Haven’t had a chance to listen yet, but a trailer on tv last night looked/sounded interesting. Doctor Who’s Pearl Mackie is back, this time in an innovative science fiction thriller from BBC Radio 4 - Forest 404. This is an ambitious 27-part podcast series with theme music by Bonobo. The series is accompanied by a national experiment looking at how listening to natural sounds could boost wellbeing (which reminds me of the Recording Group at the old firm who used to go out and record all the sounds the world could throw at them).

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 (Doctor 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). 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.

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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.

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“Podcasting gives us the chance to play with sound and form away from the classic radio schedule,” said Rhian Roberts, Digital Commissioner for Radio 4. “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.”

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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.

“A large body of evidence shows that spending time in natural environments can have positive effects on people’s wellbeing,” says Smalley. “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.”

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BBC Radio 4’s Forest 404 is 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 www.bbc.co.uk/forest

Forest 404 - programme information

Episode one: Life In The Fast Times

When Pan finds a 21st century recording of a rainforest, she has no idea what it is…

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Talk 1: Why should I listen to trees?

Alex Smalley on the mental health effects of being in nature.

Soundscape 1: Rainforest Symphony

The Sumatran rainforest recording that Pan finds.

Episode two: The Fumetown Priest

Pan goes on the run from Daria and The Hands to find answers deep down in Fumetown.

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T2: How is the sound of the world changing?

Cosmo Sheldrake on how humans are changing the sound of the world.

S2: Frog Chorus

The chorus of frogs that Pan plays to the Interlocutor.

Episode three: Into The Inner

Pan finds an illegal brain shop to uncover how the recordings have changed her.

T3: Could I live in darkness?

Herman Wijnen on life without sunlight.

S3: Whale Songs

A full playout of the whale song that sent Pan to sleep.

Episode four: Of Earthly Delights

Daria and The Hands close in on Pan as they race towards The Oil Lake.

T4: Why do trees live so long?

When Pan sees her first ever tree. James Aldred on ancient trees.

S4: Woodland Walk

A British woodland thick with birdsong.

Episode five: Last Days Of The Slow World

Theia tells Pan the story of how the old world came to an end…

T5: Will we all become cyborgs?

Andy Miah on what cyborgs today can tell us about humanity’s future.

S5: Woodland Walk

A soundscape for Episode 5. Theia’s Hometown, 22nd Century St Petersburg.

Episode six: Of Earthly Delights

In fear of seeing another civilisation self-destruct, Theia uncovers the truth behind Pan’s journey.

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T6: What is death in the digital age?

Katie Thornton on what happens to our digital selves when we die.

S6: Pan’s Dwindling

A full playout of Pan’s dwindling as her system shuts down.

Episode seven: Dreams Of The Autopilot

Daria has a confession to make - a secret from her past that haunts her every night.

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T7: Would you vote for an AI government?

Elsa Sotiriadis on whether AI could run the country.

S7: Daria’s Nightmare

A full playout of one of Daria’s nightmares as she tries to control the sounds of the rupture.

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Episode eight: Future Conditional

Pan and Theia have a plan, but it’s a sketchy one and it’s probably going to go wrong.

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T8: How will humans die out?

An ode to Theia. Anthropologist Michael Rivera on human extinction.

S8: The Memory Transfer

Theia’s salty memory of her daughter used for the transfer.

Episode nine: Enigmata

Daria escorts Pan to The Convocation. An era has ended. Can, or should, a new one begin?

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T9: Love Letter to the Forest…

A love letter to the forests of the world. Written by David Haskell, read by Pearl Mackie.

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S9: Bonobo’s Theme

Our final soundscape, a full playout of the Forest 404 theme tune composed by Bonobo

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The initial episodes can be downloaded here: