Image Credit: David Stewart/homegets.com
I started listening to fictional audio dramas earlier this year during a creative rut. I was tired of staring at a screen all day, overwhelmed by the options available on streaming services, and I craved storytelling that forced me to stop, listen, and imagine. Almost all of the audio fiction I consume now is science fiction or fantasy, and Tin Can Audio’s “The Tower,” an ethereal, experimental miniseries with minor horror elements that build as the story progresses, is no different.
Sometime in the future, Kiri, a young woman struggling to adapt in life, decides to leave her home and climb an abandoned, ancient ziggurat in the center of her city that stretches up into the sky. As Kiri climbs the tower, she finds payphones and uses them to call the people she left behind.
At first, the phones serve as her anchor to reality. But the further into her journey Kiri gets, the more the payphones begin to act as a medium for someone -- or something -- that demands to know what she’s doing climbing the tower in an ominous loop.
It’s a fascinating setup with incredible potential, but it also meanders. Kiri is journeying, but the point of the journey isn’t clear. She’s running away from a suffocating existence, but we’re never given anything other than more questions as to what that means or why it’s driven her to climb an abandoned relic. The only peek we get into her relationships before she climbs the tower shows that they’re strained.
A central refrain in the series is “What are you doing?” Kiri questions this to herself, the entities on the tower demand it from her, and it felt like the creators of “The Tower” wondered that themselves. Though the story progresses, there’s little action. Multiple episodes begin with a monologue from Kiri, but it doesn’t tie into the rest of the episode. We hear about Kiri’s journey only when she’s on the payphone making camp for the night instead of experiencing it in real time with her.
Music is a major component in the series and it feels dreamlike in its placement -- think Spirited Away or My Neighbour Totoro. One episode is entirely without dialogue and acts as an interlude for Kiri as she rises higher and higher into the sky and away from reality. Though it’s the shortest episode, it’s contemplative and gives the series the momentum necessary to move the narrative forward.
The entire series can be finished in under an hour, which is great if you’re looking for a quick fix, but I found the short episodes to be limiting and the show’s main weakness.
“The Tower” premiered in late September, and Tin Can Audio has since tweeted that they’re working on the next part of the series. It’s possible that the questions left unanswered will be addressed in the future. Until then, give it a listen and tweet me your thoughts.