The computer musical instrument that changed the face of music

It’s big, it’s beautiful, it’s from Australia. The Fairlight CMI.  Peter Gabriel, Pet Shop Boys, Art of Noise, Stevie Wonder, Duran Duran, Herbie Hancock, Kate Bush, Tears for Fears, Jan Hammer, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, U2, Coldplay… Just the tip of the iceberg. This instrument was involved in many hit records, tv- and film productions. It’s the sound of the ’80. And much, much more…

What makes it special?

Sampling, creating and storing your own sounds, programming music tracks.. This was the first computer that could do all that. it was the late ’70’s and the Fairlight was very much ahead of its time. It paved the way for hands-on music production as we know it today. It’s a piece of music history.

Kim Ryrie and Peter Vogel, the inventors
  • It’s full name: Fairlight CMI (Computer Musical Instrument)
  • Invented by Peter Vogel & Kim Ryrie, Australia
  • They started out in 1975. The first CMI was ready to be shown to the world in 1979
  • The idea for naming it “Fairlight”? It was the name of a hydrofoil, passing Ryrie’s grandmother’s house in Sydney harbour.
  • Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, Stevie Wonder, Boz Burrell and Hans Zimmer were some of the first happy few who got their hands on one
  • It was notorious for its whopping price tag. Back in 1985, a CMI costed about as much as a terraced house.
  • A lot of fans of the Fairlight love the earlier series for their authentic looks and its distinctive sound, often described as ‘glass-like’, ‘digital’ or ‘a bit clunky’
  • About 300 were made

Want to know all the ins and outs? Check the source… 

OK, let’s check it out…

And here we have: the world famous Sesame Street-episode in which Herbie Hancock is demonstrating the Fairlight to a bunch of kids.  

Well, what do you know: the damn thing can bark like a dog! And much more… A wonderful demonstration on BBC’s Tomorrow’s World

One of the most famous and recognisable sounds of the ’80’s: the orchestral hit. The subtle (or not so subtle!) ingredient in lots and lots of pop and R&B songs

And here we see Peter Gabriel, collecting some original samples…