Chicago's MB Labs wins Red Bull Creation competition

  • MB Labs hold their Red Bull Creation Judge's Choice trophy after creating the winning music instrument for the "Signal to Noise" themed competition
MB Labs hold their Red Bull Creation Judge's Choice trophy after creating… (Aaron Rogosin/Red Bull…)
June 18, 2013|By JoVona Taylor | RedEye

A local group of artists, designers and engineers, collectively known as MB Labs, took a new approach to musical innovation, earning them the top spot in the 2013 Red Bull Creation, a nationwide themed-building competition.

MB Labs’ team that competed this past weekend in New York City included Bill Fienup, Hyuns Hong, David Hull and Harvey Moon. It took them less than 72 hours to create Autoloop, a musical instrument that embodied the competition theme of “Signal to Noise,” and beat inventions from five other teams.

Autoloop is comparable to a live-band version of karaoke, making it difficult for even the most rhythmically challenged person to sound bad, said Fienup, founder and director of MB Labs and a 32-year-old West Loop resident.

By placing marbles into a selection of nine circles embedded across a sensor-heavy table, people of any age and musical skill level can use instruments such as drums, cymbals, cow bells and maracas to create a sequence of 16 beats that will continuously loop to create a melody, hence the name Autoloop.

Hull, a MB Labs collaborator and 29-year-old resident of Logan Square, said the team followed a theme of using circle/loop-shaped equipment to signify the importance of repetition to create rhythm and melody.

The team members also used the loop theme as a reference to their home city.

“We wanted to name it ‘Chicago Loop’, but we thought that would be too ambiguous,” Hull said.

The core MB Labs group, whose mission is create unique and interactive products, is made up of three official members/founders--Josh Billions, Fienup and Moon—but can have up to 15 collaborators at a time, depending on the project being worked on.

“Our umbrella of projects range from a commercial purpose to stuff we do for fun and enjoyment,” said Moon, of the West Loop. “But they all involve technology in some aspect.”

In a Red Bull Creation news release, Greg Needel, a former participant in the building competition and 2013 head judge, said the possibilities for MB Labs’ Autoloop are endless.

“The judges were blown away by the complete re-imagination of what a synthesizer and musical output device can be,” he said.

MB Labs was awarded $10,000 and the 2013 Red Bull Creation trophy as winners of the competition.

As for the future of Autoloop, team members said they would love to have their winning invention displayed at local galleries and museums, but they are not sure if they want to make it available for purchase by the public.

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