I’d never heard of autonomous sensory meridian response until a few moments ago when I was half-watching the arts tv show The Mix, with a story on it about an upcoming show Blacklist by SuppleFox scheduled for the Dark Mofo arts festival at Tasmania’s always-interesting MONA (Museum of Old and New Art). Synaesthesia is a theme that has already been explored at MONA.
I definitely think some of this ASMR bizzo is one or another type of synaesthesia, and I’m also sure there are folks out there who will insist it impinges on the territory of the various sensory hyper-sensitivity conditions identified by some OTs, and also the controversial territory of autism. I do wonder what the point is, of trying to make art out of neurologically-based phenomena that are highly individualised. Most people are not synaesthetic, at least to the degree that they could score a passing grade in the Synaesthesia Battery, so I’ve got to wonder what all those non-syanesthetes get out of art that explores or uses synaesthesia. If most people do not experience touch sensations in response to watching people running fingers through hair or suffering injuries, and most people get no particular thrill from listening to whispering (which is white and whispy in appearance), then I suspect that art based on these effects will have a limited appeal. It’s quite a conversation-starter, nevertheless.
I find it interesting that in the ABC story about Blacklist video of a person buttering toast is shown, because when I butter toast or scones that triggers a type of synaesthesia in which I “see” in my mind’s eye scenes of places that I have not visited for many years or decades, just as I saw them then. I suspect that for these ASMR people their trigger would be the sound of toast being scraped, while for me the trigger is definitely the performance of the fine-motor movements involved in buttering, with a specificity to such a fine degree that buttering crumbly scones triggers a different set of scenes than buttering toast.
I also find it interesting that one scene in the story, in which a woman lies in a tank of water holding her breath, reminds me of some scenes from one of my absolute favourite films, Mad Detective, in which the main character who is labelled as mad is subversively depicted in the film as strangley gifted with extraordinary powers of perception and insight into the characters and motivations of others (he “sees” their “inner selves”). The mad detective creates experiences for himself that simulate the experiences of murder victims, with the aim of triggering some kind of supernatural shared memory or insight into the facts of the crime. In one scene he has himself rolled down stairs in a suitcase and in another he gets a colleague to bury him in a forrest. The relationship between experiential or sensory triggers and evoked memories or experiences is interestingly similar to the way many of my more interesting varieties of synaesthesia operate, and as a super-recognizer, I’ve got to be fascinated by a protagonist in a movie who has a rare gift of special knowledge about other people. The plot of the movies seems to be very much based on an insight that only a synaesthete would truly understand; that the only way to experience a synaesthesia concurrent (which is usually clearly some kind of memory) is to trigger it by experiencing, first-hand, the exact and specific synaesthesia inducer. It cannot be imagined. It cannot be triggered by any other means. It cannot be experienced by a non-synaesthete, or by a synaesthete who does not have exactly the same synaesthesia association. When the mad detective places himself into extreme situations, he seems to be operating under the same rule; that only the exact same experience can unlock a memory or an insight through perception. I can’t believe that this movie was made without a major contribution from a synaesthete. Another big hint that the main character is some kind of synaesthete is the thing at the start of the film with the highly spontaneous self-amputation of an ear. I hasten to point out that this is not a common behaviour among synaesthetes, and the millions of synaesthetes in the world are generally pretty sane people, but there is one famous person from the past who was unhinged and also one of us. There is plenty of evidence in the archived correspondences of Vincent van Gogh that he was a synaestete. He was always writing about concepts or experiences corresponding with colours. You can’t claim to know the arts without knowing a thing or two about synaesthesia, and synaesthetes.
http://www.abc.net.au/news/abcnews24/programs/the-mix/ (story about Blacklist at around 5.30)