If you’ve ever dreamt of turning your kayak into a musical-cum-scientific instrument, now you can — thanks to a how-to-manual published this week. For the low cost of $1133 (boat not included), your Sonic Kayak can record underwater goings-on with submerged sensors, and broadcast a soothing tune from speakers attached to its prow. The only problem? There’s no headphone jack.
The sonic kayak is the brainchild of a team of researchers led by Amber Griffiths from FoAM Kernow, an artistic and research collective in the UK described as “a lab for speculative culture.” The team explains how to outfit a kayak with an underwater microphone, thermometers, a GPS unit, and speakers in a paper published this week in the journal PLOS Biology. (To build a sonic kayak on the cheap, the paper suggests using budget versions of these parts.)
This collection of gadgets records underwater noise pollution and water temperatures, orchestrated by a Raspberry Pi computer board and a few other off-the-shelf computer parts. But the real point of the sonic kayak is to get non-scientists excited about actually going out and collecting that data. That’s where the experimental music comes in. The sonic kayak mixes a tune in real time out of three tracks: live underwater audio, a tone that rises and falls as the temperature changes, and pre-recorded sounds and voices that play when the boat passes GPS checkpoints. The result comes close to spa or meditation music, with a persistent baseline of sloshing.