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.

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


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.

Waterproof Sonic Kayak kit plus new tangible map design


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.

Find out what happened here.

Notes on the addition of the new turbidity and air pollution sensors can be followed here.


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

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