A few decades ago, an AEPi fraternity brother of mine at Syracuse University, Harold Feigenbaum, took a music course in what then was a new device: the Moog synthesizer (pronounced mohg with a hard g, as in rogue).
The wondrous invention, by Robert Moog, soon would play an instrumental role in popular recordings by The Beatles, The Supremes, The Doors, The Monkees and Simon & Garfunkel, to name a few premier groups of the ’60s. What Mr. Moog, and others like him, did is credited with forever changing the sound of music.
For the original composition, each student had to create using the Moog synthesizer Harold titled his “White Noise Complaint,” a clever riff on the controversial, best-selling novel of the day by Philip Roth, “Portnoy’s Complaint.”
“White noise” can be defined as many things, depending on how it is used or heard, but in the musical realm, it is a signal used to calibrate instruments and amplification equipment.
In the bedroom realm, it can take the form of a noise machine, such as the one my wife, Elyse, sleeps with (in a manner of speaking), travels with and swears by. Her sleep is so feathery, it can be undone by my heavy breathing. That’s cool with me. Were I a jealous husband, better that it’s because of a machine than a man. I’m not jealous, though; unlike Elyse, I sleep like a baby, and, she maintains, sometimes I am like a baby even while awake. Just one of my sundry talents.
There also are smartphone apps that function as noise machines. I have one called “Calm” on which, right now as I write this, I am listening to a selection titled “Plains of Wheat.” Other so-called “scenes” on the Calm app are “Pouring Rain” and “Flying Above the Clouds.” They capture the sounds of nature, embellished with music composed by Kip Mazuy, a leading creator and proponent of meditation music. Whatever synthesizer he uses, it owes its existence to Robert Moog and his breakthrough invention of more than 50 years ago.
In today’s visually immersive culture, it turns out that white noise, meditation music and all associated sounds can be seen as well as heard. YouTube has gotten into the act with what it infelicitously brands “ASMR Videos,” which just rolls right off the tongue, like a bag of marbles.
“Sound-oriented videos are resonating with millions of users,” reports YouTube, the Google-owned king of viral video, adding, “ASMR is the biggest trend you’ve never heard of.”
YouTube says “there’s more search interest for ASMR than for ‘candy’ or ‘chocolate.’” A lot less surprising is that “the top-searched question about ASMR on Google is ‘What is ASMR?’”
It’s an acronym for autonomous sensory meridian response, which explains why only the letters ASMR are used. What it doesn’t explain is why the marketing masterminds at YouTube or Google haven’t come up with a slightly snappier name that doesn’t sound like an exotic disease.
ASMR is described as “a relaxing, often sedative sensation that begins on the scalp and moves down the body.” Sounds a little like lice to me, but what do I know.
There even are “ASMRtists,” like one Heather Feather. Laugh if you want, but Heather’s no featherweight when it comes to her YouTube following: she has more than 400,000 subscribers and more than 1 million views. She says the sounds of ASMR feel “like the amazing chills you get when someone plays with your hair or traces your back with their fingertips.”
As I watch Heather Feather’s YouTube channel at the same time I’m writing this sentence, I’ll be darned, but it does have an ethereal effect on my state of relaxation. The sound shifts between my computer speakers, which adds to the effect. She speaks in a soothing whisper, as do others on ASMR channels.
One of those others is George Hamilton, the super-suave actor from another era with the perpetual tan. He can be seen in a YouTube ASMR video produced by fast-food chain KFC, where he portrays its iconic founder, Colonel Sanders. The sounds at play here are crispy fried chicken and Mr. Hamilton running his finger along the edge of a silk pocket square as he speaks in very hushed tones.
“There’s a lot of comfort that’s associated with ASMR,” a KFC executive told YouTube, “and that’s what our food delivers.”
Is ASMR a fad? One way to answer that is with another question: Can 5.2 million ASMR videos on YouTube and more than 16 million ASMR views be wrong? That’s 16 million views for just one ASMR video that was made four years ago. If you’re curious, search on YouTube for “Oh such a good 3D-sound ASMR video.”
There seems to be no short supply of people out there who turn to ASMR videos before they turn in for the night. Google says searches for the videos peak around 10:30 p.m. (regardless of time zone) and one of the prevalent search terms is “ASMR sleep.” More than half of the searches, says YouTube, “are on mobile as people seek this content in I-want-to-relax moments.”
We shall see where the ASMR trend goes. For now, I wish the clunky term ASMR would go away. Why not go with something simple like Dreamvision.
Sweet dreams… with or without ASMR.
Media and marketing specialist Bruce Apar is Chief Content Officer of Pinpoint Marketing & Design, a Google Partner Agency. As “Bruce the Blog,” Apar is a weekly columnist for Halston Media newspapers and PennySaver, and a contributing writer for Westchester Magazine. Follow him as Bruce the Blog and Hudson Valley WXYZ on social media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914-275-6887.