The Fairlight CMI (Computer Musical Instrument) is a digital sampling synthesizer. It was designed in 1979 by the founders of Fairlight, Peter Vogel and Kim Ryrie, and based on a dual-6800 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.
The Fairlight CMI was very well built, assembled by hand with expensive components and consequently it was highly priced (around £20,000 for a Series I). Although later models, adjusting for inflation, were getting comparatively less expensive as the relevant technology was getting cheaper, competitors with similar performance and lower prices started to multiply. For some years the CMI was sought after by those who could afford one, but competition made life increasingly difficult for the company. Fairlight managed to survive until the mid-1980s, relying more and more heavily on its revered name and its products’ cult status for sales.
Fairlight went bankrupt a few years later owing to the expense of building the instruments – A$20,000 in components per unit. As a last-ditch attempt to salvage some revenue, the final run of machines were marketed as word processors. Peter Vogel said in 2005, “We were reliant on sales to pay the wages and it was a horrendously expensive business … Our sales were good right up to the last minute, but we just could not finance the expansion and the R&D.”
Vogel subsequently set up Fairlight ESP (Electric Sound and Picture), a company which sold the Fairlight MFX range of post-production audiovisual workstations. These were initially based on the CMI III, although later versions were entirely independent developments. In August 2009, Peter Vogel launched a new company, also called Fairlight Instruments, with the objective of developing a ‘retro’ CMI-30A (30th Anniversary). This system is supposed to have the look and feel of the 1979 CMI but will use the latest ‘Crystal Core media engine’ developed by Fairlight.au.
And now, of course, there is an App for that! The legendary Fairlight Computer Musical Instrument – in your pocket! Listen to the actual sounds used to create that instantly recognisable sound of the ’80s. With the Pro upgrade, compose music the way the major artists of the ’80s did: Alan Parsons, Brian Eno, Pet Shop Boys, Jean-Michel Jarre, Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, Stevie Wonder and so many more.
The CMI’s Page R was the world’s first screen-based rhythm sequencer. Today every sampler, digital synthesizer, sequencer and audio workstation can trace its lineage back to this legendary machine. Now you can have, in your pocket or on your iPad, a piece of history developed by Fairlight staff who worked on the CMI in the ’80s.
– browse and play the entire original Fairlight CMI IIX Sounds floppy disk library – 32 disks containing 564 voices.
– display voices graphically using the iconic Page D, and change your viewpoint by tipping your iPhone/iPad.
– play built-in Fairlight CMI Page R compositions.
– import and play Page R compositions and instrument collections sent to you by others.
– authentic Fairlight CMI user interface experience, including floppy disk sounds.
– on-screen music keyboard.
– use an external Core MIDI keyboard to play the CMI voices. (Note that the in-app page incorrectly says that this is a Pro feature.)
Worth noting that the basic App is £5.99. This version is quite limited, but it does let you play with a lot of original samples. You can’t edit the sounds without going Pro. If you want to upgrade to the full version, you’ll need to fork out £23.99, and here’s what you get for that:
UPGRADE to PRO VERSION
Use the in-App upgrade process to add these features for an additional £23.99:
– gain access to the CMI III voices library.
– create instrument sets that store settings for all 8 channels, including the voices, pitch shifts, volumes, release times etc.
– use Page R to create songs that can be used with any instrument set.
– use the on-screen keyboard or external MIDI keyboard to record new notes while your composition is playing (minimum iPhone 3GS, iPod Touch 3G or iPad recommended). Line6 MidiMobilizer and Akai SynthStation are supported.
– play back your masterpiece, essentially as it would sound on a real CMI!
– export MIDI files from Page R, with General MIDI instruments for each channel specified by you
– import MIDI files into Page R, with all the notes ready to be edited.
– import audio files to be used as voices in your instrument sets and compositions.
– send and receive songs and instrument sets by email.
I’ll be honest and say that I’ve only gone for the budget version so far. You’re gonna need some extra hardware to fully utilise the MIDI capabilities, which will probably mean purchasing the Camera Connection Kit from Apple. But even the budget £5.99 version lets you play a lot of sample sounds. As I stated earlier, the Pro version comes with a whole library, and you can edit the sounds and loops too.
There is a video that’s been put out by Fairlight. I’ve watched it a couple of times, and it’s a bit ropey. Doesn’t really show you all that the App does, but I guess it’s better than nothing.
I’m bloody famous, me! Just found a link to this page on Fairlight’s Website! Winner!!
*UPDATE 2 APRIL 11*
Fairlight has had an update to version 1.0.1
*UPDATE 22 October 2011*
App updated to work with iOS5. Here’s a full list of new things: