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Tom’s smart idea hits the right note

Inspired by the Disney masterpiece, 'Fantasia', a young Wirral pioneer developed a 'smart' musical instrument that provides an innovative way to encourage others to learn, play and compose music.

Tom Clarke is the man behind ‘Arterfacts’, a local start-up company that is developing the instrument - affectionately known as 'Noiseey' - through the support of the LCR Activate programme, which help digital and creative businesses in the Liverpool City Region grow using emerging technologies.

Arterfacts is proving to be the creative breakthrough Moreton-based Tom has been promising ever since he was a boy studying at Lingham Primary, Hilbre High and Birkenhead Sixth Form College.

It was while he was carrying out research in the final year of his Popular Music degree at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) that he hit upon the right note.

"The idea for the ‘smart instrument’ came to me as I was watching the Walt Disney film ‘Fantasia’ in preparation for a dissertation. I couldn’t understand why there wasn’t a clearer language for composing music and performing instrument types in a single product. So, I carried out market research and soon realised that the design vision I had was, in fact, quite novel."

After graduating, Tom spent a while trying to pursue radio and production careers, but it was ‘insanely difficult getting my foot in the door.’

“I was also DJ-ing from 16 years-old at clubs in Liverpool and bars in Wirral. I decided to become a teaching assistant for a short period so that I could have a clearer routine and develop my business after school hours and weekends. Initially, I volunteered at Overchurch Junior School and, when they asked me back after I left to finish training and work with an agency, I didn’t think twice about returning there.

"I was eventually introduced to Activate by the Wirral Enterprise Hub at Birkenhead docks. Through the scheme, I worked closely with Dr David Tully from the computer science department at project partner LJMU to take the smart instrument from concept to reality.

"3D printing software was used to create a prototype of the device, in order to develop it further and make it as comfortable to use for the user as possible. As a result, I was able to pioneer a smart musical instrument that allows users to play keyboard, string, percussion and wind instruments through its attached touch-screen and mouthpiece, as well as by changing its position.

"The instrument displays graphics of keys, strings and symbols that can be modified and configured depending on which instrument the user would like to play. When playing violin, for example, the instrument is held under the user’s chin and the screen displays musical notes and strings that the user can 'bow'. When playing piano, meanwhile, the instrument is laid flat and the screen shows musical notes along with a row of different keys."

Looking ahead, Tom and Arterfacts are looking to develop a mobile-app to work alongside the instrument that will provide further creative elements, such as musical coaching and playing against friends in game like scenarios.

Wirral provides the inspiration

For Tom Clarke, there is no place he’d rather be than Wirral.

"This is an ideal place to grow up as there is so much of interest. It combines historical sites, nature and amenities within a very small radius and it will always have a special place in my heart.

"For starting a business, it has been perfect, having close contact with such a wealth of talent in many different industries - and plenty of nice tea shops to work from!"