Forget VR headsets: The next frontier for immersive storytelling may be your headphones, thanks to a new spatial audio platform that New York-based Vrai Pictures is set to unveil at SXSW next month. Traverse , as the platform is called, allows users to map their surroundings with the help of mobile augmented reality ( AR ) technology, and then explore immersive audio experiences in their own living rooms.
One of the first experiences to be powered by the new platform is called "From Elvis in Memphis." It allows users to experience the music of the King of Rock and Roll by walking through a physical space, with Traverse 's app making it spatially sound like they're in the studio with Elvis himself.
"In the middle of a performance, you can walk right up to him. You can also walk up to any of the other band members," said Vrai Pictures founder Jessica Brillhart. "The music suddenly shows a dimensionality that was always there but couldn't be experienced. It just needed the creative insight, the right platform, the tools, and the technology to be realized."
Additionally, Vrai is also debuting a second audio experience called "The Arm of InSight" on Traverse that has been produced in partnership with NASA. Both experiences will be shown at SXSW, and also become available as part of a limited release of the Traverse app on the App Store on March 12.
Vrai Pictures developed Traverse in partnership with the New York-based creative technology studio Superbright, and cooperated with Antfood, a creative audio studio based in New York, on the two audio experiences.
Brillhart told Variety during a recent interview that her company is already working with other artists on immersive audio experiences to be released on Traverse in the future. "We want to work with all sorts of people," she said. "The end goal is to have a platform for anyone to use."
Before founding Vrai Pictures a year ago, Brillhart worked for around 8 years for Google, where she produced some of the first immersive content for the company's Cardboard and Jump platforms. Through that work, she experienced first-hand how challenging it can be to bring a new medium to the masses, down to technical issues like large file sizes required for 360-degree videos. "VR is hard for a lot of reasons," she said.
Immersive audio could be a lot more accessible, Brillhart argued. Ultimately, Traverse could become "a bit of a gateway drug for the world of immersive," she said.