BBC Radio 4 today announced one of its most ambitious podcast projects to date: Forest 404 – a 27-part podcast series starring Pearl Mackie, with theme music by Bonobo. The series is accompanied by a national experiment looking at how listening to natural sounds could boost wellbeing.
Forest 404 is a first for BBC podcasts. The three-tiered structure creates a new listening experience to draw the audience deeper into the world of the podcast. At the heart of the project is a sci-fi thriller, which depicts a world where the earth’s forests have been erased from history. Each episode of the thriller is accompanied by a factual talk which guides listeners through different themes of the drama and an experimental soundscape.

The thriller features an all-female cast led by Pearl Mackie (Dr Who), also starring Tanya Moodie (Sherlock, A Discovery Of Witches) and Pippa Haywood (Bodyguard, Green Wing). It is produced by an award-winning creative team: writer Timothy X Atack (Bruntwood Prize Winner), BBC producer and director Becky Ripley (Third Coast Award, Prix Europa Award), sound designer Graham Wild (Bafta Award-winner Blue Planet II, Planet Earth II) and features an original theme by Bonobo. It was commissioned for BBC Sounds by Radio 4’s Digital Commissioning Editor Rhian Roberts.

Set in the 24th Century following a data crash called The Cataclysm, Timothy X Atack’s thriller follows Pan (Pearl Mackie), a sound archivist who uncovers some sound recordings from the early 21st century that haunt her. They are recordings of rainforests, places which no longer exist, and Pan feels compelled to hunt down the truth about how the forests of the old world died.

Each of the nine talks is delivered by a wide range of speakers including musicians, biofuturists, bioethicists and anthropologists. They delve into the themes which inspired the drama, such as: “Why should I listen to trees?”, “Would you vote for an AI government?” and “What is death in the digital age?” to explore the real-life ideas which inspired the drama.

The soundscapes designed by Graham Wild and Becky Ripley, which bring each episode of the thriller to life, are mixed in binaural to create an immersive 3D experience for the listener. A rainforest symphony, an orchestra of frogs, a montage of whale song and a sonic woodland walk make up some of the sounds of nature which sit alongside more experimental soundscapes as the narrative unfolds.

Rhian Roberts, Digital Commissioner for Radio 4, says: “Podcasting gives us the chance to play with sound and form away from the classic radio schedule. It allows the whole shape and format of Forest 404 to be genuinely experimental. Podcasts also have that ability to pull us into a very close relationship with a story – we wanted the layered approach to draw listeners even more deeply into this twisted futuristic world.

“With this multi-layered podcast we’re building on Radio 4’s track record of commissioning innovative, different sounding digital-first dramas and acclaimed podcasts like the award-winning conspiracy thriller Tracks, The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward and How To Burn a Million Quid. Forest 404 pushes our drama in a new direction again. It weaves the best of Radio 4 together – a rollercoaster of a story that’s unnervingly timely, with talks that bring footnotes to life, providing the insight and facts behind the drama. These go along with the third element of bespoke soundscapes, so you can try out what effect the mixes have on your own brain.”

Launching today and running alongside the podcast is one of the biggest national investigations conducted into the therapeutic effects of sound. Forest 404: The Experiment, led by Alexander Smalley, a Virtual Nature Researcher at the University of Exeter, hopes to develop a unique insight into how the British public respond to nature-based sounds. The experiment is an nQuire survey built in collaboration with the University of Exeter, University of Bristol, funded by The Arts and Humanities Research Council and hosted by The Open University.

Alex Smalley, lead researcher on Forest 404, The Experiment, says: “A large body of evidence shows that spending time in natural environments can have positive effects on people’s wellbeing. But we know very little about the importance of sound in this relationship. Could simply listening to birdsong or waves lapping on the beach be enough to help people recover from a stressful situation? The effects won’t be the same for everyone, so we want as many people as possible to take part in this study, helping us uncover what works and why.”

BBC Radio 4’s Forest 404 will be available as a podcast box set on BBC Sounds from Thursday 4 April. Download BBC Sounds to listen and subscribe. To take part in the Forest 404 Experiment, complete the online survey at

Source: The BBC

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By Expat