Graduate student completes Master’s dissertation about the role of sound in ASMR

ASMR Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response UniversityJonathan Fitas is a professional composer and sound designer, and a recent graduate from the University of Marne-La-Vallée & National Institute of Audiovisual in Paris, France.

He focused his Master’s dissertation on ASMR and titled it, “Introduction and reflection on the place and role of sound in ASMR.”

Jonathan’s dissertation is in French but he is also fluent in English so he was able to provide very helpful information about his dissertation for English speakers.

In my interview with Jonathan, he shares his inspiration, hypotheses, objectives, methods, resources, results, and potential impact of his Master’s dissertation, as well as, advice for other researchers, information about his new ASMR project, and his thoughts about the future of ASMR.

Below are my questions in bold, his replies in italics, a link to his completed dissertation and links about his new project called INFRASONGE.

How did you become interested in ASMR?

Jonathan, “I randomly found an article in a newspaper talking about ASMR as an “auditory orgasm” and that piqued my attention. I didn’t know at the time what it really was but I quickly understood that it was mentioning a sensation that I had always experienced.”

What inspired you to do your Master’s dissertation about ASMR and sound?

Jonathan, “I had the intuition that sound was playing a leading role in the phenomenon and questions about how sound can be pleasurable have been in my head for a long time during my studies. 

Also, I was amazed by the care with which content creators recorded and used sound. Most of them started their YouTube channel as amateurs with no specific knowledge about sounds – however, they managed to build their own experience on how to handle sounds very carefully and thoughtfully.”

Was your faculty advisor familiar with ASMR?

Jonathan, “He was not familiar at all! In fact, at the time in France, very few knew about the denomination and the community around ASMR and it’s still the case. He reacted very positively and encouraged me to go on but also warned me about the inherent difficulties of managing such a subject with no strong studies yet published and very few serious background.”

What were the hypotheses and objectives of your dissertation?

Jonathan, “The main objectives were to understand the phenomenon of ASMR with the perspective of sound. The main hypothesis was that sound was playing a major role and the objective was to understand how. I also tried to cover certain technical aspects of the ASMR as we know it on YouTube, talking about recording technics and tools such as binaural.

I was also interested to see if there was specific sounds or tendencies that could lead to ASMR and if so, to identify their characteristics. I additionally tried to compare some of the content creators videos to pieces of electroacoustic music that made the use of relative sounds or technics.”

What methods and resources did you use to collect data and write your dissertation?

Jonathan, “Since there was very few publication on the subject, I mainly conducted my research as an investigation by listening to and analyzing a lot of ASMR creations, getting information from the creators, and about their setup.  

I also gathered testimonies from the viewers and read general studies about sound & music as well as my background knowledge about sound recording to go on. I additionally used information I found on ASMR University that helped me to draw the history of the online ASMR phenomenon.”

How would you summarize the results in your dissertation?

Jonathan, “One of my main investigations was to see if there were specific sounds that would trigger the ASMR sensation, I quickly saw that there were no real tendencies about specific sounds that would trigger ASMR by nature (e.g., their physical properties).  In fact, testimonies and observations led me to think that every sound, from the lowest or the strongest, could theoretically trigger ASMR.

Though, the main constant I could witness is that all the sounds are intimacy-related. In that, I believe that the sensation lies mostly on the transmission, the relation of intimacy the creator creates with the listener and vice versa.

Also, the study led me to an interesting point about a misuse or abuse of the “ binaural” terminology to describe some content or contraption that are not strictly speaking “ binaural”, also It seemed to me that some microphone manufacturers are surfing on the trend of more people wanting binaural devices and uses the term “ binaural” for microphones or contraption that does not respect strictly the technical aspect of what binaural truly is.

That being said, it does not take anything off of the enjoyment the audience experience while listening to videos created with these so-called binaural devices.”

What impact do you think your dissertation could have on the current understanding of ASMR and sound?

Jonathan, “I can only hope that it would give more credibility to the content creators and viewers by allowing people to more widely understand what it is about -which is rather simple.

I also hope that it might provide a wider vocabulary to describe and explain the sensation that lies now under some generic terms like “ASMR”, “head orgasm”, and “auditory orgasm” that are complicated to understand or could be misleading.  And also maybe it could lead more people in France to get interested in the subject.”

What advice would you give to anyone else who is starting their dissertation about ASMR?

Jonathan, “Firstly, to read about it on ASMR University to get a grasp of the subject. Also, depending on their take on the subject, I’d advise them to watch a lot of content on YouTube. Getting in touch with content creators and listeners via YouTube or via some Facebook group that are very active with a community and very willing to help with research on the subject would be some additional advice.

But really, my advice is to go on with it! It’s a fantastic field of study that covers a lot of aspects and has a lot to discover. Also, that by investigating aspects of this subject you really feel like a pioneer since not much has been done about it and that is really rewarding.”

Do you have any other future ASMR studies or projects planned?

Jonathan, “About a year ago, just after the completion of my study, I started the project INFRASONGE. This is a project of ASMR-related sound experiences in which I explore some facets about ASMR and its relation to other sound-related creations, like ambient music and sound design. I had really beautiful support from the community, even though the project is quite experimental.  

I had really beautiful support from the community, even though the project is quite experimental.  I don’t know where this project will head to but I’m starting to think about live performance and/or sound installations ASMR-related.

There is an interview and an article made by Diego Garro, a university researcher and teacher from the UK, about the project on ASMRYouready if you want to know more about it.”

Where would you like to see the field and/or the understanding of ASMR in 10 years?

Jonathan, “Hard to tell since it’s a trend that is less than 10 years-old. Mainly I would like to see a wider understanding of what the core of ASMR is. I’m really sad to see that content creators, as well as listeners, are sometimes being mocked, even harassed. This is happening because ASMR content on YouTube might seem strange or fetish-related to some at first glance when it is just a powerful yet simple way of relaxation.

Also, I’d like to someday see a reflection on the name of this phenomenon, which I find carries so little about what the phenomenon truly is.”

Explore the following links to learn more about Jonathan, his dissertation, and his INFRASONGE project:

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