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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