Fairlight CMI

The Fairlight CMI (Computer Musical Instrument ) was the first digital synthesizer sampling technique.

The Fairlight was designed by the two Australians Peter Vogel and Kim Ryrie in the late 1970s and gained particular notoriety in the 1980s. 1979, the first copies were ready and with Peter Gabriel and Stevie Wonder their first customers. The first pop songs, where a Fairlight CMI was heard, are on Gabriel's third solo album, during its production, he visited by Peter Vogel, together with a demonstration instrument received and was so excited that he founded a distribution company for the device immediately. Soon there were other artists who used the Fairlight, such as Kate Bush on the album "Never For Ever " (1980, with the hit " Babooshka " ), and Jean Michel Jarre on " Magnetic Fields " (1981) or The Art of Noise on " Into Battle " (1983).

The first exclusively produced with the Fairlight CMI LP was " earth tone - Computer Acoustic Sound Symphony " the musician Hubert Bogner and Harald Zuschrader. The work was produced in 1981 on behalf of, premiered at the Ars Electronica in September 1982 and published a little later than LP.


Precursor fair CMI was Qasar M8, the sound synthesis based on a real-time modulation of waveforms. The results were, however, not least because of the limited processing capabilities of the time, sobering. The following used Vogel and Ryrie rather than synthetic digitally recorded natural waveforms. The results were so promising that in 1979 the first series started off. The sound quality of the system corresponded but due to the low sampling rate of 24 kHz non-professional requirements. With the Series II this has been greatly improved. 1983, the Fairlight to MIDI capability has been extended to 1985 reached to recordings with CD quality.

The success of the Fairlight meant that other companies also brought products with sampling capabilities to the market. Thus, the New England Digital expanded its digital synthesizer Synclavier to sampling. E -MU Systems launched in 1981 with the emulator I a less expensive, though still very expensive sampling keyboard on the market. In 1985, Ensoniq Ensoniq Mirage with the first affordable samplers on the market, which heralded the slow end of the CMI with its 8- bit processor. At the same time, simple expansion cards for use in the home came on the market, such as the Greengate DS3 expansion card for the Apple II Apple Macintosh When sampling was already part of the sound system. The Commodore Amiga was able to be played simultaneously on four channels ( 24 kHz, 8 bit) and extended with MIDI functions as early as 1985 samples. The last Fairlight CMI III was built in 1991.


CMI I / II (x )

The Fairlight CMI was based on the QASAR, a computer for business and scientific applications. The QASAR was a dual processor system in which two processors work with the same 2- MHz bus. This allowed a processor to the periphery and their input and output controlled, while the second worked exclusively for the application. Additional cards were used for connecting peripherals such as floppy disk drive, keyboard, etc. For the QASAR there were two processor cards. The first with Motorola 6800 processor was used in the CMI I / II. In IIx version already came with 6800/6809 processors are used.

The sound synthesis was carried out using 8 bits at variable sampling rates as a function of the pitch ( max. 35 kHz) and a maximum length of 16 kB. In CMI II up to eight audio cards with 16 kB RAM and additional processors were responsible for sound production. The cards work autonomously as soon as the sound data in the RAM of the card templates. A low-pass filter on each card limited the inevitable in the audio - resolution aliasing. First, quite inflexible, it could be controlled differently in later versions, eg via the keyboard course. The series IIx had the then new MIDI interface.

The Fairlight had its own operating system called QDOS with graphical user interface, a variant of the Motorola Mdos. In addition to the keyboard for entering, there was a light pen for the monochrome green monitor ( 512 × 256 pixels). One of the most copied functions of the Fairlight software was the so-called " Page -R ​​" function: a graphical real-time pattern sequence editor, who was one of the main reasons for buying a Fairlight often.


In the CMI III, the light pen has been replaced by an integrated into the keyboard, graphic tablet, because longer working with the light pen could be very tiring. Furthermore, the 680x were replaced by Motorola 68000 processors. The operating system was now OS 9 (not to be confused with Mac OS 9).

Technical details


The first fully digital 24 -track disc recorder in the world.


On the new QDC technology -based post-production system. For the first time video is linked into audio post-production equipment.

CC- 1 Crystal Core

Again Fairlight provides audio revolution. For signal processing of the entire mixer, disc recorder and video system only single FPGA is employed.


At the show, Winter NAMM 2011 Fairlight CMI 30A was presented. Although he has almost identical housing the legendary CMI II, inside he is working with a model developed by Fairlight chip called CC-1 - Crystal Core Media Processor in Field Programmable Gate Array technology. Also it is published as an iPad app.


The sound of the 8 -bit models of the Fairlight was first coined by the limited technical possibilities. But as is so often made ​​in the retrospective of just the charm of this instrument. The sounds were often somewhat " breathy " and " scratchy ", such as in the intro to Do not You Want Me by Human League. Many sounds of the Fairlight were used very frequently. Thus one finds the " Ahh " choir (program name SARAHIIx ), for example in "Moments in Love " by The Art of Noise, " Shout" by Tears for Fears and esp. in comparison with more modern samplers falls mainly the lack of resonance filters. Also became known for the so-called " Orchestra Hit ", an orchestral flourish, which is heard in the song " Owner of a Lonely Heart," the group Yes for example.


The Fairlight CMI models were very solidly built and priced accordingly. The first series cost with all options approximately 1 million U.S. $. Subsequent models were more efficient at lower prices. A Fairlight CMI II cost from U.S. $ 25,000. The Fairlight CMI III started at $ 40,000, but it was also easy - depending on the configuration - $ 100,000 possible.

A CMI Fairlight can be seen in the film We're All Devo Devo the group as well as in several music videos, such as in Magnetic Fields Part 2 by Jean Michel Jarre or Etude ( The Killing Fields ) by Mike Oldfield. The album track securing Eberhard Schoener (1983 ) shows a screenshot of the above described " Page -R ​​" function of the Fairlight. Several artists created the musical possibilities of the instrument in front of image and sound, Vince Clarke as demonstrated on a music cassette magazine Melody Maker the development of a song on the Fairlight CMI. In contrast, Phil Collins mentioned on the inside cover of the LP of his album No Jacket Required ". There is no Fairlight on this record"

Even Boris Blank and Carlos Peron of Yello used Fairlight of different generations, had the financial means to afford this instrument, and were enthusiastic about it. They were influenced not only by the instrument, but left their mark on styles. Among other things, they were students or at least influenced by Karlheinz Stockhausen. 2013 Fairlight CMI III Boris blanks for the price of $ 18,300 was auctioned on Ebay.

Important recordings with the CMI

  • Erdenklang / Hubert Bogner and Harald Zuschrader
  • Magnetic Fields / Jean Michel Jarre
  • Who's Afraid Of / The Art Of Noise
  • Sermon on the Mount / Blue Chip Orchestra
  • Human Error / John " Poli " Palmer