Audio escapes the studio with Almost Tangible's 'cinema for the ears'

Audio escapes the studio with Almost Tangible's 'cinema for the ears'

This new London-based production company aims to "free audio from the studio" using immersive technology and on-location recording.

The pitch

Almost Tangible is a new audio producer that creates multi-dimensional, immersive audio experiences. Using 3D audio technology and techniques, as well as on-location recording, the company describes itself as "an artistic endeavour to make audio the absolute best it can be at storytelling, by putting our listeners at the heart of the action and our artists at the heart of the creative process."

This week sees the release of Almost Tangible's first major work: Macbeth, recorded at Glamis Castle in Scotland.

The team

Founder Charlotte Melén is an actor and a technologist. She has appeared on stage and in Oscar-winning films including The Crucible and this year’s Phantom Thread. She has also delivered technology programmes for banks and charities including Comic Relief.  

Production teams are hand-picked on a project-by-project basis. For Macbeth, Melén brought in the radio director and performer Carl Prekop, who is one of BBC Radio’s most prolific drama contributors. The sound was designed by David Chilton and Lucinda Mason Brown from Essential Music, while Eleanor Mein was brought in as production manager.

What's the gap in the market? 

"The spoken audio market has for a long time been dominated by two types of audio; the audiobook, a recorded version of a book read by a voice actor in a simple studio with variable quality; and the traditional audio drama, often typified by the BBC radio play, performed acoustically for the radio with simple no-frills performances and added sound effects," Melén explains. 

"Recently, podcasting audio has joined the ranks providing content of a largely journalistic format with presenters discussing topics or telling real-life stories, produced by individuals or smaller organisations in such abundance that the choice can be dizzying. And with the advent of new smart speakers and the fashion for high quality headphones there are new outlets and new spaces to fill with sound.

"As markets mature and novelty wears off, demand for quality increases. We believe this creates a gap in the market for higher quality, more immersive audio content. With Macbeth we think we've shown what our approach to audio can deliver, and we will continue to produce and to support others in producing the same kind of really high quality audio you can hear in Macbeth."

Success so far?

With the team's first project being released this week (free to download or subscribe to as an Apple or Google podcast) it's still to be seen if listeners will respond as hoped to Almost Tangible's immersive approach.

"We are now securing our next project and are developing scripts specifically for [our] genre," Melén reports. "We are looking at adapting a Scandinavian crime thriller and we are searching for the perfect early teens AT script."

Biggest challenges?

The team's greatest challenge lies in explaining what they do - and the qualitative and sensory difference of their audio. 

"People have an existing understanding of what audio is, especially since the explosive growth of audiobooks and podcasts. Our sound is as different and alive as rock n’ roll was to the big band music that preceded it. But, the listener only really gets it when they put on the headphones for the first time, expecting what they know, only to be immersed instead in something unlike anything they’ve heard before. Our productions are closest to what you would see for a film. Both through the scale and complexity of the production and through the sound quality.  Some listeners have called them audiofilms or cinema for the ears, in reality they are a new class of content which makes them challenging to describe especially to a savvy audience."

Melén also asserts that making anything of really high quality is hard. "We quite literally throw out the rule-book for how audio ‘should’ be made, we ask everyone to think outside the box and thereby set ourselves a massive creative and logistical challenge for each production.  Not everyone is comfortable in that space and very few have attempted audio creation at our scale."

Ultimate ambition?

Long-term the Almost Tangible team want to help develop and support a market for very high quality immersive audio. "We want to build a community of discerning audio listeners and for them create a platform through which we help others to make content of similarly high quality to ours. A platform to help a diverse range of artists in creating new audio experiences and championing a space in which their creativity can breathe as they produce great work for the listeners."

Advice to other publishing entrepreneurs?

"For us it is all about the quality of the work, from the writing, to the performance and the sound. We don’t let anything compromise that, so our advice would be to craft a solid vision that you truly believe in and can convince others of …and then just do it, without compromise!"