HAVE YOU ever dozed off in class while your peer next to you was scribbling something on the notebook? Or have you ever felt a strange, tingling sensation as someone whispered into your ears? Sometimes, having white noise in the background has a more relaxing effect than having complete silence. In fact, for those who feel weary after a long tiresome day, listening to these trigger sounds may be the best therapy. Sounds have actually been utilized for remedial purposes since ancient times. Many Egyptian pyramids or Greek temples were constructed near rivers or seas, in order to provide visitors with therapeutic sounds. Today, people still crave such healing sounds to relax their bodies and souls.
ASMR: relaxing sounds to calm your mind
Many people have probably heard the word ASMR, which stands for autonomous sensory meridian response. According to Newsis, a Korean news media, Koreans sleep the least out of 18 OECD countries, which is 7 hours and 49 minutes per day. Also, 12% of Koreans suffer from insomnia, and the rate of insomnia patients who got medical treatment has increased by 40.19% from 2011 to 2015. As people are suffering from sleep disorder, ASMR videos are bringing relief to those who want to fall sleep.
Some experts in psychology believe that ASMR relaxes the brain by triggering audial and visual stimuli. According to the Origin Theory 2.0 by Dr. Craig Richard (Prof., Biopharmaceutical Sciences, Shenandoah Univ.), “Endorphins are probably the primary cause of the tingles and slight euphoria of ASMR. The brain is receiving stimuli that it perceives as safe and trustworthy, like the soft voice of a clinician or the grooming touches of a hairdresser – and that causes the release of endorphins.” ASMR is considered to bring relief to those who are under stress or depression. As EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) remedy utilizes the sound of nature to maintain brainwaves in a state of alpha waves, the state of meditation, it is confirmed that sound is used in psychotherapies. Thus, ASMR that utilizes sound effects could be used to heal people’s minds.
In recent years, ASMR has caught the attention of many YouTubers. The bloggers have recorded ASMR sounds that induce *tingles* or coax the listeners into a phase of relaxation. There are various ASMR triggers that these broadcasters use. The most popular sounds are tapping on objects, whispering, ear blowing, and ear licking. Some use their mouths to make trigger sounds, such as by smacking one’s lips while wearing lipstick or eating. Other triggers include crinkling and opening lids. Those ASMR triggers affect listeners by providing a sense of tingle, relaxed healing mood, thus leading to comfortable sleep.
Some ASMR soundtracks recreate comforting experiences for their users. For instance, an ASMRist pretends to be a barber and fixes someone’s hair while whispering softly into the binaural microphones. Hence, the viewers feel as if they are getting their air done while someone is gently whispering into their ears, which is quite relaxing. Some videos provide voiceless ASMR contents. A YouTube channel, “DeepOceanOfSounds,” for instance, provides various daily life sound sources, such as sounds of paint rollers, spray painting, and hair driers. After listening to the sound of paint rollers, one subscriber has commented that “Wow, your dummy microphone head is fantastic! I felt like I could actually feel the rollers on my ears.” Another famous channel, “ASmrsurge,” posts videos that use daily objects. For example, it presents various sounds from matching jigsaw puzzles, solving Rubik’s cube, writing with a pencil, and flipping pages through an old encyclopedia. In the end, all those ASMR videos have similar effects — healing effects and helping the listener sleep well.
There are also ASMR videos that take the form of meokbang*. The YouTuber eats a variety of foods such as pasta with cheese, salad, or shrimp with celery. They eat those foods in front of the binaural microphones, so that the viewers can listen to the crunching sounds. Some ASMRists quietly cook food and film the process with the sounds of cluttering of kitchen ware, sizzling of the pan, and the boiling of water amplified. After listening to the sounds of the meokbang ASMR videos, listeners commented, “This video makes me crave for some noodles with black soybean sauce. Truly, the video holds realistic sounds.”
Although many people believe in the positive healing effects of ASMR videos, there exists little substantial proof that certain sounds are curative. In fact, many experts point out that scientific research on ASMR is difficult. During an interview with Independent, a U.K. news media, Tom Stafford (Lecturer, Psychology and Cognitive Science, Univ. of Sheffield) expressed the difficulty of doing thorough research on the subject. “It’s inherently difficult to research. The inner experience is the point of a lot of psychological investigation, but when you've got something like this that you can't see or feel, and when it doesn't happen for everyone, it falls into a blind spot,” he said.
On the other hand, some experts have pointed out the positive “meditating” effects that ASMR provides. Michael Yasinski, a psychiatrist, commented on ABC15, a news media in Arizona, that “It[ASMR] reminds me a lot of meditating. So, if you're able to focus and relax, then all the other parts of the brain that typically are responsible for stress and anxiety, things like that essentially get shut down.”
However, some have pointed out the misuse of ASMR. It is called “ASMR porn,” which includes not only kissing or masturbating, but also role plays that include kidnapping, stalking, or raping scenes. According to Edaily, a Korean news media, regulations about ASMR porn are incomplete, thus teenagers can easily access those videos online by searching on Youtube or Podcasts. Also, others have indicated “dependence” as another problem in which people crave repetitive stimulation. They eventually become addicted to the stimulating characteristics of ASMR.
Drama CD, healing with gentle voices
Today, ASMR videos are the most well-known healing contents among listeners, some of them having more than 10 million views. However, less than 100 years ago, before the ASMR boom, “Drama CDs” led the way. Drama CDs take the form of audio dramas, and they intend to please and heal people through sounds, music, and the voices of the actors. Although they are similar to ASMR in that they both serve healing purposes, Drama CDs involve the engagement of different voice actors who deliver words and stories.
Drama CDs contain various categories. Many of the CDs are Normal Drama CDs that usually target female listeners. Those CDs include voice actors’ dramatic reading, such as reading fairy tales or famous novels. Boys’ Love (BL) CDs contain romantic stories that narrate love between boys. There are also Drama CDs that are based on cartoons, novels, animations, or even games. Nowadays, there are more Drama CDs that provide healing through particular, sleep-inducing sounds to listeners.
One of the biggest Drama CD production companies in South Korea is Yahe, also called Bambada**, established in 2008. Yahe gained popularity with the release of “The JaRa” series in 2008, which contain sounds that induce sleep, such as whispers. According to Lee hye-rim (CEO, Yahe), ““The JaRa” series came from the idea that it would be charming if a gentle boyfriend or a husband softly hums to the listener before he or she gets to sleep,” said Lee hye-rim (CEO, Yahe) during an interview with The Yonsei Annals. Thereafter, in May, 2010, Yahe released “The JaJa” series which contained more adult-friendly contents such as recording sounds in sexual scenes.
Both “The JaRa” series and “The JaJa” series are part of Yahe’s “sleeping project” that provide listeners with a comfortable sleeping atmosphere. To help the listeners fall asleep, voice actors count 200 Jara***s in total in “The JaRa” series, while talking to the listener. Counting Jaras is similar to counting sheep in western countries to fall asleep. Each album is recorded by one or two voice actors, and every CD contains different stories. For example, in one “The JaJa” series, a voice actor named Hong Si-ho acted as a lonely king, and he spoke lines such as “Find me as snowflakes fall, just like today.” Lee also added, “Many of our audiences listen to the series before sleeping. We provide the voice actors with scripts, but we require them to act as naturally as possible. The CDs contain daily life conversations.” Voice actors take various roles in those CDs, including husband, boyfriend, childhood friend, or fellow employee.
Many have left heart-warming comments after listening to Yahe’s CDs. One user has commented in Yahe’s official website that “Shim Gyu-hyuk, the voice actor of this CD, has such a tender voice; I cannot help myself but smile every time I listen to his voice.” Another user expressed, “I listen to the albums whenever I have difficulty falling asleep. They help me to calm down and forget all my concerns.”
Audio Comics (ACO) is another huge Drama CD production company in South Korea. First established in Busan in March 2005, ACO creates Drama CDs just like Yahe. ACO is renowned for its “Eargasm collection,” which is a collection of Drama CDs. Shim pyo, sum pyo (comma, a breathing mark) is the most popular album in the collection, as the CD contains ASMR contents that merge white noises with situation dramas. Each track of the CD is named according to its theme, such as “Feel the pleasure of picking your ears with ear swabs while whispering” or “I’ll stroke and brush your hair when you feel tired.”
I-Doser, also known as “sound drugs”
Along with the soaring popularity of ASMR, I-Doser has also gained the attention of the public. I-Doser uses sounds to stimulate the brain, triggering pleasures in return. On the official website, Nick Ashton, the founder of I-Doser, or binaural brainwave doses, warns listeners of the strong side-effects of I-Doser: “Brainwave doses use powerful audio. I-Doser makes no claims to their effectiveness and they should be used for entertainment only...Use at your own risk.” I-Doser can be addictive, just as the names of the soundtracks suggest. Some of the tracks are titled “Bufo-toad,” “Cocaine,” “Nicotine,” and “Peyote.” After listening to “Cocaine,” one listener reviewed that “I did not feel anything for a while, and then it felt like my chair was pulsating. Then after a bit I saw one blood drop, I didn't know where it was from; the blood just dropped from above. Then it felt like my chair was rocking, and this happened occasionally throughout the rest of the dose. I then heard a group of people shouting in the background, I couldn't understand them because they were too far away.”
Moreover, I-Doser contain explicit contents, as some of the titles suggest. Soundtracks like “Afterglow” and “Multiple O” leads to a maddening orgasm. “Ecstasy” makes one fall into a trance, and “First Love” renders the feeling of one’s first intercourse. Other tracks include “Gate of Hades,” one of the strongest I-Doser sounds, which is known to contain the devil’s voice. “Gate of Hades” is known to make people break out in a cold sweat, feel like as if the world looks red, and quicken their heart beats.
Kim Dae-kwon, in his 2010 research, “Criminal-psychological consideration about cyber drug I-Doser, and its countermeasures,” mentions that 16% of those who have listened to I-Doser had serious side effects. He stated, “Most of them suffered from headaches. Some that listened to the track “Hand of God” said that they experienced seizures and had their eyes rolling back. Some said that they fell unconscious for a while after listening to I-Doser.” Because of I-Doser’s drug-like effects, the public brought up concerns about its toxicity. Thus, in 2009, there was a movement to prohibit the distribution of I-Doser in South Korea.
Though I-Doser sound files are hard to find in the country, there have been several curious netizens who have fished out I-Doser files on international web sites. Those who have listened to I-Doser left alerting messages about the danger of I-Doser. One anonymous listener commented that “When I listened to the “Gate of Hades” for the first time, I felt as if I was in hell. I listened to the I-Doser file for about 24 minutes, but had a quite severe aftermath. It was difficult to carry out normal life activities for about three to four days. Please do not listen to I-Doser.” Another listener commented, “When you listen to more than two I-Doser files in a day, you will have a serious headache and nausea.” Kim Dae-kwon further pointed out that “A validated research result on the effects of I-Doser is necessary to solve its problems, but beforehand, the public should have a second thought about listening to I-Doser.”
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Many people consider vision to be the most influential out of the five senses. However, sounds can have a profound effect on individuals as well. It can heal, give tingles, induce sleep, and coax anxieties. ASMR is gaining popularity as more and more recognize the effects of sounds. Researches about ASMR are strongly needed to find out its positive effects that could help diseases such as sleep disorder. Also, scientific studies about whether sounds could arouse certain physical symptoms should be done in order to confirm the legality of I-Doser.
*Meokbang: Online broadcast sessions in which the hosts eat food while interacting with the audience
**Yahe: The Chinese characters of Yahe means “night sea.” Yahe is translated to Bambada in Korean.
***Jara: A soft-shelled turtle which has a double meaning of “go to sleep” in Korean