S+ Stimulant: Autonomous sensory meridian response


‘K… R…’ said the nursemaid, and Septimus heard her say ‘Kay Arr’ close to his ear, deeply, softly, like a mellow organ, but with a roughness in her voice like a grasshopper’s, which rasped his spine deliciously and sent running up into his brain waves of sound which, concussing, broke. A marvellous discovery indeed – that the human voice in certain atmospheric conditions (for one must be scientific, above all scientific) can quicken trees into life!’ – Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf


The above quote is taken from Virginia Woolf’s classic novel, Mrs Dalloway and, according to some (namely Austrian writer, Clemens Setz), is a perfect description of the ASMR phenomenon.

Autonomous sensory meridian response (or ASMR for those who prefer acronyms) is a phenomenon characterised as a distinct, pleasurable tingling sensation in the head, back or scalp. The sensation is triggered by particular sounds, often those which are quite random. These might include scratching, crinkling and tapping; or the light careful whispers of a particular voice. Whatever the sound may be, it induces in the listener a calm pleasantness, and some people with ASMR use their own key sounds in order to relieve insomnia, anxiety or panic attacks.

It’s not dissimilar to phenomena like synaesthesia, in that it’s an innate connection with the senses and those who have it often don’t realise everyone else doesn’t. And like synaesthesia, ASMR can be used as a tool to access imaginative and creative powers. The sensation evoked by ASMR borders on the hypnotic, and can even be used to explore altered states of consciousness.

If you don’t have ASMR, though, don’t fret. It’s a great example of how the senses can be conduits to different states of reality, but each of us has the ability to use our senses to tap into these deeper states. We each of us have our firebrands – a particular sound or smell – which triggers something inside of us. Woolf described the result as quickening trees into life; it might just be the catalyst you’ve been waiting for …


W.K. 2015


Published: October 1st, 2015

You may also like:

S+ Stimulant: Flutes

Leave a Reply