound bath happened to take place on Election Day; Andrew had forgotten that the church is used as a polling site. On that night, the sounds of the show were punctuated by heavy footsteps and the scraping of table legs in the room above us. It occurred to me that this might be a litmus test for ASMR: from the pings of a hair comb to democracy in action.
For tickets to the next Waves sound bath at Gymnopedie, Hoepfner’s arts and performance space in Bushwick, click here. The photos above were taken after the sound bath; no photography is permitted during the experience.