Categorie: Stories

Photo credit: Tjepke Zijlstra

Danny Weijermans – Composer, orchestrator/arranger, sound designer, teacher

In a nutshell: Danny studied Music Technology, he has been involved in numerous productions for film and television, theatre and art exhibitions. And, he teaches Composition and Music Design at that very same college he attended. In 2014, he bought a Series III. “To me, it’s a great tool for creating my own sounds. I wasn’t really after getting those signature sounds or anything like that. Its quality was more appealing to me.”

He attended the HKU University of the Arts, Utrecht – Music And Technology, back in 1988. During his studies, Danny and a few friends started their own business in developing plug-ins and software, and they started a firm, Soundpalette, specialised in music productions.”TV-shows, film, commercials, theatre, art performances…. The six of us worked on just about anything you could think of. That were some crazy times! You name it; we did it. At some point, I kind of withdrew from Audio Ease, the software company, so I could really focus on the craft of programming and composing.”

Nowadays, Danny is covering the whole spectrum of music production. “It depends; sometimes, it’s more about composing and arranging. Sometimes, I’m orchestrating; sometimes, I’m the sound designer. Or, I’m doing a bit of everything. Whatever is necessary to get the best results.” The list of projects he worked on is excessive. 

Like with most musicians, his training began when he was very young. “I started with trumpet lessons at the age of six, followed by organ and classical piano.’ In addition to his Musical Technology studies, he chose Trumpet as a subsidiary subject: ‘I performed with lots of bands. My experience with both keyboard instruments and brass instruments still comes in handy in my line of work. It makes it very easy to communicate with the musicians, performing my compositions.”

Photo credit: Tjepke Zijlstra

Magical, mythical

Way before he entered the Utrecht conservatory in 1988, he already discovered the wide possibilities of sampling. “It had a great impact on me. I started out with an Ensoniq EPS. During my studies, I went to India for a year, to work as a Synclavier specialist. Owning a Synclavier system was my biggest dream. The Synclavier has always been my greatest love. The Fairlight on the other hand; its magical and mythical status was very appealing to me. People were called ‘programmers’, it was unobtainable and unaffordable; only available for those who made name and fame…” Danny, thinking out loud: “It is likely, this perpetuated the whole mythical aspect of the Fairlight. At the hands of a wealthy amateur, it probably would have been nothing more than a very sophisticated musical instrument.”

“People knew about the records it was used on: “Oh, yeah… that’s done on a Fairlight.” It had the reputation of a machine that could make miracles. I think, back in the ’80’s, most of us presumed it was all Fairlight we were hearing, when in fact, it’s always a combination of the CMI and several other synths or instruments.
Back in 2011, I bought my second Synclavier, a DirectToDisk system, from Dave Lawson, who also worked on the string arrangements for Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love-album. According to him, the string parts were Fairlight, mixed with acoustic strings.”

His first Fairlight encounter? “I think it was a year before my studies began. There was a trade show at the Utrecht Mercury Hotel, hosted by Synton. It was set up in a separate room, ready to give it a go. Oh yes, it was magic. But of course, it was way, way out of my price range!”

Pure quality

Sound designing wasn’t his first love: “I got into it because very often, I felt the need to improve the quality of music and sounds that were used with the productions I worked on. I grew to like this part; moulding and forging sounds, letting them morph into musical elements.”  He uses a Series III (upgraded to MFX), alongside other high end equipment such as the Synclavier and the Kyma system. “Every machine has its own capabilities and its own limitations, and every one has its specific purpose. When I need that crunchy sound, I’ll grab the Ensoniq Mirage. I hardly use the Fairlight library sounds. I bought one, solely for sampling and sound scaping. And besides: nowadays, the library sounds are way too recognisable. There are libraries on the market who are doing a much better job, especially when it comes to orchestral sounds. But if possible, I prefer working with a live orchestra.”

“Mostly, I’m using the Fairlight for ambient sounds. While the Synclavier reproduces sounds; the Fairlight enables you to mould sounds in many more ways, thanks to filtering. And the sound quality is extraordinary. That’s really something. Even the softer sounds used in theatre productions, tucked away deeply within the mix, are coming through clearly. The D/A conversion in both the Fairlight and the Synclavier: it makes them unique in comparison to other samplers.”

photo credit: Tjepke Zijlstra

Unpacking and exploring

“I bought mine in 2014, from Peter Wielk, Horizontal Productions. I knew he was selling refurbished machines, so I reacted to one of his posts on the internet forum. It used to be a test-model, used at the R&D-department. It wasn’t a 100% up-to-specs and the top panel of the casing wasn’t there. Peter made some modifications and it’s working fine. Back then, I didn’t buy the big keyboard that goes with it, but since I was planning on using it with midi, that wasn’t much of a problem. The day it came: yeah, that was a memorable day. It was packed into a large box, and some pieces were taped together. I had to be careful, for I didn’t want to ruin the paint whilst pulling the tape off.”

“It took a bit of exploring, getting it going. It’s not like there is a crash course in first time Fairlight-usage. But, it was fun! Although I didn’t buy it for those recognisable sounds, It’s certainly nice to have ‘m. I remember calling up the string sounds that were used on Kate Bush’s Cloud Busting.”

A touch of history

Since 2004, Danny teaches Composition and Music Design. Most of his students are between 18 and 24 years old. “I do try to convey the charm of using vintage equipment such as the Fairlight or the Synclavier; telling them these machines are more than just some kind of computer. They were designed and perfected to be a solid musical instrument. Well, yes, sometimes, I get mocked for that. And of course, it’s outdated. Once it was the cream of the crop, and nowadays, you can do more on just a smartphone. But some of the students are seeing what I’m getting at. To me, that tactile aspect that comes with using hardware, it’s of great value. Speaking of which: eventually, I bought the original Fairlight keyboard as well. As we speak, it isn’t operational yet, but I’m looking forward being able to use it. It’ll surely add to the whole user experience.”

Check out some of Danny’s work here! 

Rob Puricelli – Music Technologist, Instructional Designer, Fairlight fixer-upper

Like many of us, Rob wanted to be a musician. And, like many of us, he didn’t quite succeed. He
started out as a drummer, then got inspired by guys like Howard Jones and Gary Numan. ‘Me, being surrounded by synthesizers. That’s what I dreamt of all the time.’ But, diving in the wondrous world of knobs and sliders wasn’t really his cup of tea. ‘And then, there was this big white keyboard, and a screen you could draw on… I thought: ’A computer can do all the work for me. Now, that’s easy! ‘. Well, easy? He found out there’s a bit of a learning curve involved…  But, the failing part turned out pretty well. He started writing about the Fairlight in his blogs, it got picked up and for years now, he’s been the UK go-between for one of the few Fairlight fixers-uppers on the planet.

“A lot of people still want one, but they don’t realise what’s involved.”

It was his favourite hour of the week: Thursday night, watching BBC’s Tomorrow’s World, followed by Top of the Pops while having a nice cup of tea. The episode of Tomorrow’s World in which the Fairlight is demonstrated is a legendary one. “I remember it well. This guy, showing us how to emulate the sound of a timpani drum. First on a MiniMoog, then he moved over to this big machine…. And it was spot on. It looked absolutely cool, the big white box, the screen, the light pen…  Just amazing.”

Love letters to the Fairlight

From that moment on, he was hooked. He got into electronic music, collecting some synths, playing around with Cubase, and dreaming about having a Fairlight. “Especially when the IIx came out, everyone was losing their shit over it.”  Around 2004, he started writing blogs. “Back then, everybody was blogging, so I thought: I’m gonna start a blog. Why not?” Since he didn’t make it as a musician, Failed Muso seemed a fitting name. He started out writing about all kinds of things: music, synths and other fancy studio equipment. Of course, he dedicated most of his scribblings to the mighty machine. There wasn’t much information on the Fairlight online, so he jumped right in, proclaiming his love for the instrument on many occasions. “People liked it, shared it and it got picked up by manufacturers, which led to all kinds of great opportunities for me. I got to work with a lot of great stuff.” To his pleasant surprise, Peter Vogel got wind of it and contacted him. “He sent me an e-mail, asking if I’d like to do some stuff for him as well, on his iOS CMI app.”


And then, there was an afternoon, in 2013. He had a job to do somewhere in Germany. “I was checking my e-mail during my lunch break, and there was this message from Peter Wielk, Fairlight’s ex-studio manager and Fairlight-expert. He asked if I’d be interested in helping him restore a Series III CMI. Needless to say, it was a no-brainer.” He rented a van and picked it up. “It used to belong to Ian Stanley, the Tears for Fears keyboardist. It had been stored in a stale damp brick outbuilding. It took months to clean it. And months to restore it, because the spare parts had to be shipped from Sydney, Australia. Peter Wielk guided me through the whole process.”
Up until then, he never got the chance to lay his hands on one. This restored machine was the first one he actually got to play himself. Was it what he’d expected to be? “The first time I switched it on and played around with it, I thought…  “Well, this is awful!” But then, I realised: this is where it all started. It’s ’80’s technology. You have to un-learn all about modern DAWs and plugins. It takes you about five minutes to set up a simple sound.” He might have had a rough start after finally meeting his hero; eventually, he got the hang of it pretty well. These days, he gets Fairlights delivered to his doorstep on a fairly regular basis. He restores them, with a lot of help from Peter in Sydney, who then does the deal, and Rob sends them off to their new owner.

No Fuss Fairlighting

Obviously, there is still a lot of demand for this legendary machine. “A lot of people want one, but they don’t realise what’s involved. Owning a Fairlight is very much like owning a classic car. You spend months getting it up and running before you can take it out for a spin. You’ve got to love the tinkering. Most people want a Fairlight for the famous sounds. Well, you
can get those from sample libraries or for instance, from the Arturia CMI V plugin. You’ll get the sounds and more for about 200 bucks. A Fairlight in good condition? That’s about 10.000 US dollars.”
Then again, emulating the process within the machine, which gives it the unique characteristics; that isn’t done that easily, because of all the computing going on inside the casing. “Despite it being an old computer, there’s so much going on that if you were to emulate it accurately and completely, it will be eating up a lot of your processor power, which will affect everything else you’re trying to do.”

Telling the story

“What I’d really like to do is educate. The Fairlight is Ground Zero for the way we make music today. Before the Fairlight, you’d have to have massive amounts of gear for creating sounds and sequencing. After the CMI came out, other manufactures came up with samplers, sequencer software, hard disk recording; in a way, all inspired by the Fairlight. And now, it’s all integrated again in DAW software. I feel like it’s important telling people about how it all started. I think it’s important to know where you’ve been, to know where you’re going to go to.” Rob loves to take the Fairlight with him, showing it to all kinds of people who can benefit from learning about music technology. “Telling the story. That’s what I love to do.” One more thing? Yes. “When it comes to synthesizers, you always hear about Bob Moog, Dave Smith, Tom Oberheim… Peter Vogel, the inventor of the Fairlight CMI, should be getting the same level of credit and the recognition he deserves.” Duly noted, and acknowledged!

All the fun of the Fairlight on Spotify

Personal favourites? “Too many. Peter Gabriel, Thomas Dolby, Kate Bush, Art of Noise… They all used the Fairlight in their own unique way.”


Michael Turner-Craig, musician, synth collector and vlogger

Over the years, he bought and sold synths, just like most electronic instrument loving people do. But, he doesn’t consider himself a synth hunter. In fact, he’s quite picky: ‘I’m only going for the ones which have that unique sound or character I’m looking for.’  He is the proud, but modest owner of a rare Fairlight Series III machine and a NED Synclavier II system; the two titans of vintage musical computers. 

Michael Turner-Craig started out making music when he was very young. ‘Maybe two or three years old. There were always some instruments lying around the house. So I had little melodica’s, accordions, and at about the age of eight, we got a piano. My parents asked me, a bit out of the blue, if I wanted to take piano lessons. At first, I said “no, why would I want to learn piano?” Then, a few hours later, I changed my mind. I was determined to take lessons.’ 

100 things and more

He gets inspired by artist like Brian Eno, Jean-Michel Jarre, Klaus Schültz and Pete Namlook in particular. In 2015, he started his YouTube-channel 100 Things I do, showing clips of his synths, his DIY-projects and the creation of his ambient atmospheric music. ‘I didn’t take it very seriously back then. But along the way, I got more viewers and more e-mails with requests for more videos. A year later, it really took off.’ 

Although it’s quite a success; he didn’t quit his daytime job. Michael: ’Making a full living out of it, it’s quite hard, being an independent artist. Not many people are willing to pay for music, or expect to pay for music nowadays.’ Performing live comes with its own obstacles. ‘Moving the instruments for a gig, it is never without risks. They’re very old and temperamental, So, my music: it’s very much a part time job.’ ‘With most musicians, I think, you don’t make music by choice. You just feel compelled to create. You get so infatuated with the creation of music, and as you’re working on the piece you’re creating, you suddenly start having all kinds of other ideas, You just keep jumping from thing to thing. You sort of have to have the discipline to come back and finish things. That’s what many of us aren’t very good at.’

Synthesized Seventies

He grew up in England in the seventies. Electronic music seemed to be everywhere at that time. ‘Every time you turned on the tv, there was some Jean-Michel Jarre-track or a Vangelis-track playing. And like most kids my age did, I watched a lot of Doctor Who. It was just saturated everywhere. I must have been thirteen years when I heard the word Synthesizer for the first time, and hearing people talk about how you could create any sound you wanted. Being a teenager, that was the most amazing thing I had ever heard. And, I had to have one! My first synth was a Roland SH 03A.’ 

Like many others, he learned about the Fairlight through the famous demonstration on BBC’s Tomorrow’s World. Michael: ‘I think, as a child, it was very much the light pen technology and the singing into the microphone, doing whatever you wanted on the keyboard, that triggered me. Of course I didn’t think I’d come close to ever owning one myself. Computers were still a rarity when the Fairlight came out. Yeah, it was just unbelievable technology.’

Michael has been living in Australia for most of his life now. ‘My Family and I moved to a place, interesting enough, not too far from Fairlight Beach. We used to go swimming there all the time. That’s where the hydrofoil was sailing; where the instrument got its name from. It’s a very expensive area. Just like the instrument. Quite fitting.’

‘Is that one for sale?’

In 2016, he got his Series III. Michael: ‘I thought about buying a Fairlight, pretty much my whole life. But they were just incredibly unaffordable. And not available, even here in Australia. They were almost none around. The first one I ever got to use was the one I bought.’ In search of a Prophet 5, he found this advertisement on eBay. ‘I saw this mainframe in the corner of the picture of the ad. I instantly new what it was.’ He totally forgot about the Prophet  and asked if that Fairlight was for sale. And it was! 

‘It was a shop, specialised in synths, located in Gosford, near Sydney. They bought it from Peter Wielk, to be the centrepiece of the shop. But they didn’t turn it on very much, probably because the big iconic keyboard was missing. In stead, they’d hooked up a MIDI keyboard. It sort of sat there in the shop, collecting dust. And that’s why they had decided to sell it.’ 


‘It used to be a development machine, used for testing the then new MFX system. On the front panel, there are color swatches from where they were testing out different colours. It’s got somebody’s writings next to the color swatches. Because it was a test machine, they never actually completely assembled it. For instance, there was no way to connect the keyboard, for they didn’t cabled it up completely. At that time, there wasn’t a Series III keyboard available. I asked Peter to do some modifications to make it work with a Series II keyboard. The original plan was to swap it when there would be a Series III keyboard available, but as soon as I got the Series II-keyboard, I let Peter know: “I’m keeping this one!”  I painted it and spruced it up a little. That beige, off-white color of the Series II: I like it better than the newer white ones. It’s got more character to it.’ 


‘The thing that astounded me the most when I got mine was the size of the mainframe is. It was much bigger than I expected. It arrived in this huge flight case, and it was very, very heavy.’ Michael, laughing: ‘I can’t lift a Fairlight. It’s seriously well-built and it’s seriously heavy!’

‘After I got it, It never occurred to me I would have to learn how to use it. I thought, you just turn it on, press a few buttons and off you go. But of course, there’s this whole operating system underneath. So, it took me a while to learn. After that, I threw a Fairlight-party with a bunch of friends. We went through the library that comes with all of the refurbished systems. I think we went through the Pet Shop Boys-sounds, some break beats…’ His friends heard the new installed fans as well. They were quite impressed: “Oh my God… They are so quiet!”  First thing Michael played? ‘Its a Sin by the Pet Shop Boys. It’s got the choir voice and the string sounds, and I was like ”Oh, I gotta play that one!” Normally, i don’t play “tunes” by others, but this is a classic!’

The two titans

‘My choice of synths is very much driven by what the sound does or what the technology could bring to the music I make. Over the years, I’ve been looking for those unique instruments. The Synclavier, it’s got a very unique sound. It took me about six months to get it. It was shipped from the US. I was constantly worrying: did they made the right adjustments, according to the Australian standard 240V?  Little by little I tested the modules. A very stressful time. But to my surprise: no explosions!’ 

On the internet, people often talk about some rivalry between the two Holy Grail Systems. Michael doesn’t think about it that way: ‘A Fairlight was the price of a house; a Synclavier was the price of multiple houses. It’s modular, so you can keep adding new parts. More FM voices, sampling, it’s a system you can expand. They actually sold the computer part to institutes like NASA. The two giant systems developed in pretty much the same way. The Synclavier evolved into the Tapeless studio recorder, becoming a multitrack digital workstation. Pretty much the same as the CMI, becoming the MFX.’

‘They do slightly different things in slightly different ways. I think artists became attached to a particular work flow of these instruments. Kate Bush loved her Fairlight, and by the time the Series III came out, she had a full-time programmer, looking after the operation. And Depeche Mode, they were all about the Synclavier. But, the song Excellent Birds by Laurie Anderson and Peter Gabriel, it’s all Synclavier. And Peter Gabriel is known for being a Fairlight-person.’ As for Michael: ‘I still think, both systems have great abilities for making music. Most people tend to explore them for the ability to conjure up the sound of the ’80’s, but if you dive into them, you can get so much more out of them. The Fairlight and the Synclavier: I couldn’t part from them both. I think the Fairlight Series III is much more rare. If I were to sell mine, I don’t think I’d ever find another one again.’

Karel Post – producer, engineer, studio owner

Picture this: a nice, idylic village in Friesland, a province in the north of the Netherlands. A studio stuffed with all the legendary hardware one could possibly dream of. Its design, based on the world famous 1970’s Atlantic studios. That’s Mixroom One, Karel Posts’ life’s work. “It took me years, collecting all this.” 

Karel Post has been in the business for more than 30 years now. He has worked for companies like BMG Ariola and Capitol Studio’s, and in the nineties he was producing and remixing for XSV Records. They were massively into the upcoming Trance house music. “I was producing flip sides, mostly. My name wasn’t on all of the credits, but fortunately, I earned enough in royalties to help build me this place.” Nowadays, clients with special interests in using vintage hardware, who are really into authentic sound quality, are finding their way to Mixroom One.

“I’m something of a purist. I’ll always be going for the original gear. No matter how.” Along with the Fairlight, there are the 303’s, 808’s, 909’s, LinnDrums, Jupiter’s, Juno’s, Prophets, Akai’s, the Emulator II and III…. Well, practically every hit making high-end machine you can think of. Icing on the cake: the MCI JH556D-LM mixing console, of which he is extremely fond. “Many famous records were mixed on these consoles. Mine came from the Atlantic Studio’s in New York. It was present in studio A from late 1980 until 1985. Against All Odds by Phill Collins and I Feel For You by Shaka Khan were recorded and / or mixed on this very console. Just to name a few.” In 2011, he found himself a Fairlight Series III MFX, fully equipped. “The reason I bought it, is because – obviously – I wanted the real mcCoy.”

Can we fix it?

He started out in 1988. “Some of the gear over here has been with me ever since, and is still working perfectly. Like my beloved, good-old Roland MSQ 700 sequencer. Works like a charm for synching old machines like the 303’s, 808’s etcetera to MIDI or SMPTE. I really can’t do without it.” 

Being a handyman at heart, he tends to buy broken gear and repair it himself. “I bought my Emulator II for a mere 150 euros and fixed it up. Recently, I bought two broken Urei 1168 compressors for less than nothing. Now, they are good to go again and worth about 2,000 Euros a piece.” The Fairlight he bought came from a German firm, handling secondhand high-end studio equipment. It was in perfect condition, until it got delivered… The day it arrived from Germany, he missed the delivery guy. Preventing his fragile package from a bumpy ride throughout the province, he called the delivery service to ask if they’d drop it off to his friend living nearby, who coincidentally was waiting for a delivery as well.  

“So there it was, this heavy priced machine, in a big box on a pallet. And there was that ‘uh-oh’-feeling…  It took me quite a while, putting all the voice cards back in place, doing some repairs, making it work again. But I got it up and running. Smooth as silk!” 

Hitting the jackpot

“It wasn’t easy to find one. Well, let’s say: to find one that is actually working. You can say I’ve found the needle in the haystack. It used to belong to Jörg Evers, who became famous as a musician/composer/arranger for a lot of German movie productions and artists. Later in his career, it seems he composed some music for commercials. I’ve found some very familiar tunes in my machine, along with some very nice home-made samples and drum patterns.

It was one of the first Series III MFX’s, probably delivered somewhere around 1986. It has all the available extra options. I still have the original monitor that came with it, but I hooked it up to a full color screen. The 24-track recorder workstation-mode is in full colour. But ‘escape F1’  starts all the fun! Doing that, it flips back to the ‘back-in-the-old-days’ resolution and screen layout.”

The original monitor comes in handy for this other piece of Fairlight equipment he has: the Voice Tracker. “I think it’s from 1985. It analyses and displays the notes it is ‘hearing’. A very early pitch-to-MIDI. It works with midi, and with control voltages as well. With this device, I can whistle a tune right into a midi track. Just like the Fairlight CMI, very much ahead of its time. Not many are made; it’s quite a rarity.” Laughing: “To be honest, I wanted to have it, just because it’s Fairlight!” 

In love with the libraries

“I think I started discovering synth sounds around 1976, through Jean Michel Jarre’s Oxygen. It was a revelation! Later on, Art of Noise, Jan Hammer.…  I learnt that some major parts of ’80’s Fleetwood Mac songs were done on a Fairlight. And, Sowing the seeds of love by Tears for fears, a master piece, with massive use of the instrument as well. Just to name a few. First thing I played when I got mine? Probably the intro of Fleetwood Mac’s Big Love. 

“Yes, there are some really good sound libraries out there today too, but if you ask me, those on the Fairlight Series III are the top of the bill. Songs by ABC for instance, or Grace Jones, are stuffed with these good quality orchestral sounds, all coming from the Fairlight. That’s what made it all sound so tasteful. Strings, brass, drum loops.. every waveform is so useful, with such rich dynamics.”

“The Series II was somewhat limited, although Vince Clarke managed to make it sound fantastic on the Yazoo-album Upstairs at Eric’s. When the Series III came along…  Man, It just was all over the place! Probably until Akai came up with their also legendary, more affordable samplers.”

Collaborating with enthusiasts 

Over the past few years, Karel worked with artists who appreciate good oldfashioned craftsmanship when it comes to producing records. By the name of Lonestarr, he made some productions, loved within the Italo scene. Recently, he has done a 12″ record with Systems In Blue, a German band. Originally, they were background vocalists for a number of acts in the late 70’s and ’80’s, and mostly known for their collaborations with Modern Talking. “Itamar Moraz wanted to make a remix of a SIB-song in the original sound of Modern Talking. Moraz pre-produced the tracks in Israel, and here at, we replaced the virtual instruments with the real deal; vintage synths, and all original hardware. It was released as a conaisseur’s edition, only on vinyl. To my satisfaction, it sold out in a few months! Vinyl has made a comeback over the past few years and it’s nice to know there are still people out there, appreciating these kind of complex productions.” He is also working on a remake of a song by the KLF; notorious for their early nineties stadium acid house. “I’m working with Azat (Isaac) Bello, who did the rap on What Time Is Love, and Maxime Harvey will join too, she’s the amazing vocalist on 3 AM Eternal. By the way, their music was chockfull of Fairlight as well. They used the one owned by Hans Zimmer at Lilly Yard Studio, and I have that library too.”

Glamour and mojo

“Having a Fairlight hasn’t changed my whole way of producing music. I’ve always worked with hardware. In most cases, I’m not using those famous signature sounds very much, but try to explore its depths. And as for sampling, I usually grab my first generation 12 Bit Akais; they’re really practical beasts. 

The first time I heard the Fairlight parts coming through my mixing console, joining a mix, I felt like: ‘Ok… this is something else! This is the shit! So that’s what the Fairlight sound is all about!’ Just amazing. It does an amazing job when it comes to time code / synching. Sometimes even faster than modern day computers. Just spot-on! Every sound or waveform coming from the library, is so useful, with great dynamics. Whatever song you’re making: the Fairlight will make it shine; it adds some real glamour to the production.”

It’s not like he holds any grudges against those who are climbing the charts with their bathroom-bangers, using just a laptop. That’s all fine with him. But in his humble opinion, much modern-day productions are stuffed with worn-out preset sounds he recognises in an instant from previous hit records: “The same bass drums, the same xylophone-sound, the same vocals, the same mix… Just too bloody boring. Even the today’s Trance records sound nearly identical to some of the stuff I did in the late 90’s. But luckily, there is still some good new music out there.”

“I guess what I’d like to say is: when you’re using software and you do like these vintage sounds, try to get your hands on real original gear, at least for once in your life. Let it inspire you. There are studio’s specialized in giving you that kind of experience, with people driven by enthusiasm. Yes, you’d have to spend some money, but it’s definitely worth the experience. You will hear the difference. You’ll get that ‘home coming’ feeling.  That just cannot be emulated by software. It’s all about mojo. That’s what makes the difference, and Fairlight, like the Jupiter 8 and the Minimoog, delivers that in spades. The same goes for a really high quality console like my MCI JH556D. It’s more of everything!” 

Final thoughts

“To me, using vintage gear is just sublime. No virtual instrument or plug-in can compete with that hands-on feeling and workflow. As for the Fairlight: I think it’s a matter of love people such as myself are having for its high-end quality and its authentic sonic characteristics. It’s nice to knowpeople are still using it and there’s still a steady fan base. Its sound, its quality: it’s just unique. There’s nothing like it. Period.”

J.J. Jeczalik – programmer, producer, musician

Except for the occasional game, he wasn’t really into computers. It was the late ’70’s and some early adopters could see it coming: ‘Computers are the future, you know? Don’t learn to lay drums, learn how to type!’ He ended up becoming keyboard tech for Buggles’ keyboardist Geoff Downes with this brand new beast called the Fairlight CMI. The rest is history…

“I never was that interested in all the tech stuff. I was more interested in what it could do.”

A quick browse through the Discoqs database, or a pair of well trained ears, will tell you there’s a touch of J.J. hidden in dozens of music productions. To begin with, there’s the ZTT-catalogue, including Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Propaganda, ABC and the Duck Rock album by the notorious Malcom McLaren. There’s the excessive list of other artists he worked with, including Paul McCartney, Billy Ocean and the Pet Shop Boys. On top of that: there’s the Art of Noise. They won a Grammy for their rendition of Henry Mancini’s Peter Gunn (featuring Duane Eddy), they helped to revive Tom Jones’ career, their music was featured in several tv and movie productions, but most important: J.J. and his colleagues introduced us to a fresh new way of doing things.

But let’s start at the beginning. J.J. Jeczalik, geography student at Durham University, took a year off, moved to London and found himself a job as the tech guy for prog rock band Landscape. “The bass player had built the band’s PA, and I helped him out. Really nifty. I think during that time, I learnt pretty well how to solder properly.” By that time, he started reading about the possibilities of computer technology. “A friend of mine recommended this book about the future of computers. I remember reading something in the line of ‘By the time of the year 2000, everything will be on the internet.’ I was intrigued by the possibilities of computer technology. It was a new era.”

Through his work with Landscape and Richard James Burgess, who did the drums on Video Killed The Radio Star, he met The Buggles, being Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes. And that’s when J.J. got acquainted with his soon-to-be working horse. “At first, we didn’t really know what to do with it. So I just tried and figured it out myself. I did read the manual, but it wasn’t very helpful. It was about muddling through. I think most of us did, back in the day. I remember Blue Weaver, then keyboardist for The Bee Gees, telling the very same thing: just try, and see what it does.” He adds: “There weren’t any platforms or forums, like there are nowadays. I think we’d exchange some user experiences while being at the events hosted by Syco Systems.”

J.J. Jeczalik with CMI, in black and white

“Of course it was great. This expensive machine, the price of a house, and Trevor gave me his to develop it for him.”

The art of noise

And then there was the historical night when J.J. and Gary Langan messed about with the Yes drum loops. “We played it to Trevor. He liked it. He said something in the line of: ‘It needs some more melody.’ So he called in Anne Dudley and she came up with the beautiful chords and musical textures on top of the jumble Gary and I were making. You know, It’s funny: my Art Of Noise colleagues were looking at me like I was the computer wizard. I, in turn, was a bit nervous because I didn’t have any musical skills at all.“

Special artefacts

Often, J.J. was out with his tape recorder, hunting for sounds. “I was living in London at that time. I wanted to record the horses that galloped past my house almost every day. So I asked permission to do so. I recorded the horses, but it didn’t sound as good as I’d hoped for. At the same time, my neighbour was starting her Volkswagen Golf a few times. I played it back and thought it was a great sound. It’s not just the car you’re hearing; it’s the sound of the trees, the space between the houses. Especially when slowed down, you can hear every nuance. The same goes for the tennis court, where I took some recordings. Its sound had very specific characteristics. I’m pretty sure I can recognise which tennis court it was, just by hearing it.” Did the girl next door know her starting car ended up on a hit record? “No, I don’t think so. I never played it to her.”

Anne Dudley, Gary Langan and J.J. Jeczalik – reboot Art of Noise’s In Visible Silence – live at the British Library, March 2018. Credit: Marc Pinder

Aiming for the brain

One might say Art Of Noise is all about happy accidents, imperfections and having fun.And about Vibe, J.J. recalls. “Back then, it was all about ‘Does it have the Vibe?’ To me, it’s that unexplainable process happening in your brain when you’re on to something. That unique sound or atmosphere. It might be something small, but big enough to trigger some kind of response to your brain. I’ve always tried creating something that tricks the brain; something you can’t really identify, but yet sounds familiair. For instance, the word Paranoimia. I wanted to give it just that little twist, to puzzle the brain.”

“I don’t want things to be dull.”

Camilla Pilkingington’s Hey!’ is another example of that extra bit of vibe. “My girlfriend at the time told me she knew this girl at her school, with a beautiful, clear sounding voice. So I went to the school where she was teaching and we made some recordings. The bits where she just tried some phrases and made some mistakes turned out to be the best parts.”

Plenty of Moments

Moments in Love started out with this sample Anne gave me, and I had a great idea for a melody; It kind of dropped from my fingertips. But I couldn’t really remember what I’d played. Anne, having perfect pitch, remembered it and played the notes again. And off we went. Again, having fun with it. The best version is about nine minutes long. And yes, we tried to make it the most boring piece of music possible. Actually, there’s a lot going on in the track, thanks to Gary playing around, adding effects to the percussion parts.” Well, this little nine-bar-loop-tune must have inspired a lot of other recording artists. It has been sliced, dissected slowed down or sped up in more than a hundred songs, mostly hiphop/R’nB. J.J.: “I know it was played during Madonna & Sean Penn’s wedding ceremony, I know it’s been used a couple of times. So, I’m aware of it, but I don’t know all of these songs. The fact that it’s so widely appreciated: I think it’s great!”

Full-time jobs

Aside from being part of the ZTT production team for the first half of the ’80’s, and being part of AON, he was a freelancing Fairlight programmer, remixer and producer. “It was just working, working, working. I did the bits and pieces, and was just having a lot of fun while doing it. Most of the time I had no idea how it would end up on a record.”One of his first jobs as a producer was with the Pet Shop Boys. J.J.:  “Artists like the Pet Shop Boys always renew themselves, looking for different people to work with. When I was asked to work with them, I basically was thinking I’d be making another ZTT kind of record. But it wasn’t that way at all!”

“I used to bring my entire collection of sounds, carrying the floppy disks around in this big brown bag. Mostly I’d just go there, sit down and be like: ‘Ok, let’s play around…’ ” Laughing: “That was me, being a producer back in the ’80’s. Now, I would sit down, ask about the idea and talk it through.”

Second life

After being in the music industry for more than fifteen years, J.J. decided to move into another direction. He became a teacher in IT at two Oxfordshire high schools. His good old Series IIx was collecting dust. “For a long time, it just sat there in my house, this big machine. I wasn’t really doing anything with it. You know, you start to have a family, having other responsibilities… I figured I might just sell it. So I sold it, back in 1995 I think.”

His students didn’t know about his former career. That was until the Internet became commonplace. “It never came up, except at the end of my teaching career, not long before my retirement my students began looking up their teachers: ‘Hey, Mister J, is that you?’ ” By the time he retired, little by little, the music making returned into his life.

For that, he needed to retrieve his personal sound library. “I hooked up with a friend of mine in Bristol. He had some disks stored from 1982. I could tell immediately, from my handwriting, what was on them. Like opening up a file somewhere in my brain. You know, It all comes down to labeling your files properly.“ He also got some help from the members of the Fairlight community on Facebook. “I think I got all of my sounds back right now. It’s nice to have them back.”

Credit: Marc Pinder

Final thoughts

He still loves the instrument, but doesn’t really feel like using it anymore. “The Fairlight, it’s not the easiest piece of equipment to carry around. You need to look after it, be careful with it… They’re not the easiest machines for playing live. I use Macs and soft synths now, for I don’t like to carry heavy stuff around.” Laughing: “You see, I’m a bit of a lazy person, and put everything in a rucksack!”

“But It’s nice to know there are still people out there, caring for these sounds and caring for such old machines like the Fairlight. For me, it was great to work with. And back in the day, it was revolutionary. But to me, it’s all about coming up with ideas and creativity for making the music. You don’t necessarily need a Fairlight for that.”

Dudley Jeczalik Langan reboot Art of Noise's In Visible Silence - live at the British Library, March 2018. Credit: Marc Pinder
Credit: Marc Pinder


Links / additional sources: 

The Art of Noise Online

The black-and-white photo and the one @ Monsterrat Studio’s, taken from the J.J. Jeczalik Appreciation group on Facebook

Peter Kersten – synthesizer and MIDI expert

Books, manuals, schematics, a DX7…  It was the ’80’s and Peter dived deep into the world of MIDI, computer programming and synths. Films like Liquid Sky and Electric Dreams, and music made by The Art Of Noise made him fall deeply in love with the sound of the Fairlight. He bought his own in 1995. “The manual that came with it was as thick as two phonebooks. I’ve read it from cover to cover. It took me 48 hours.”

Peter Kersten, born and raised in the south of the Netherlands, grew up in the sixties, listening to The Beatles and learning how to play the recorder. “Back in the day, that’s were you had to start.” In the seventies, he traded in his recorder for the organ. “When you’d hit it real hard, the key contacts made random contact and it would produce sounds in the most peculiar way, reminding me of sound-effects produced by synthesizers. I loved those sounds, so I guess that’s where it all started!”

Gradually, he became more infatuated with electronics and synths. “There was this electronics magazine, providing a DIY-kit for building your own modular synth. That, and music by Tangerine Dream, Rick Wakeman and Klaus Schulze got me into electronics studies.” Later on, he switched to chemistry, got a job and bought his first second-hand synth, a Korg MS-10. In the eighties, after he got his hands on a DX7 in 1983, he decided to learn everything about programming.


“I loved creating my own sounds. It got me interested in using computers for saving the sounds I had made. A DX7 has 145 parameters, writing them all down on paper took 15 minutes, that’s just for one sound! So I started out with a Sinclair ZX Spectrum+, followed by the Commodore 64 and the Atari ST. The one thing about the DX7: you can’t make those thick and big string sounds with it. For that, I bought the Roland JX-8P.  That’s when I stumbled upon System Exclusive. I knew my way around MIDI, but didn’t get around SysEx that much. I wanted to know all about it. And so, I dived right into that particular subject and learned all I could.” Unlike most of us, Peter does enjoy reading manuals. In fact: manuals are his favourite form of literature. All this studying made him become quite the MIDI and synth expert. “One thing led to another. I started programming and writing software myself. I wrote an editor/bankmanager for the JX-8P and a universal dump-utility for SysEx. I also started doing Cubase demonstrations and I served as an adviser for musicians and MIDI users. In 1989 I also started to import and sell Geerdes software.”

Later on in his career, he was offered a job as synth expert in a local music store. “For two days a week. Great thing about that: it gave me a chance to experiment and get to know more instruments thoroughly. And yes: I’ve read all the manuals…”

Look, but don’t touch

“Now, the first time I heard a Fairlight; that was back in 1983 when I saw Liquid Sky. Hearing that Sarrar-sound, I thought: ‘This is something special’.  The use of the Fairlight CMI was mentioned in the film credits. Well, I fell completely in love. A few years later, I attended this demo show at the Sheraton hotel, Antwerp, where several companies were promoting their products. Synton, the firm that handled the import for Ensoniq and for Fairlight in the Benelux, showed a Fairlight system. It had a price tag of FL 200.000 (about 103.000 USD; 90.755 Euro). The house I live in cost FL 150.000!”

“Sitting in front of that green screen. It’s magic…”

“It was set up in a room. Visitors were allowed to look at it, but they didn’t give a demo; such a shame. That day, I decided to buy an Ensoniq Mirage, the rack version. Although the specs are in many ways similar to those of the CMI, its sound is much less sophisticated. It can’t produce the powerful basses Fairlights are known for. For instance, the bass sounds on Relax by Frankie Goes To Hollywood.… You just know they were using a Fairlight for that, you try to emulate that sound because you’re a fan, and… You end up frustrated, with this big frown on your face!”

Vintage treasures

In the early nineties, Peter met Michael Thorpe from Touched By Sound. Peter: “Digital synths were taking over and the ‘Oldies’ were being sold for a song. In search of a MultiMoog, I came into contact with Michael. He already was into selling and re-selling vintage gear, and we hooked up. Little by little, people were rediscovering the warmth of true analogs again. We jumped right into that gap, starting a business that turned out to be a very thriving one.”

“Every other day, Michael was sending over faxes, containing long lists of synths he acquired. One day, I spotted a few Fairlights on those lists, and for an affordable price. I thought about buying a Synclavier, I thought about buying the unique and rare Technos Axcel, which was stored in my house at that time, but the Fairlight… It was just more special to me. So, in 1995, I got my Series IIx.”

“It got delivered to me by Michael in person and his colleague. I took it in, stacked it up and spent the first moments just looking at it. I could hardly believe it was actually there. Suddenly, my doorbell rang again. It was Michael, smiling, holding up the ignition key which is needed to fire up the system.
It’s not like you can play it right away. Just the opposite. It takes a lot of learning; you have to immerse yourself in it. Nowadays, you can search the internet, watch tutorials, ask your questions in a Facebook group… Back then, you had to make do with the manual. It was about as thick as two phonebooks. It took me about 48 hours to read it. I didn’t get any sleep, I just couldn’t put it away! When I started using the Fairlight, it exceeded all my expectations.”

A box of pure magic

“According to the serial number, the unit was built in april 1985, and judging from the high serial-number, it’s one of the last IIx’s that were produced. I never saw a higher number listed, so it might even be the last one… The system I initially bought was previously owned by OMD. However, as it turned out, that one was already sold. Instead I got the one that used to belong to J.J. Jeczalik from the Art of Noise, so I wasn’t too disappointed! In fact, I was overjoyed, because I was a big fan of their work! It came with a truckload of floppy discs (over 200!). In truth, I haven’t even checked them all out yet. It’s great to have a collection of famous sounds, but to me, it’s not just about having famous libraries, and I don’t feel the need to do remakes of Art Of Noise-tracks. Why should I? It’s about the instrument itself, and what you can do with it.

“There was this one time a friend of mine dropped by, also a huge Fairlight fan. He felt kind of depressed. I told him: ‘Well, I got just the thing to cheer you up a bit.’ So I fired up the Fairlight and we spent an hour, just listening to a chord put on hold, hearing all the nuances of the Sarrar-sound. Beautiful! Usually, I sit myself down and just play or create new sounds. And before I know it, hours have passed.”

Final thoughts

It’s well-built, outstanding craftsmanship. It’s just beautiful to look at and is able to produce awesome, breathtaking sounds in a way that only Fairlights can do. I’m a huge fan of the IIx and much less of the Series III; this one, the IIx, has much more character. The light pen, the harmonics page, its sound… Sitting in front of that green screen: it’s just magic. I don’t think I will ever sell it, no matter what they’ll offer me. The Fairlight stays with me, for as long as I may live.”


Klaus Himmelstein – music and science teacher

He listened to Mike Oldfield. He saw the pictures on the albums and he read about ‘this thing called a Fairlight’. Which raised Klaus’ curiosity about this ‘Computer Instrument’. Fellow keyboardists told him it was a mission impossible, getting your hands on one. But Klaus managed to find the holy grail…

‘To me, It’s still fresh. I can use the Fairlight to create sounds no one’s ever heard before.’ 

”I was lucky enough to find a Series II, back in 2010. It’s quite a historical piece, for it used to belong to Synthesizer Studio Bonn, one of the only two Fairlight retailers in Germany. They bought it in 1982. It was their demo machine and It was kept in their shop until 1999. They went bankrupt, and the Fairlight was sold to a synth collector, who went bankrupt as well. He had to sell a lot of his equipment, including the Series II. I got it for a good price. But I do hope I won’t be the third one to go bankrupt.” 

Klaus Himmelstein has been a music and science teacher on several German international schools for about twenty years now. He developed a special interest in electronic music, but originally he is a classically trained violin player. ”That’s how I started, at the age of 8. My parents took me to violin lessons, because they discovered I have perfect pitch hearing. I really love to play the violin and I still play it. Through the years, I got more and more interested in electronic instruments.” 

Green screen, big box

”I remember getting my hands on a Yamaha DX7 for the first time, when I was about 12 years old. That was in 1986. I didn’t know what any of these knobs were for. I tried out the presets and I tried to tweak them, to get some other sounds out of it. Around that time period, I also heard about the Fairlight for the first time. I listened to Mike Oldfields’ albums and I read he was using a ‘Fairlight computer’. So I thought: ’What the hell is a Fairlight computer?’ And then, I figured out it was this funny machine with this keyboard and this green screen and a big box, pictured on some of his albums.”

Klaus Himmelstein's new studio

He bought his first synth in 1991. ”A Roland D-5. Not to be confused with the famous D-50. The reason I bought it was because it is multitimbral. I already had an Atari ST computer. I used this set-up for making my first compositions. And, around that time, I started asking other keyboard players about the Fairlight. Some people didn’t know anything about it. But the people who knew about it, they’d be saying things like: ’Oh boy, that’s the holy grail…’, ’15.000 Deutsche Mark’, ’You won’t get your hands on one’ or ’That’s only for the big studios’. By the end of the nineties, Klaus had built himself quite a studio with a decent amount of vintage synthesizers. ”I started looking on eBay, checking for Fairlights. I’ve learned there are two types of Fairlight-ads: either the refurbished machines which cost a fortune, or just crap.”

Closing the deal

In 2010, an acquaintance of his – the guy from RetroSound, who publishes videos of pretty much every vintage synthesizer you can think of – notified Klaus there was a Fairlight for sale. “He knew I was looking for one, through my posts on forums. So one day, he sent me an e-mail. He knew there was one for sale, somewhere in the Eiffel area. A Series II, not in perfect condition, but good enough. He offered to put me in touch with the seller. 

So, in the end, I went to this guy, checked it out, talked about the price and closed the deal. It was pretty easy going. I picked it up myself, for I don’t trust companies like UPS and DHL too much handling valuable packages. I had a huge car back in the day, a station wagon. I put lots of cushions and blankets in the back of the car. I wrapped it all up and drove back to my studio, which was located in the city of Münster. I set it all up and after that, people didn’t see me for quite some time, for I was in the studio all of the time.

I went through all the floppy disks. They contained a large collection of samples from Synthesizer Studio Bonn. They made their own samples, their own sounds. It was used for demo sessions. I checked out all the sounds; quite some unique stuff in there.”

Nothing like the real thing

”I was always fascinated by its sound. That was one of the reasons I wanted to have one. Not just for collecting purposes. I’m not treating it like some piece of history that sits in my studio, like some precious artefact, being polished every day. I really want to use it for making music.” Of course, it took some getting-used-to. Klaus: ”When you start to work with it, you’ll probably find out it’s quite difficult. For instance, the light pen isn’t as accurate as you think it might be; no drag ’n drop, no pull-down menu’s. But in the end, after a couple of days, I’ve found my way around it.

Klaus Himmelstein, working with his Series II in his old studio

I also figured out, and this is a thing I learned from other users as well: after two or three hours working with the light pen, your arm gets really tired. And that CRT monitor, that green screen compared to todays monitors.… It isn’t too comfortable. But that sound, it makes it all worth while. I think the percussive sounds are the best in the world. And it’s that 8-bit sound… I don’t know why exactly, but I think it’s just the best. It’s unique. You don’t get that particular sound out of todays software. For instance, Arturia’s CMI V, it’s really nice, it’s a good reproduction. But if you want that original particular sound, there’s nothing like the original Fairlight CMI.”

Warm community

”I bought it back in 2010 and I have been using it ever since. It’s still in quite good condition, except for the CRT-monitor. It’s a little bubbly and not quite clear around the edges. But furthermore, the light pen is still working, one of the floppy drives still works, as well as the 8 voice cards. At the age of almost 40 years, it’s still a good machine. Together with Jean-Bernard Emond from France, I’ve made some modifications. For instance, we’ve replaced on of the floppy drives with an SSD-drive.  Peter Wielk helped me out with one of the voice cards. I had a dead one. He had one in Australia, so he sent it to me. 

I have two Emulators, and one of them just serves as a box of spare parts. I figured out there aren’t too many people familiair with repairing an Emulator. And it’s very, very difficult to get spare parts for it. With the Fairlight on the other hand, there’s a well grown community, pretty much world wide. You can get parts from France, from Australia, from the UK…  There’s always someone somewhere in the world, with a great love for the instrument and lots of knowledge, who can help you out with any issue you might have.”


“In my studio, there are at least 25 keyboards and a whole lot of modules and other stuff. The Fairlight is a part of ’the orchestra.

I’m a big fan of Tangerine Dream, that is to say: their early work. Everything after about 1989 began to sound like pretty much everything else. They used cutting edge technology. But the funny thing is: they never used a Fairlight. According to Edgar Froese, they used a Synclavier, and Emulators. Their music comes close to what inspires me. Some people are comparing some of my work to Tangerine Dream. Others are saying it reminds them of Jean-Michel Jarre. The perception is quite different. I’m totally happy when people like my tracks. If they don’t? That’s fine with me. I’m working on my ideas and I’m enjoying the proces. That’s it. Sometimes, I get involved in some recordings, I made a couple of jingles for radio commercials and I once made a small movie score. Sometimes, I play keyboards and violin in bands. I’d prefer doing a little less teaching and a little more music production. The good thing about being a teacher: it’s a steady job. The bad thing about being a musician on the free market: you’re never sure of income. I prefer the more secure way. Teaching music actually is a lot of fun. Recently, we performed a few pieces with some students. I love teaching music to kids. But, I don’t take many of my synthesizers to school. My Moog Rogue is the only one I bring from time to time. They can tweak on pretty much every knob or slider; it doesn’t go out of order. But I’m not bringing the Fairlight to school. I don’t want to transport it too often.”  

Final thoughts

“The Fairlight CMI, it’s a particular part of history. It has integrated sampling into modern music. Without the Fairlight, things would have happened totally differently. Back in the early 80’s, it was the latest thing to go on, the latest way to produce new kinds of music. I love that particular sound. For me, it’s still up to date. It’s not old-fashioned, it’s not vintage. For me, it is still fresh. In my opinion, I can use the Fairlight – as well as the Emulator – to create new and fresh sounds that have never been heard before. I’m convinced of that.” 

Listen on Soundcloud

Stéphan Schällmann – producer/composer

The electronic sounds used in Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds had a great impact on him. And he liked ABBA as well. He got really interested in synth sounds through techno and rave music. “It was all over the radio when I was a kid. I always had a taste for melodies and catchy hooks.” He bought his Series Iix after years of searching and waiting for the right moment.

‘The old lady needs a little love and some maintenance’ 

The Grand Three Systems

The first serious piece of gear he got was a Technics AX5. “That’s how I came up with the name Tax-5′ By that name, he has been producing electronic music with dark ambient influences since the early 2000’s. His first synth was a Korg M1. His specific interest in the Fairlight CMI? “It must have been somewhere around 2003. A friend of mine had a studio full of juicy gear. PPG Wave, Jupiter 8, MS10, MS20…  We talked a lot about synths, and how to create certain sounds. And as always, we ended up talking about The Grand Three Systems, being the PPG Waveterm, the NED Synclavier and the Fairlight CMI.” 

Amazing looks

And so, Stephan decided he wanted one. Badly. “It was like that with most of the synths I heard about: I wanted it either badly, or not at all.” Given the whopping price tag, buying a Fairlight remained something of an impossible dream for a long time. But, he kept on checking the trade-topics on the synth forums religiously. And one day, there was a Series IIx for sale in his area. “I instantly send the guy a PM.” Stephan had never seen a Fairlight ‘in the flesh’, let alone played it before. “There was, and still is, a lot of false and misleading info about the machine. But I just knew it looked awesome, and that it should be sounding awesome.” 

Great, yet outdated 

“It was in 2009, somewhere in spring time when I picked it up. Of course, it felt exiting. I had large car back then; a Chevrolet Caprice 1992 with a powerful V8 in it. The Fairlight took up the whole space in the back of the car.  I got home, I installed the machine on it’s designated place, set it all up, and then I just loaded all discs and listened to the presets.” The previous owner was a musician from Switzerland. It was once traded for a EMS Synthi-A,  a very expensive system from the early ’70’s. 

It took Stephàn years of searching and yes, it took all of his savings. Was is all worth it? “Yes and no” he says. “It was a very cool experience, working with this kind of high-end gear. But to be completely honest: it’s brutally outdated. I didn’t use the machine as much as I had expected. It’s an old lady with some problems. She needs a little love and some maintenance. Which is interrupting my workflow.” 


“The machine got me a lot of attention. Several interviews, friends who wanted to see it, and synth manufacturer Clavia contacted me. They wanted to create a sample library of Fairlight sounds for their Nord instruments users.” Another remarkable story is the one about the Matterhorn Project. “They wanted to re-release their album and cult-hit called ‘Muuh!‘; a funny song full of sampled cows. So, they came in with their old disks and we re-sampled them, so they could use them in a modern digital audio workstation. That was fun!” It’s certainly nice to know the cows are save and sound in a brand new shed. 

Listen to some music by Tax-5

Peter Wielk – product specialist / former employee

From 1980 to 1988, Peter worked at the original Fairlight company. As their Product Specialist, he’d give ‘the grand tour’, giving customers the opportunity to learn as much as they liked about the machine before buying one. Peter is still up to his elbows in Fairlights – he revives the oldies and sells them to a new generation of enthusiasts. “I could sell one every week, but unfortunately, there aren’t that many around now.”

Growing up in London, Peter Wielk lived through an interesting time musically, with psychedelic rock, punk and the early days of electronic music using the first synthesizers and drum machines. ‘I’ve been lucky to be involved in music technology pretty much all my life.” After studying electronics and music in the late 1970’s, he worked as a technician for Peter Gabriel, one of the very first Fairlight adoptors.

Travelling through Asia, and finding himself in Sydney, Australia, Peter looked up Kim Ryrie and Peter Vogel, Fairlight’s inventors, with whom he’d been corresponding with from London. “I’d been looking to work with them, and was lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Fairlight’s success meant they needed more people, and I seemed to have the required abilities. Needless to say, I was in heaven working for one of the most interesting companies in the world, and my very first job was sorting out the sound libraries for the CMIs” 

Not your regular nine-to-five

Fairlight Headquarters, Sidney‘‘I helped design and then run the Fairlight studio, which allowed me to play with these amazing machines whilst testing the stuff the R&D-guys came up with – it was a dream job, really. It was like no company I’d ever worked for” 

“Most of the people drawn to Fairlight were young, and extremely talented. Skilled software and hardware designers from all over the world came together in this creative atmosphere. It was a hugely enjoyable experience”. 

“No two days were the same. For example, one day would involve taking a CMI into Long Bay prison to show the inmates, the next might be taking one to a television studio for a demo to be broadcast that evening.” 

Peter was also the Product Specialist, showing the Fairlights’ capabilities to people who might be interested in buying one. These were mainly musicians, producers and other creatives, but also educational and scientific establishments.
Peter: “We would meet them, either at our HQ or at their own houses or studios. We’d set up a system, and they could spend as much time as they needed to get to know the machine, just to make sure it was right with them.”  So no unsatisfied  customers? Peter, laughing: ‘People were really sure when they eventually signed the cheque.” 

‘I’ve worked with lots of creative and talented people, however with Fairlight it was a dream job.’

He recalls showing the Fairlight to the guys from Duran Duran. “They were in Sydney working on an album, and were interested in a Fairlight, so I spent about a month or two with them. They were very into it. People might deride them for the suits and hairstyles, however I got to know them as very professional musicians, loving what they were doing and very interested in experimenting with this new technology. It was a pleasure working with them.”

So, no boring stuff on the job at all? “Well, the days we had to spend at trade shows were torture, but other than that it really was a dream job.”

National treasure

There were only about 350 – 400 Fairlight CMI’s ever built. “Back in the day, we sold lots of Fairlights in Europe, especially in the UK. We have Peter Gabriel to thank for that.” Peter Gabriel introduced the Fairlight to Kate Bush and a few other British artists. His cousin Stephan Paine then set up Syco, a London based company that would distribute Fairlight CMIs and sell other leading synthesisers and audio technology.  “Of course, we sold quite a few in the USA as well. Stevie Wonder was one of the first to buy one. But I think the Synclavier, being US made, was possibly more popular. There were a few Fairlights sold to China and Japan.” What about the Middle-East?  Peter, thinking: “No… Not that I’m aware of…” 

You might expect the Fairlight became one of Australia’s national treasures. No, not quite. Peter: “In the late seventies, Peter Vogel and Kim Ryrie were saluted for creating a ground breaking invention coming from Australia. Nowadays, most people aren’t even aware the Fairlight CMI, the first commercially available sampler, was an Australian invention. They assume it’d been invented in the UK or the US. A lot of great things are coming from Australia, especially in the fields of art and culture, but people just aren’t aware of that. It’s called here the cultural cringe.” 

Going horizontal

Spare parts and tools are scattered all over the place and a few of those famous white keyboards are stacked up against the wall of his workshop. Undoubtedly the biggest eye-catcher is the enormous Fairlight logo hanging on the wall. “It’s a left-over from the original company. They asked me if I wanted to have it.”  Peter left the company in 1988. “When I finished working with Fairlight, I bought one myself and I’d hire myself out for making film music and any other musical really. I was based at Studio 301 where I’d previously worked with the Durans.” The Fairlight company subsequently changed its course, moving more into post production tools for film and television. Peter stayed involved with the machines, doing maintenance work, and helping out users who were having problems. Nowadays, Peter and his UK-associate Rob are restoring ‘the oldies’ before shipping the fully refurbished Fairlights to their new happy-to-be owners. Peter: “It’s both technical work and crafting. For instance, the monitor fronts and music keyboards are made from MDF, which falls apart if it gets wet. In this case I have to completely remake them. And some of the parts are very hard to come by, so I’m re-manufacturing them.”

Vintage fun

“I could sell one every week but unfortunately, there aren’t that many around.” He adds: “Back In 1985, they cost about 60,000 dollars. You could buy a decent house for that amount of money”. Nowadays a lot of people are interested in vintage synths. Either young people who listened to their parents’ records, or folk that grew up in the eighties and got inspired by the sounds. Some want to own a piece of that nostalgia.” 

“It’s a bit like being into classic cars. You could buy a brand new Toyota which is totally efficient and reliable, and also completely boring. Or, you can buy a great classic car, like an old Mercedes, Jaguar or Porsche…. It’ll need of lots of love and attention, but will be ultimately far more rewarding to own and drive. One of the nicest aspects of what I do is getting feedback from new users. A common theme is “I’m just enjoying playing with this thing so much!” 

 “I use Fairlight systems every day and I still love them. I’m a bit old fashioned, and I haven’t embraced working on modern computers at all. The CMI is a very intuitive instrument with a great sound. It is a computer, however the hardware and software were designed from the ground up to make music elegantly. It was an incredibly interesting time then, and you can hear the influences in new music. It defined the way we make music today.”

Cris Blyth – film maker / graphic designer

His father was a musician, an artist, a Renaissance man. Like him, Cris is what you call a typical example of an autodidact. As a young boy he taught himself to play some instruments and he built his own multitrack recorder. His first keyboard was a Casio VL-tone his father gave him. He encouraged him to get into computer graphics and programming. That turned out to be a pretty good move. His love for the Fairlight arose when he heard Jean Michel Jarre’s The Concert at China. ‘But with the Zoolook album, it got burnt in my heart.’

It’s raining cats and dogs. You can hear the clattering on the roof of his studio in Nairobi, Kenya, where he and his wife are running a company specialised in creating and producing content based on storytelling. “It’s hard work, a labour of love. There’s little money and the local authorities are not very cooperative, but it’s very rewarding, there’s so much talent here; so many opportunities for this to grow.” He gradually shipped some studio equipment from LA to Nairobi. ”Most of my synths are still in LA. I really wanted to bring the Fairlight over here.” It’s that one piece of equipment he just can’t do without.

The whole proces

Cris started out as a graphic designer at Team17. Did you play a lot of computer games in the nineties? Chances are you might have heard of Wormes, which was very popular. He created the opening sequence. One thing led to another. He moved to LA and built himself quite a resumé. His work can be seen in lots and lots of tv and film productions.

Photographer, film maker, director, graphic designer, collector of camera lenses, music producer… “I’m a jack of all trades”, he says. ”I’m involved in the whole creating process, and I love creating music and sounds for the projects I’m doing. In the industry, this is a very uncommon thing. People want specialists. When you’re famous for doing car commercials, they will hire you to do a car commercial. See, I’m a director, and I’m creating the music because I love to. But I’m not necessarily telling people I did the music as well.”

Remotely loved

At Method Studio’s he had worked with the Fairlight MFX II. “I convinced them it would be a good thing having one in our studio. When I got to work with it, I thought… “I don’t know … Help!”, but I’ve learned how to use it along the way. For years, it was the heart of my production and editing process.” He still cherished the desire to have one of his own.”For a long time, I just loved it remotely. I think it started about after seeing Jean Michel Jarre’s ’The Concert at China’, but ever since I heard the Zoolook album, hearing the things you can do with this instrument; it got burnt in my heart.” He read about it in magazines and he often talked about it with fellow musicians. ”Some of them had been using the Fairlight. They said they moved on and they’d ask me “Why would you want one anyway? It’s outdated technology”.”  Yet, it still remained a dream, safely hidden somewhere in the back of his mind. And so, he had forgotten about an e-mail alert he had once set. To his surprise, he got an alert about an advertisement in which a Series III was offered.

Chis Blyth with his Fairlight SeriesIII MFXStriking gold

”It used to belong to Robert Ferris. Or to be more specific: to Kevin Gilbert, who was a musical prodigy.” Kevin Gilbert played several instruments, he played in several bands and he was part of the Tuesday Night Music Club, where he introduced his then-girlfriend Sheryl Crow. He died at the age of 29. ‘His Fairlight ended up with Robert Ferris, one of his bandmates. There’s a tiny black spot on the white casing, but other then that it was in mint condition. Even the cables were. Robert likes to keep things clean and tidy!”

It took a while before he could enjoy his purchase. His wife asked him to head over to Africa for a film project. His Series III was left behind in LA. The only thing he took with him was the manual, which he read during his flight. After a year, he managed to ship it to Kenya, where it got impounded by the authorities at the airport. They searched the Internet, they stumbled on the sparking new anniversary model, the 30A, and charged him accordingly. ”It took me days to convince them it wasn’t the same thing.”

Smells like Fairlight!

But now, it is safe and sound, occupying a nice, central place in his studio. ”People come in here, I play them some recordings I’ve made with the Fairlight, recorded into Logic, and they are stunned by the quality of the sounds.” Often, he sits himself down with a glass of wine and the manual.”I’m still learning and I really enjoy it. I like the process of creating my own sounds, working on my craft. With preset-based synths. You can browse through about 200 sounds and you probably still don’t find what you’re looking for. Yes, this soundscaping, it’s a slow proces, but it’s got so much to offer.”

Even after all these years, he keeps discovering and learning new things.”Did you know the Fairlight has a specific smell? It heats up, for it uses a lot of power. You can smell it when you step into the room.” His love for the instrument is deep. ”You know: why would you get rid of a Stradivarius? Because a brand new violin sounds better? The Fairlight is a true work horse. It’s timeless. Every time after I’m done, and I’m switching it off, I say: ‘Thank you, Fairlight!’ “.