Made by FoAM-Kernow, the Sonic Kayak is an on water development of the Sonic Bike which also carries underwater environmental sensors to generate music live from the marine world, providing the paddler with an extra dimension to experience the underwater climate whilst enabling citizens to gather climate/ environmental data. Launched in 2016, it’s development is ongoing, projects listed below. Read on its launch in the PLOS biology journal.

Sonic Kayak developments (2020)


Sonic Kayak development is continuing during this COVID time, with Kaffe in Berlin and FoAM-Kernow (Dave Griffiths & Amber Griffiths), in Cornwall connecting through a virtual sonification lab.

Supported by ACTION European funding, FoAM-Kernow are directing research to design and test two new sensors for the Sonic Kayaks; 1) air pollution and 2) water turbitidy (cloudiness). With the kayaks already carrying an underwater temperature sensor and hydrophone, the data collected through all sensors is recorded for scientific open data bases as well as sonified live and played to the paddler through a stereo speaker mounted on the kayak.  A live feed of sound from the hydrophone is also included, with of course, ambient paddling noise and wind adding to the soundscape.

This project is creating a new scientific tool for live field research of underwater environments, whilst creating opportunity to make new marine compositions exploring ecoacoustics and sonification.

FoAm have been leading on the tech and sensor application – adapting the Sonic Bike kit for the kayak, making custom sensor housings and developing the software . Follow their progress HERE.

Kaffe – with PD support from Federico Visi together in Berlin – are working alongside exploring data sonification techniques by looking at granular synthesis of animal calls and insects, vocal synthesis, and triggering of tones and samples through data interpretation as peaks and troughs/rise and fall to make ‘states’. Recording and sharing their experiments to each other, so they are continuously coming back to the question, will these audio outcomes communicate clear meaning to the paddler ?  as well as enhancing, not destroying the peaceful experience of Sonic Kayaking out on water..


Data Treatment: One approach is to make ‘states’ to be able to work more meaningfully with live data pouring in as continuous streams. This can also be used to enable analysis by re-examining recorded data, then magnifying relevant active data ranges to create clearer sonic responses and hiopefully more meaning. Test ‘states’ are; Rise, Peak, Fall and Trough


As it’s impossible to get on the water during COVID times, we are working with air quality data recorded by walking near water. The graph above shows two major peaks, the first was a passing lorry belching smoke and the second, a house with a log burner.


This graph shows the same data over a longer period of  an hour, which would produce long periods of silence as nothing significant is happening.

Note that data ‘states’ are slightly delayed, as you don’t know you’ve had a peak until it has fallen slightly (reverse for troughs) – and we can’t read data from the future. The below graphs other ways of assessing the ‘states’.



Kaffe has been exploring a number of options for sound, working from recordings of above water life – dragonflies, insects and bats (everyone agreed no birds) for air pollution response,  and a selection of frogs and toads for turbidity response.  With a range of synthesized dongs, tones and digial pulses, so a breadth of material is collectively selected and set in PD to be processed or triggered by the incoming data streams /states.

Approaches for testing so far:

Four different approaches to chosen sounds and data treatments were finally selected as follows :

  1.  Recognisable vs Processed  –   PD granulation + filtration of animal sounds via data streams; stretching, shattering and exploding to new audioworlds ->unrecognizeable as animals.
  2.  Just Animals                           –   ‘ states’ triggering selected animal sounds, higher/lower states raising /lowering pitches.  (Air quality – dragonflies; Turbidity – frogs; Water Temp – tom Drum )
  3.  Simple synthesized sounds  –   Air quality – digital pulse; Turbidity – synthesis ‘dong’; Water Temp – bending sine tone. Triggered by states whose value causes filtration.
  4.  Synthesized vocal readout    –  a verbal description of the data from ‘states’, eg. ” water temperature is rising, water is clear, getting cloudy,  air is more polluted etc” (in both male+female voices)

Sonic Kayak developments (2019)


FoAM-Kernow’s work with the Sonic Kayak has been ongoing, exploring the addition of new sensors to measure water turbidity and air pollution as well as coding a new GPS unit that uses position data from Galileo, the new European satellites, GLONASS, the Russian satellites and the familiar US satellite system ie. GPS.  With all our GPS related Sonic Bike learnings that have occurred over the years, we are particularly interested in the potential for increased reliability we hope this system will provide as well as a potential future addition of an air pollution sensor to the Sensory Bike.

It was with great anticipation therefore that we set off to Cornwall when invited to collaborate on a Sonic Kayak Sound Mapping Workshop with vision impaired paddlers, inclusive outdoor adventure club Access Lizard Adventure and underwater noise researcher Dr Jo Garret at Trevassack Lake, Cornwall.  The workshop’s aim was to explore the possibility of using the Sonic Kayak as a navigational instrument so enabling inclusive independant kayaking, but we also saw the opportunity as an ideal moment to revisit sound composition and mapping possibilities through re-engaging with listening whilst moving in nature on the surface of a quiet lake.

>>> Read the full details of the 2019 development here <<<

Notes on the addition of the new turbidity and air pollution sensors can be followed on the FoAM-Kernow website.


Waterproof Sonic Kayak kit plus new tangible map design


The birth of the Sonic Kayak (2016)


The Sonic Kayak is a musical instrument with which to investigate nature. Kayaks rigged with underwater environmental sensors generate live music from the marine world, providing the paddler with an extra dimension of senses with which to explore the underwater climate.

Sonifications and audio outcomes play as you paddle, giving new directions and challenges for the BRI; Mapping over empty space of open water, waterproofed housing of the developed sonic bike tech and acoustics on water. What if any audio material do we want to hear when immersed in nature anyway?

The project is also being developed in collaboration with climate science researchers, offering for the first time a citizen-science approach to collecting valuable aquatic microclimate data.

Set up for anyone to paddle, the Sonic Kayak was launched at the British Science Festival, Swansea, Wales, September 6-8th 2016. Hosted by 360 Watersports centre. Funded by FEAST (Cornwall Council and Arts Council England) and the British Science Association.


Map and score

The first audio source is a map score that covers the area the kayaks paddle through – strips of zones with enough space between them to give paddlers sample free moments. Yellow zones with poems/texts, blue zones with pulses and red zones with information on effects of climate change in the oceans read by machine voices.



Water temperature

The second audio source sonifies micro-changes in surface temperature of the water, giving rising and falling tones that play only when the temperature changes. This temperature data is gathered during each trip – yes, the paddler also becomes citizen scientist.


Temperature readings – yellow for hot, blue for cold.


The temperature sensors.


The third audio source, a hydrophone (an underwater microphone), plays the sounds from below the surface. This is especially interesting in fairly still estuaries/rivers with varied underwater topography and marine life.


Hardware & Software

We’re using the same kit as on the sonic bikes: a Raspberry Pi 2, GPS receiver, battery & Minirig speakers, but adapted for the sonic kayak to include two water temperature sensors and a hydrophone.

The software running on the Sonic Kayaks is available open-source here:

This has also had an update to incorporate pure data to sonify the sensor data directly.

The hardware design has been adapted to the kayak, with new speaker cones to direct the sound at the paddler and fully waterproofing the kit box.



Read journal article Sonic Kayaks: Environmental monitoring and experimental music by citizens, by Amber G. F. Griffiths, Kirsty M. Kemp, Kaffe Matthews, Joanne K. Garrett and David J. Griffiths, in PLOS Biology, November 2017

Temperature sensor testing, sonic kayak, Penryn estuary, Cornwall, 2016

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