Fairlight CMI  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Fairlight CMI (Computer Musical Instrument) was the first polyphonic digital sampling synthesizer. It was designed in 1978 by the founders of Fairlight, Peter Vogel and Kim Ryrie, and based on a dual microprocessor computer designed by Tony Furse in Sydney, Australia. It rose to prominence in the early 1980s and competed in the market with the Synclavier from New England Digital. Both instruments would be put through their paces by famed producer Trevor Horn, much to the chagrin of rival Martin Hannett (who left Factory Records after the company refused to subsidize his purchase of a Series IIx model mere months before Horn's production of "Relax" hit the airwaves).

The first buyers of the new system were Peter Gabriel, Richard James Burgess, Todd Rundgren, Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran, producer Rhett Lawrence, and Stevie Wonder. Among the first commercially-released albums to incorporate it were Kate Bush's Never for Ever (1980), programmed by Richard James Burgess and John L. Walters, and Jean Michel Jarre's Magnetic Fields (1981). Jarre also made extensive use of the instrument on his The Concerts in China (1982) and Zoolook (1984) albums. Alan Parsons made substantial use of it on his 1980s albums for the thick, layered sounds, on "Sirius" and "Eye in the Sky". It was used on The Buggles' last album, Adventures in Modern Recording and, after his time with The Buggles, Geoff Downes went on to use it with Yes and Asia. Gabriel's "Shock the Monkey" and its parent album Security (1982) also feature the instrument, as does U2's The Unforgettable Fire (1984) album.

Artists having used the Fairlight CMI

Devo used the CMI extensively on their 1984 album, Shout, but only occasionally after that (mostly being used by frontman Mark Mothersbaugh's music composing company, Mutato Muzika). It also appears as a prop in their home video release, We're All Devo, where it is used by Timothy Leary's character.

Jan Hammer's music video for the Miami Vice theme song features a CMI. It also makes an appearance being operated by Nick Rhodes in Duran Duran's video "The Reflex". Al Di Meola's Sequencer video has many shots of the Fairlight CMI and its software. You can see Fairlight CMI (series II presumably) in the music video "Etude" by Mike Oldfield (track from the album The Killing Fields, can be seen on the Elements DVD). It can also be seen in the Queen documentary "Magic Years" and on the back cover of Mecano's live album.

Herbie Hancock made an appearance on Sesame Street in the early 1980s demonstrating the Fairlight.

Jean Michel Jarre's 1983 album Zoolook and the single of the same name features the Fairlight's extremely famous Sararr lead throughout the song, predominately in the chorus and with the sampled voices.

David Hirschfelder made extensive use of the Fairlight CMI while recording with John Farnham for the 1986 album Whispering Jack.

Hans Zimmer used the CMI III to make the soundtrack for the oscar-winning 1988 film, Rain Man.



Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Fairlight CMI" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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