The birth of the Sonic Kayak (2016)

Made by FoAM, 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.

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 ongoing Sonic Kayak developments are in collaboration with climate science researchers, offering for the first time a citizen-science approach to collecting valuable aquatic microclimate data. The research also encompasses navigation experiences for vision diverse paddlers – though it’s exploration of alternative locational data and the roadless space of open water. Follow the Sonic Kayak development here.


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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