Mune: A digital instrument with the soul of an acoustic

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50 meters of wireless freedom means that players can move away from the laptop running the software(Credit: Mune Music)

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From colorful pads and expressive desktop instruments to guitar-shaped sound generators and novel accordion-like creations, musicians today can't really complain about a lack of digital music creation hardware. But if you're looking for an interface that lets the audience see what you're up to, has the sensitivity and playability of an acoustic instrument and doesn't require a university education to play, the list of available options is dramatically reduced. All of these boxes, and more, are ticked by the Mune, a wooden-framed digital instrument that's designed as a simple pickup and play kind of device which can be played facing fans in front of the stage.

The Mune project began a few years ago to solve specific problems that were troubling composer and music professor Andrew Staniland. He wanted to be able to perform electronic music in a similar way players do so with acoustic instruments. He also wanted the audience to see him creating the music, rather than just pushing buttons on a desktop interface or sitting down at a piano-like keyboard.

As such, core drivers for the project were to develop an interface that could face the audience and make the player's interactions visible, and to try and match the expressiveness and sensitivity of acoustic instruments. Four prototypes later and the Mune was the result.

The instrument/controller has been designed so that you don't have to be a technical whizzkid or professional musician to play it. It has a shaped wooden frame with a player interface comprising 24 touch sensors on the upper face – 16 force-sensitive button-like controls and eight ribbon sensors. And there's a built-in 3-axis accelerometer catering for movement-driven effects.

The Mune connects via Bluetooth to a computer or laptop running some open-source software called Symphony, and is promised to give users up to 50 meters (164 ft) of wireless freedom so that players can take center stage while the rest of the hardware is hidden from sight. An integrated 2,000 mAh battery is reported good for up to six hours of play time.

An almost infinite pool of digital sounds – from familiar piano sounds to wacky, out of this world synth tones to percussive beats and beyond – is made available via a library of Mune apps. The instrument can also be used to control music production software and hardware over USB-MIDI, and can be laid flat on a table, sat on your lap, mounted on an included stand or hung from your shoulder.

Looking ahead, the makers say that the playing surface is designed so that it could be swapped out for one with a different layout at some point in the future, giving users more flexibility. And an expansion port has been included, which will allow for the connection of onboard sound processing modules in the future.

The development team has launched on Kickstarter to bring the Mune into production. As of writing, pledges start at CAD 776 (about US$600) for an Explorer Unit, which includes a license for app creation software from Cycling 74. If all goes to plan, shipping is estimated to start in September of next year. An overview of the project can be seen in the pitch video below.

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