Charlotte Melén is the founder of award-winning immersive audio platform Almost Tangible, which launched a year ago with a recording of Macbeth. She tells Ruth Comerford about the creation of immersive audio, including putting witches on zip wires in the making of Macbeth…
What inspired Almost Tangible?
The germination of the idea was me needing a vehicle for the kind of audio work I wanted to be doing. The company name came from describing the visceral way of experiencing exceptional audio; when sound comes in through your ear canal and taps into your imagination and your gut and your viscera – it’s a weird physical feeling.
How did you set up the company?
My background is in acting but I had been in the technology sector for a number of years, working with Comic Relief and managing its web platforms. I’d had my family and wanted to return to acting, and was naturally very interested in audio drama. It turns out there are very few ways in and I quickly got frustrated with the studio environment, in terms of the limitations it places on a performer. There was something missing for me; I wanted the process to be different, to step away a little bit from the commercialisation of art. We go into it for the joy and love of theatre and the experience, but then the outside world has to package it as a commercial product, which is fair enough because [money] has to come from somewhere. This sometimes means the process gets squeezed to a point where you think: “I’m commodity, not an artist.” And I wanted to readdress the balance there. I met some sound engineers, who introduced me to binaural sound technology. The freedom it gives you and that immersive 3D sense are just amazing. It grew from there.
Can you tell me about Macbeth?
With Macbeth, we went right back to the ensemble approach of creating something. Normally with audio you go in, read your lines and do your stuff in as short a time as possible because there are a lot of cost restraints, but we asked a bit more of the actors by getting them to learn [their lines]. If you’re on a horse, you can’t hold a script, or if you’re running through the bracken or in the rain, you don’t want to be holding your iPad. The witches flew because they were on zip wires. This included [actor] Brigit Forsyth, who is now 79 – she was just glorious. Everyone shot straight past the mark in terms of their hard work and generosity.
What are you currently working on?
We’ve got three new exciting productions coming up, which I can’t name – but there’s a classic, a modern work from a new writer, and something that was written for the stage and has been adapted. We’ve also got a new writing pilot programme. I can’t wait to get started. I am really interested in fostering a new generation of audio writers. Often I find I’ll talk to writers who ask: “What does writing for audio mean?” And I guess the programme will mean exploring that question.
What is your favourite aspect of the job?
The people. The magic that happens when good people come together to create great work. It’s always the people.
Training: BFA in Performing Arts: Acting, Emerson College, Boston (1993-97)
First professional role: Playing ‘Afflicted Girl’ in Nicholas Hytner’s The Crucible (1996)