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Making Music On The Mune

How an engineering student turned a class project into a career

Scott Stevenson was in his final year of engineering at Memorial University, looking for a work-term, when he met Andrew Staniland, a composer and assistant professor with the school of music.

Staniland had a unique problem. He wanted to perform electronic music the same way other musicians perform with acoustic instruments. However, electronic music is mostly created on computers and desktop interfaces and the audience doesn’t get the same sense of a musical performance from a computer that they would from other instruments.

“There’s a lack of satisfying performance instruments in electronic music,” explained Staniland. “Most people can’t see and appreciate the visual cause and effect from a computer that they would with a guitar or piano.”

“When someone is behind a computer,” added Stevenson, “you can’t tell whether they are creating an entire song from scratch or just selecting a song from iTunes.”

What resulted was a sound innovation — a well-composed collaboration between the faculty of engineering and the school of music.

With support from an Ignite Grant from the Research and Development Corporation of Newfoundland and Labrador, Staniland teamed up with two faculty members from engineering, Nick Krouglicof and Andy Fisher. Together, they hired Stevenson on a work-term to develop an outward facing instrument that musicians could use to play electronic music.

Stevenson’s four-month work-term produced a few prototypes, such as a drum-like instrument with sensors. But after a few tries, Stevenson wanted to come up with a more attractive shape. And that’s when a new business idea started to unfold.

With help from MUN’s Office of the Vice-President (Research) through its technology transfer organization, and funds from various sources, including Springboard Atlantic and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, Stevenson remained on the project well after his work-term. He incorporated his company in October 2013 and has been working on it ever since to bring the instrument from prototype to finished product.

The team started out with plastic, then moved toward a wooden model that could be held, placed on the musician’s lap or laid flat on a surface to give the musician performance flexibility.

“Going from plastic to wood was a huge shift in our thinking,” Stevenson said. “Working with wood is what our brand is all about, making the device feel like a real instrument.”

Once it was completed, the team had to figure out what to call it.

“We decided on Mune,” Stevenson said, explaining that the name was originally a musical play on the word “rune.”

“But it also comes from the word ‘commune’ because there’s a big community element to the instrument, as well.”

He said a lot of support helped  bring the idea to reality. Memorial’s Industrial Outreach Group was crucial, providing three students and two woodworkers to help create the wooden prototype. The group provides outside business and organizations with access to the skills and facilities of the faculty of engineering and applied science.

Thanks to marketing support from the provincial Department of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development, the Mune will be available for pre-order through a crowdfunding campaign that will help the team establish demand prior to mass manufacturing. The team just launched a teaser website (www.munemusic.com) along with an online ad campaign, and will begin a pre-sales campaign in September.

“We want the first Mune owners to be founding artists who will help guide and contribute to further development,” said Stevenson.

Staniland is proud to see the instrument develop into a business idea and supports Stevenson in taking the product from lab to life.

“If Scott wasn’t pursuing this, this piece of technology would probably just be sitting in my lab,” he said.