In late November 2015 we had a bit of a bird mite infestation (we think). First awareness of it as an insect issue was after going to the doctor with what I thought was a strange rash; the doctor advised that this was urticaria (a new word for me – ie. hives) resulting from an allergic reaction most likely to some type of insect…. The worst case scenario for us was bed bugs…
Traumatic bed bugs: years ago a friend was house-sitting for us and she has the unlucky superpower of being super-sensitive to bed bug bites – massive allergic reaction. We (in 2009) were sceptical at first having never knowingly come across these, and that we didn’t have any such reaction – however once we started looking we found all the evidence – blood spotting on the sheets, mattress and furniture near the bed, shed skins and little white eggs in the joins of the wooden bed frame and nearby wooden bookshelf – and laid there as test bait with a torch at the ready and saw them crawling on us. Well we learnt a few lessons in dealing with this issue over the next few months – the biggest help was the ‘Code of Practice For the Control of Bed Bug Infestations in Australia‘ by Stephen Doggett of the Department of Medical Entomology at Westmead Hospital in Sydney.
So returning to late 2015, we were cautiously aware that unlike this previous experience and later encounters with ‘chinches’ while travelling in Latin America in 2013 that our current allergic reaction suggested something different. Nevertheless we isolated all sheets and clothing in the bed room, bagging these up and systematically hot washed and freezing these while we looked for BB evidence (bloodspots, eggs, cascas, certain sweet smell) – nothing; and this was a relief. But we still didn’t know what this issue was – and it’s not much fun to be covered in painfully itchy bites!
To cut the ramble short – there were two possibilities that we saw as being plausible: bird mites or rate mites. We had heard scurrying in the roof above our bed recently, and we had noticed a lot of birds around. Our landlord came around and found bird droppings in the roof cavity and some small holes in the ceiling tiles.
We did some more research and found an article in the Australian Department of Health’s Communicable Diseases Intelligence journal describing a bird mite infestation in Wollongong at a similar time of year: apparently young starlings are known to leave their nests at this time of year, and their opportunistic bird mites hungrily seek out an alternate meal. Humans, although not satisfactory, make a decent second best in the short term. Inspired by this author’s detective work, we purchased a USB microscope from JayCar and got our clear tape at the ready – and when Caroline felt something crawling on her torso we were able to get it on the sticky tape:
A tiny thing (it was fun playing entomologist)! And it really did match up to the profile of either a rat mite or bird mite. Doing a bit of investigation, I found an empty nest in a cluster of branches of an overgrown vine-extending tree which had over the past few months grown to extend brushing up against the mesh screen of our bedroom window and which had also pushed their way into the roof eaves above our bedroom. Well I did some severe pruning to this tree, and a pest inspector sent by the landlord also suggested he thought bird mites were the likely source of the bites and he sprayed some pyrethrum in the guttering (a step I wasn’t sure about as I thought this might send things scurrying into our house! But he was the expert so we went with it). It is now a couple of months later and things seem fine, so the idea of bird mites having a last ditech attempt at a meal after their little bird hosts had skipped the nest seems like the likely explanation for the bites and the allergic reaction I had.
So here is a little song and video, the latter featuring some microscope footage from the Digitech 5MP USB microscope camera of our bird mite!
Quick little mash up video using some old footage I had lying around (see fox-faced dancing animal in the Ghostlight video), Resolume, the bird mite microscope vid, and a webcam shot of some paper with ‘dear Adversaire’ written on it.
Since there is no other time but now,
Will it be, will it be;
Oh we wish that it so were so.
It’s in the air we breathe
And now, now.
What is worth it is not wasted.
Oh great ape,
We are burning up.
We are burning out and in and onward.
I ‘borrowed’ some samples here from the wonderful sound and new media art archive ubu.com (I hope nobody minds? I doubt anyone will notice! but just in case they do these are great clips, so I’m sharing the sources):
‘One million years’ by On Kawara
‘Anna Livia Plurabelle’ read by James Joyce
‘Glossolalia: speaking in tounges’ from UbuWeb Ethnopoetics archive
“Speaking Freely hosted by Edwin Newman features Marshall McLuhan 4 Jan 1971, Public Broadcasting/N.E.T.” (53 seconds in… gold)
Also, the chapter ‘people and countries’ of a Librivox recording of ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ by Friedrich Nietzsche, and read by ‘Gesine’ (who has a great reading voice!)
Performed on a Korg N1, Nord micromodular, Novation X-station and playing samples on an mp3 player. Songs: Intro; Remember when the 1990s were the future?; Let’s be lazy; “all night long” (haha just a hint at 9’06”); jupiter; (14’18”) latter day art (beyond good and evil); Glossolalia; That’s the he and the she of it; The visual man
The video was made as projected visuals for Hobart+Music=Yeah in 2010. I like how if you stare at the clouds for long enough you (or just i?) see strange animals and faces emerge; trippy…
A video for the instrumental sketch of Sociaphobia by trackypants:
Four things which may have been going through my mind:
1. Ernst Haeckl’s ‘Art forms in Nature’ (1904)
2. The classic Phillip Glass clip cycle ‘Geometry of Circles’ (1979) from Sesame Street:
3. ‘Possibly Maybe’ (1997) by Björk
4. ‘Odessa’ (2010) by Caribou
“Are you lonely, are you lost? … Hello, I know that you’ve been feeling tired. I bring you love and deeper understanding. Hello, I know that you’re unhappy. I bring you love and deeper understanding.”
The 2011 re-release of Kate Bush’s ‘Deeper Understanding’ has a fantastic video clip and, although soundwise I prefer the original 1989 version, provides a great evocation of a fascinating contemporary phenomena, the artificial/electronic love archetype. This has likely been a theme in popular culture for at least as long as there have been computers: market-based solutions for the alienation of modern city life and the evidence of individualist social dysfunction this may be read as. Other explorations of the nexus between machine and affection, loneliness and desire, silicon and flesh, include Computer Love (1981) by Kraftwerk and the recent Spike Jonze film ‘Her‘.
One of the more interesting contemporary manifestations of the ‘computer love’ archetype is the popular genre of youtube videos featuring ‘ASMR’ (Automated Sensory Meridian Response). This is a hybrid genre featuring aspects of confession, counselling, flirting, guided meditation, and theatrical performance but centered on an overall aesthetic involving whispered voice, often binaural, in which the static of room sound and delicate vocal nuances are heard softly and intensely in the listeners’ ears, mostly delivered in a confessional direct ‘conversation’ by the performer facing the video camera, and making use of extra auditory triggers such as bag wrinkling, brushing feathers on a microphone or alternating breath through the right and left audio channels. The goal of the videos are to elicit an ‘automatic sensory meridian response’ and so the medium is very much privelaged over the content (a nod to Marshall McLuhan here). Here is an example:
Here I am attempting to informally articulate what I find fascinating but also unsettling about the medium of ASMR, and to place it in a popular art and culture context. As a topical phenomenon, ASMR has been written about before – here is one example of a blog post with an depth exploration of what the author describes as the notions of “intimacy and strange feelings” through technology mediated voices, and features an appropriately Marxist edge to the critique, as well as listing some other popular culture manifestations of the ‘cyborg whisper’ including the Kate Bush song mentioned above.
The role of gender in the ASMR genre is immediately apparent, with the apparent majority of channels are run by young women (as sketchily evidenced by a search for ‘asmr’ on youtube), although there are exceptions:
and this one which reminds me of the ‘word jazz’ of Ken Nordine, e.g. here and here):
If you are watching an ASMR video and look at the sidebar, you may feel a sense of ‘seediness’ from the overall gender disbalance in relation to the ‘market’ aspect of ASMR on youtube. If you search for ‘ASMR’ with a filter for view count 17 of the most watched videos on the first page are (when I searched) by young women, 2 by men, 2 indeterminate (and three advertisements). There is an apparent exchange of “what you want” gratification for viewers in exchange for (hopefully sufficient) advertising revenue: triggers; tingles; a sensual encounter. Reimbursement is totally legitimate – the creators seem to put a lot of effort into regularly releasing new videos and projecting an engaged and caring self for their audience:
And watching a few you get the sense that many creators get worn down, despite or because of the counselling role they are undertaking. Some offer coping advice directed to the self as well as audience:
The confessional monologue in the above linked video suggests that harsh comments from some audience members may be a cause for depression amongst some creators (at 6 minutes and 35 seconds), which in turn provides content for future ASMR videos. In this video you can also see the commitment to fulfilling ‘requests’ by subscribers for specific content, such as the ASMR vocal triggers in the form of spoken word lyrics (reference to requests for this at 8 minutes and 6 seconds).
There is an article on the Vice blog on ASMR which acknowledges the hallmark of successful ASMR video makers as being ‘young, female, and good-looking in a nonthreatening way’, but disavows this by saying that in general ‘…head tingles and sex don’t mix … but physical attractiveness can’t hurt’. Part of me feels that, if the essence of ASMR really is about delicate 3D voice and sound stimulation, how can it be coincidence that the ASMR medium is stylistically dominated in this way? I think there is a blurring between this ‘asexual’ idea and a reality of human sexuality, which in a market context such as youtube where advertising revenue is sought after seems to be a factor in the production of these videos. So in regard to this aspect of ASMR I am unable to fully articulate what is a vague concern of a subtext of objectification or an unnerving manifestation of comfort technology a la the Kate Bush song mentioned above.
(Incidentally, I think it’s great the Vice article mentioned above not only considers the broad range of ASMR-type videos, but also interviews people involved in the ASMR youtube community, which in my eagreness to commit my thoughts to the ether I have not done but recognise is essential for truly developing a picture of what ASMR means to people.)
The pop art aspects of ASMR videos are my favourite feature however, in particular the roleplaying variations, which can be quite surreal:
Audience-wise, based on the content and comments you get the sense that there is a cross-over between those seeking synaesthetic experiences as well as those seeking human affection, the latter as depicted in the Kate Bush video, or the Kraftwerk song mentioned above:
Another lonely night
Stare at the TV screen
I don’t know what to do
I need a rendezvous – Computer love, Computer love
I call this number
For a data date
I don’t know what to do
I need a rendezvous – Computer love, Computer love
Or myself, because feeling lonely late one night, after moving to a new city, aimlessly searching the internet somewhat narcissistically for ‘track y pants’ (a rephrasing of my own musical alter-ego), clicking on a youtube link to a powerfully creepy song by Y Pants, ‘That’s the way boys are’ and somewhat ironically clicking on the bizarre sounding link – ‘[ASMR ♥] Ear Cleaning Role Play (+massage)’ by fastASMR:
‘((**PMA Examination**)) Binaural Medical Exam Role Play ♦ Close Up Ear to Ear ASMR ‘ by WhispersREDASMR:
and ‘ASMR Cranial Nerve Exam Role Play HD w/ Ear to Ear Whispering’ by Cosmic Tingles:
So bizarre, and very creative; I think it certainly is a form of performance art. The lo-fi sound aesthetic, with glitchy artifacts in the background noise very apparent with volume turned up high to hear whispering, is for me one very charismatic attribute of the ASMR aesthetic. I subsequently read the entry for ASMR on Wikipedia and watched more, random ASMR videos.
I think the genre is fascinating and an interesting development of confessional video; counselling services; performance art; affection economy – coming together in a form somewhat like that observed by musical artists such as Kraftwerk (1981) and Kate Bush (1989) more or less thirty years ago. It is unfair to cast these themes in a solely negative dystopic light, as the songs are really musings on social change as humans integrate further with technology and away from families; computerised affection or ASMR YouTube videos may offer solutions to problems in society which probably emerged alongside industrialisation and ensuing modernisation and urbanisation. Is ASMR a form of free-market Tele-health?
And so now, after posting these really great songs about technology and affection and some good examples of the ASMR genre, here is a song I recorded late one night a couple of weeks ago. It is not a polished song, just a sketch – in a sense half way between a song and an ASMR confession; probably not as successful as either, but that’s what experiments are for:
ASMR through music with whispered singing and stuttered visions of a desolate city dreamscape
The description I wrote on YouTube:
“A sketch attempt at inducing ASMR through a song about ASMR, with whispered voice, room noise and panoramic tapping percussives.
The idea [of ASMR] is, you wear headphones with the volume up and delicate spatial noises and textures induce your spine to tingle…. This video was a late night experiment at how this would work in a musical context. Usually this is done in a different format to this though – see the side bar videos (roleplay medical exams are an especially odd experience).
Inspired by the aesthetic of youtube ASMR videos and the notion of being lonely and stressed in a city, listening to a stranger whisper intimately to ‘you’ as a surrogate for close human affection. This latter aspect isn’t what ASMR is about in essence (“tingles”), but it seems to be a part of how it plays out in youtube context, which is interesting as a sociological phenomenon.”