Fairlight CMI

The Fairlight was designed by two Australian engineers, Peter Vogel and Kim Ryrie who had already established the Fairlight company manufacturing and selling video special effects boxes. The prototype was known as the QASAR M8 (1978) subsequently developed into the Fairlight Computer Music Instrument in 1979.

The Fairlight CMI was the first commercially available digital sampling instrument, instead of generating sounds from mathematical wave data, the sampler digitises sounds from an external audio source via an analogue to digital convertor for re-synthesis or processing. The original Fairlight models used two standard 8 bit 6800 processors, updated to the more powerfull 16 bit 68000 chips in later versions. The Fairlight was equiped with two six octave keyboards an alphanumeric keyboard and an interactive VDU where sounds could be edited or drawn on the screen using a light pen. The whole instrument was controlled by proprietary software allowing editing, looping, mixing of sounds as well as the ability to draw soundwaves and sequence samples.

During the early eighties the fairlight and the Synclavier were the high-end option for synthesis and sampling and way beyond the reach of all but the most up-market studios. This situation came to an end with the advent of complex and affordable digital synthesisers and samplers by instruments such as Ensoniq’s “Mirage” (1986), Emu Systems’ “Emulator” and AKAI’s S1000 sampler range.

Fairlight CMI with Lightpen