When I was in kindergarten they still had chalk boards, never thought that would go out of style. But something weird would happen every time my teacher would write on it. I'd get this tingling feeling around my ears and a warm blanketing feeling on my head whenever she wrote on the board. I went into a trancelike state where I'd just stare at the board and just was in awe of the sensation or what I thought was the beauty of that sound, mechanical but with different lengths and speeds of sound and attack. This continued to happen in school but soon was triggered in other places like church, my dad's car or hearing something in the distance. These sensations would get stronger and more potent as I got older and went from just my ears and head to my whole body. I thought it was just me, but apparently other people experience different levels of this phenomenon (I'm probably one of the extreme cases). It wasn't until two weeks ago that I found out what it was called, Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR).
I noticed that it happened or could be triggered with certain types of music, legato type with very chordal dissonances (like going to a dominant seven before you get to the tonic with a really low "one" on the bottom, for all the music theory nerds). I'd often seek out music that had this and listen to it as often as possible. It eventually expanded to other types of music but once that happened, sounds in generally started to trigger it as well like wind, water, walking on wooden floors, typing, almost everything if I focus on it. Up until I went to college, except for one case which we'll get to soon, the only things that made it flare were auditory, but after a year studying with my instructor Marc, I found two new ways of triggering it.
When I was in the Percussion Scholarship Group, the main focus was on wrist use and I was pretty obsessed with that, so much so that I'd often only do snare drum in my lesson because it was the crux of that teaching for us. So, when I'd really get into what I was playing, I would feel a very warm sensation in my hands that made me feel the sticks and drum even better and I could articulate mostly anything I wanted, with the technique I had. Fast forward to Marc, he helped me to think beyond just using the wrist alone and showed me how to access the entire body in performance. Not only could I now sense that connection and sensation in my hands but my entire body; it would also be stronger in certain places that I put my attention on, like my lower back or forearms. I now had a tactile trigger, but that wasn't the end of it. The way Marc explained himself, and his encouragements to seek other disciplines that would help me use my body efficiently, I could eventually see when I or someone else was not using an efficient motion or holding tension in certain places. Whenever I saw a shift in the body that went from inefficient to efficient I would get a sharp sensation in that spot specifically. Weird. So I had an audio, tactile and visual trigger. I'm sure chefs have a taste and smell version, which would be cool!
Now, here's the thing. We all have a trigger for one specific flare up of ASMR. This is my opinion and it may be different for others with this ability, but emotional content does trigger very similar responses as my full body experiences, most commonly anxiety, embarrassment or bashfulness. Picture that feeling you get where you kind of freeze up and you feel a warm rush to your cheeks, chest or shoulders, but without the "feeling" of anxiety or bashfulness. That's probably pretty close to what people with ASMR feel on a daily basis, like a rush of energy or warmth without an emotional reason behind it. But, because there is an emotion attached to it, for me, it inherently influences the other triggers. Right now, for instance, I'm dealing with a break up and it obviously makes me sad, but the feeling of giving love and playing music is the same for me, so when I go to practice, it hurts because that part of my life, love, is in pain. Obviously, you can fake it till you make it, but you can see how that connection can leave you very vulnerable in certain situations. At the very least, you know you're still a "feeling" human.
This is probably one of the weirdest blog posts, but I thought it was worth talking about. Personally, I've been able to use these triggers to enhance my playing. The downside now, especially with my studies in philosophy, is that I've become and am becoming more emotionally available so that everything I do is connected to them. I can fake it when I'm having a bad day, but obviously I won't be as engaged like when I "have myself together". The good news is that being this available allows more growth of character and in essence strengthens the music inevitably. Basically, no matter the feeling, I let it happen and embrace it when I can, in the most appropriate and mindful way possible. In the music, if the emotion comes out, I try to navigate it and direct it so that the character and details of the piece remain in tact, but also that myself is in the music. This also triggers certain ASMR's that react with the emotion and the motions or sounds of the piece, making a more complete performance for me.
It is extremely exhausting though. When I took the Cleveland audition, I was basically in a full ASMR mode, physical, audio, visual and emotional states for a half hour straight, and I came out completely spent. I even fell asleep on the couch waiting for the results. Still, this is my personal experience with ASMR and there are a lot of different cases, mild and extreme like me, probably more too. I dare say everyone has some sort of experience with it. If you've ever felt that tingly rush when you get under a warm blanket, or that feeling when smelling your grandma's cooking, then you might have it too. Welcome to the club! If not, well, I probably seem even weirder now, but that's totally fine. I at least hope you found it interesting. ASMR, it's strange, makes me super crazy, hyper, happy, and also helps me make my music.