the sonic kayak sound mapping workshop

 In 2019, Cornwall, Development, FoAM, Kayak workshop, Sonic Kayaks

We have five participants plus partners, portable toilets at vast expense, an empty container we’ve filled with our gear, world champion sea kayaker Claire Eatock and Matt from Access Lizard, underwater noise researcher Dr Jo Garret, GPS developer James Duffy, Kat Roberts on off-grid catering, directors behind the entire project Amber Griffiths and Dave Griffiths of FoAm plus … the sun shines. Apart from the addition of the more sensitive GPS, we also have a tactile map made with foam and plasticine on a thin board enabling the participants to understand the lake through touch rather than vision. There’s a new kind of descriptive explanation to do of the kit therefore before we can get kitted up and go on the water. Dave has already mapped some warning sounds around the lake’s periphery and its central island, so the two sonic kayaks head off to test where these zones are and to assess if they are in useful positions or not, and Jo and I follow in a unpimped one to record results. Very quickly, bleeping sounds are parping across the lake from one kayak and not from the other, then from the other and not the one. We follow then hover and wait and very quickly I am remembering what sonic kayaking is all about. The simple experience of sitting on the surface of water with all its movement, the sound and the feel of the calm and the acoustic of the space, especially when we just float is profound. The senses are heightened, the addition of human generated audio needs to be minimal.

Back on dry land we share experiences and discover that performance of the GPS triggered sound was pretty erratic, that the warning sounds need not alarm, they just need to be clear. Also they do not need to loop or be placed so far from the edge of the lake.We need some water space. We also discover that several of our participants are not necessarily looking to kayak alone, that the joy of kayaking in itself is enough, so that the aim for sonic kayak as navigation tool need not be our sole purpose.  We further discuss our listening experiences and gather ideas as to where to map sounds that are not merely guiding tools.  Can we create a combination of navigational help with delicious sonic discovery – as if you’re moving unseeing through an art gallery where audio sculptures emerge and disappear as you go? With this in mind, aided by Kat’s awesome catering,  we make and map new sounds around the lake.  Sonic kayaks head off to test but return with the news that sounds were getting stuck or not playing at all. On examination we discover that the GPS system seems to have crashed/flipped to its factory version on both boats.

Various theories emerge as to why including the presence of a nearby military base which would scamble GPS data for thier own activities, but our phone GPS’s are working so we are left to return to the lab. The day is also closing and we gasp as we need 2 more days like this. We have only just begun.


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