Ahead of the release of his new film Flux Gourmet, the cult director shares some of his most soothing, ‘brain-gasmic’ YouTube videos
A YouTube video exists of Peter Strickland as a musician shredding in front of a live audience. By shredding, I mean he’s furiously grating cheese, each stroke going up and down like he’s Thurston Moore a guitar. With records titled Dada Cuisine and Metabolica, The Sonic Catering Band were a group that turned food into music. “We used to trash things,” Strickland says. “We attached a blender to a guitar neck.”
Strickland, 49, is also a Greek-British filmmaker increasingly known for his fascination with ASMR: the flapping butterflies of The Duke of Burgundy; the sewing machines of In Fabric; the crinkly lettuce of Berberian Sound Studio. His latest, Flux Gourmet, isn’t an all-out ASMR film, but it deals with sounds, some perhaps triggering for other reasons.
“I wanted to explore the stomach, and how food can turn against the body to cause inflammation, flatulence, reflux, and all these terrible things,” Strickland says. “I know people who won’t go out because it’s chronic. I wanted to open up a conversation about the body. It shouldn’t be taboo.”
In Flux Gourmet, a disparate group of artists (they include Gwendoline Christie, Ariane Labed, and Sex Education’s Asa Butterfield, who rhythmically slices cucumber) have a month-long residency at the Sonic Catering Institute. Onstage, sometimes with a literal shit-eating grin, they experiment with salad and the squelchy sounds of a colonoscopy; backstage, they have orgies. At night, Stones (Makis Papadimitriou), who narrates the film in Greek, frets his bandmates will overhear his digestion issues – not the kind of body sound typically monetised by ASMR.
ASMR, if you’re unaware, stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, and is the sizzling sensation of your nerves reacting to triggering sounds. Originally called a “brain-gasm” in 2009, ASMR was then given its deliberately scientific name to avoid associations with sex. The best way to understand it, though, is to watch it, and so to celebrate the release of Flux Gourmet, we asked Strickland to talk us through his favourite ASMR videos. Full disclosure: Strickland didn’t whisper these answers.
“ASMR PAGE TURNING OF 1978 SEARS CATALOGUE” (2018)
Peter Strickland: The sounds I love are writing, especially with pencils. Graphite against paper. Not too thick. Typing – not on typewriters, but on keyboards, especially Mac keyboards. I love old shopping catalogues where the pages are thin. That’s quite a key thing. The thinner the page, the better the sound.
“HOW TO FIT A NEW QUARTZ WATCH MOVEMENT” (2013)
Peter Strickland: It’s very hard to find these videos. Most YouTube tutorials throw music on in the background, which completely kills any ASMR. I often go, “Great, it’s an hour long! This is going to be amazing!” Then you put it on, and they’ve got music. Urgh.
I got into it through quite innocent motivations of wanting to fix something. Then you start falling asleep. You go, “Ah, OK.” It’s a guy fixing a watch. It’s more about these delicate sounds when he’s dismantling it. I like the fact he’s talking us through it. That leads onto other things like knitting.
BOBBLE – JAPANESE VERSION (2015)
Peter Strickland: More and more these days, I prefer the ones where you don’t see the person. Quite often, it’s about the personality. Also, now you have this branch of unintentional ASMR, where people hunt down videos that aren’t meant for this. Which has a slightly troubling, voyeuristic bent. I have picked a few of those. But I didn’t want to pick those with faces. Even though I watch them, it’s not fair on the people doing them.
There’s an Italian video I like for knitting, which I won’t list. It’s not meant for ASMR purposes. But because it’s in another language, I can focus more on the texture of the voice, rather than the meaning.
“ASMR~SUMMER JOURNAL CRAFT!” (2022)
Peter Strickland: I like the ASMR where they’re trying to do less. Some ASMR things are almost like a medley – there’s too much. I like it when they don’t speak, and are just turning pages of a catalogue.
“ASMR PAGE TURNING (OCCASIONAL UNINTELLIGIBLE WHISPERS)” (2019)
Peter Strickland: There’s something very private about ASMR – and nocturnal. People confuse it with sexual excitement. I’m sure there’s a subgroup. When I made In Fabric, I was asked more than once: are they having an orgasmic euphoria? And no – it’s a narcotic high in a very mild sense. It’s very soporific.
GIBI ASMR - “ASMR | FACE ADJUSTING ~ FOR STRESS RELIEF AND SLEEP” (2020)
I’m fascinated by how famous and not famous ASMR performers can be. Gibi can’t reveal her name or what city she lives in because she has so many obsessive fans.
Peter Strickland: I was going to mention her, but she’s too well-known.
It’s like saying The Beatles are your favourite band.
Peter Strickland: Yeah, she’s the John Lennon of ASMR. She’s very good. In fact, she’s so well-known, I’ve noticed her on YouTube adverts. Claudia Winkleman did an ASMR advert for Head and Shoulders. Having hair washed is another good one. Not that I’ve got much of it.
I used to be into haircut roleplay videos.
Peter Strickland: For a bald person, watching a haircut is a step too far.
ROBERT ASHLEY – “AUTOMATIC WRITING” (1979)
Peter Strickland: A lot of it is in music. Early Robert Ashley, like Automatic Writing, has whispering and these very sensuous, intimate sounds. He can’t have known that ASMR is a thing. Or Luc Ferrari with Presque rien, or bands like Nurse with Wound.
“VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS” (1970)
Peter Strickland: With films, a good example would be Last Year at Marienbad by Alain Resnais. That, to me, is an ASMR film. He would never have known what it was in terms of that context. The soundtrack to Valerie and Her Week of Wonders by Luboš Fišer has parts with incantations. It makes me wonder: is there this ritualistic, primal aspect of ASMR? There’s repetition. It’s almost like a spell being conjured.
“RELAXING WHISPERED SEED CATALOG” (2022)
Flux Gourmet touches on body sounds. Do you watch mukbang videos?
Peter Strickland: It’s not my cup of tea – or bowl of pasta. The only body sound I like is whispering. Now, everyone’s so aware of the power of whispering, it becomes too much like a performance. There are those who do it really well.
I was involved in this ASMR thing in London, and someone told a woman whose channel I watch that I was going to be there. She went into a diatribe about my films [laughs]. It was weird for me: you watch ASMR to relax. Is it possible to relax when you know the person doing it hates your films? So I switched channels.
“ASMR CATALOG PAGE FOLDING! 800 PAGES! (WHISPERS W/GUM CHEWING)” (2022)
Peter Strickland: When I was a kid, a lot of ASMR was by chance, in real life. Friends unpeeling football stickers, and smoothing the sticker book out. Even in church – the pages on the prayer books were very thin.
“ASMR VINTAGE SEARS CATALOG 1951” (2021)
Would you say you watch more for pleasure or relaxation?
Peter Strickland: Relaxation, really. If I can’t sleep, it’ll send me to sleep pretty damn quickly. It’s pleasurable but it’s more about winding down. Some people smoke a bit of dope, others put on an ASMR video. Or they do both.
Flux Gourmet is out in cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema on September 30