Arts podcast review

Echoes of the Slow World

A beautiful and thoughtful exploration of our future and its sounds

Forest 404
Produced and directed by Becky Ripley
Written by Timothy X Atack
Starring Pearl Mackie, Tanya Moodie and Pippa Haywood
Available on BBC Sounds

Every now and then something will cross my path in the internet enough times that I check it out. Occasionally, I’ll enjoy it, and, very rarely, I will love it. The first episode of Forest 404 pulled me into the future world of wires and steel in which the story of the podcast unfurls.

The basic idea is this: after a data crash called ‘the Cataclysm,’ humankind carries on in a vast, mechanical, and moving city, producing and consuming faster than ever before. Everything about our times — the slow times, they call it — has been either forgotten or lost. Everything, that is, other than the media held by the Department of the Convocation, which is tasked with freeing up valuable space for the city to grow. Our protagonist, Pan (Peal Mackie), works there as sort of a reverse librarian: she catalogues information — the voices and images of the slow times — for deletion. And she is good at her job, clearing 40–50 terabytes of data per week. Unfortunately for her, this job is more dangerous than one might think. In the nine episodes that the series spans, we are thrust deep into the dark secrets of both the city that she loves and her boss — and would-be romantic partner — Daria (Tanya Moodie).

In the first episode, we catch a glimpse of the title’s meaning: first, Pan finds a recording of a rainforest, but there hasn’t been any kind of nature since the Cataclysm. From here the podcast takes on an eco-futuristic aesthetic, exploring the sounds of a lost environment — courtesy of the beautiful sound design of Graham Wilde — and its effect on our nature-deprived descendants. The series is broken into nine twenty-five minute chunks with accompanying talks from experts on nature and our real-life understanding of how it affects us and the nature sounds that Pan fights desperately to understand.

If this sounds like your kind of thing, I wholeheartedly recommend that you give it a listen. The characters are well-written, the world is interesting, the sound is magnificent, and all of it is beautifully believable. The format is clever and engaging, pooling the shared experiences of the three main characters in a way that works wonderfully, both in and out of its universe. I’m honestly just disappointed at how short it all is — I still have many questions, but that, I suppose, is part of its beauty.