By: Tim O’Donoghue

I’ve been asked about ASMR and spatial audio a lot recently so I thought I’d drop a quick blog to talk about them and highlight some interesting related work that’s out there right now.

ASMR is something of a YouTube phenomenon. If you’ve never heard of it, “Autonomic Sensory Meridian Response” is brain tingles brought on by certain types of video and sounds. Typically soft clicking, tapping, rustling or gentle scraping sounds, calm voices as well as role play situations like haircuts, manicures and medical exams that involve close attention. You might think it all sounds a little bit weird, and the reality is that it’s not known exactly what percentage of people actually get the tingly brainfeels. Certainly not everyone does. Nevertheless there are more than 1.5 million ASMR videos on YouTube and a thriving online community of viewers and content creators.

Recently Ikea and Ogilvy created a 25 minute online ad that seems to be a hit with folks who get “brain orgasms” from this kind of thing. Give it a go and see if you get it – but be warned! You may discover that you experience a different phenomenon – misophonia. Misophonia is (loosely speaking) the opposite of ASMR, meaning sounds like mouth noise (which has been deliberately left in the IKEA video!) produce an excessive emotional response – pure rage and disgust! Have a listen to it here (don’t forget your headphones!) and if you get either reaction let us know on Facebook or Linked-In!

Many of the videos that have become popular with ASMR fans have done so by accident, including the classic binaural haircut video that I shared in my last blog post on the subject. Binaural is a popular technique for ASMR creators since it can give the feel of sounds or voices being right next to your ears or in the space directly around your head. New game Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a fantastic example of this technique used to chilling effect. The playable character in this fantasy thriller is suffering from a psychosis and is hearing voices in her head. The binaural mix allows these voices to be placed around the listener’s head with a much greater degree of nuance than standard stereo mixing would allow. When played on headphones the voices can really creep up behind you and whisper in your ear! Check out some of this gameplay trailer (again, headphones are required) for an idea of how it works.

It’s great to see interesting audio phenomena being embraced to help tell stories and reach new audiences. Anyway, till next time!