Turning the Pages of an Illuminated Medieval Manuscript: An ASMR Museum Experience

Page turning is to ASMR as the electric bass is to rock.

The Victoria and Albert Museum’s popular Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response video series (find it here) has seen episodes devoted to iconic Second Wave feminist magazines and a couple of late 20th-century pop up artist’s books, but the parchment pages of this medieval antiphonary – or choirbook – make for some truly legendary sounds.

Audio designer and performance-maker Julie Rose Bower deserves a portion of the credit for heightening the aural experience for her use of the ambisonics format.

Kudos too to National Art Library Special Collections curator Catherine Yvard…if she ever wants a break from medieval manuscript illumination and Gothic ivory sculpture, she could specialize in extremely soothing voiceover narration.

It’s rare to find such pleasurably tingly ASMR sensations paired with allusions to the somewhat barbarous process of making parchment from animal skins, but that’s what illuminator Francesco dai Libri, and his son Girolamo were working with in 1492 Verona.

Our ears may not be able to detect much difference between the skin sides and flesh sides of these remarkably well preserved pages, but Bower does due diligence, as Yvard slowly drags her fingers across them.

No need to fear that Yvard’s bare hands could cause harm to this 530-year-old object.

Experts at the British Library have decreed that the modern practice of donning white gloves to handle antique manuscripts decreases manual dexterity, while heightening the possibility of transferred dirt or dislodged pigments.

The sturdy parchment of this particular antiphonary has seen far worse than the careful hands of a professional curator.

Pages 7, 8, 9 have been singed along the bottom margins, and elsewhere, the gothic hand lettering has been scraped away, presumably with a knife, in preparation for a liturgical update that never got entered.

If your brain is crying out for more after spending 15 and a half intimate minutes with these medieval pages, we leave you with the snap crackle and pop of other items in the V&A’s collection:

Treat your ears to Victoria and Albert’s full ASMR at the Museum playlist here.

– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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