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Building a VR Experience from the sound up

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Still from the Locke & Key virtual reality experience. Try it yourself at Audible’s Oculus Rift station in their Web Summit booth or check out YouTube.  

From its earliest days, Audible has been in the business of storytelling. The “Audible Player,” the first commercially available portable digital audio player, preceded the iPod by more than 3 years.

Robin Williams’ bi-weekly digital-only interview show launched in the late 90s, long before the word “podcast” was coined.

For Web Summit, Audible has turned to a recently resurgent trend in the tech and entertainment worlds – 360° 3D video and VR to “push the boundaries of a soundscape”.

Their in-house original content publisher Audible Studios has adapted the graphic novel Locke & Key – “one of the great modern horror comics” – by Joe Hill and illustrator Gabriel Rodriguez into a multi-cast audio experience.

The audiobook’s cast includes Oscar-nominee Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense), Golden Globe-nominee Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black), and Emmy-winner Kate Mulgrew (Orange is the New Black).

Barbara Ward Thall, Audible’s SVP, Global Brand Marketing, says Gabriel Rodriguez’s gorgeous architectural renderings and elevations of Keyhouse Manor in the graphic novel got her thinking about 3D:

“It was like Keyhouse Manor already existed somewhere as a 3D concept. By adding a binaural soundscape to that immersive 3D environment, we were able to truly surround our listeners with the story.”


Still from the Locke & Key 3D virtual reality experience.

“The opportunity was to introduce new listeners to this powerful format,” says Reid Armbruster, Audible’s Director of Social Media.

“At Audible, we believe in the power of storytelling, period – and our medium of choice happens to be audio. What Audible fans already know is that listening to a great story ignites your imagination and transports you to another place in your mind.

“But that idea is challenging to convey to people who haven’t experienced it themselves. VR gave us the opportunity to give folks a taste of what it’s like to be surrounded by a great story.”

The experience debuted at New York Comic Con. “I knew we’d nailed it,” says Thall, “when I heard a scream from one of the participants. That made my day.

“While it’s unlikely we’ll turn into a virtual reality audiobook company, we did love how this experience allowed us to explore the frontiers of sound and narrative in a 3D space. Who knows where future explorations will lead us?”

Check out the trailer for the Locke and Key audio production:

[youtube id=”pnI5aHZfACY”]

The audio production of Locke & Key is available for free download at Audible until November 4.

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