Fairlight CMI

Fairlight CMI

Fairlight CMI Series II
exhibited at NAMM Show in 2011[1]
Manufacturer Fairlight
Dates 1979–88, 2011–present
Price GB£ 18,000 ~ 60,000[2]
Technical specifications
Polyphony 8 ~ 16 voices
Timbrality Multitimbral
LFO for vibrato[3]
Synthesis type Additive synthesis
Sampling (8bit@16kHz

Waveform editing/drawing
Additive resynthesis (FFT)
Filter low-pass for anti-aliasing[3]
Keyboard 73 keys non-weighted, velocity sensitive.
Option: slave keyboard[3]
Left-hand control 3 sliders & 2 buttons,
numeric keypad (right side)[3]
External control Computer keyboard
Light pen
CV/Gate (option, CMI II~)

The Fairlight CMI (short for Computer Musical Instrument) was one of the earliest music workstations with an embedded digital sampling synthesizer. It was introduced in 1979 by the founders of Fairlight, Peter Vogel and Kim Ryrie,[4][5] developed based on the commercial license of Qasar M8 dual-MC6800 microprocessor musical instrument originally developed by Tony Furse of Creative Strategies in Sydney, Australia. It rose to prominence in the early 1980s and competed in the market with the Synclavier from New England Digital.


Origins: 1971–1979

In the 1970s, synthesizer devotee Kim Ryrie created a build-it-yourself analogue synthesizer called the ETI 4600 for his magazine Electronics Today International, but was frustrated with the limited number of sounds that could be made with an analogue synth.[6] After his classmate, Peter Vogel, graduated from high school in 1975, Ryrie showed him Wendy Carlos' album Switched-on Bach, which was produced with a Moog synthesizer.[7] Ryrie had always wanted to make a synthesizer better than the Moog,[7] and Vogel had a big passion in electronics. He recalled: "I had long been interested in computers - I built my first computer when I was about 12 - and it was obvious to me that combining digital technology with music synthesis was the way to go."[7] In December of that year, he and Vogel formed a house-based company intended to manufacture digital synthesizers.[6] It was called Fairlight, which the name came from the hydrofoil ferry passing before Ryrie's grandmother's home in Sydney harbour.[6] The two planned to make a machine doing what would now be considered physical modelling synthesis, or acoustic modeling, a digital synthesizer that could create sounds reminiscent of acoustic instruments.[6] They had initially thought of making an analogue synth that was digitally controlled, given that the Moog was much more difficult to control.[8]

After the six months that followed involving the two in the company's basement failing to come up with ideas, they met Motorola consultant Tony Furse.[6] In association with the Canberra School of Electronic Music,[6] he made a digital synthesizer that used two 8-bit Motorola 6800 microprocessors, as well as the light pen and some of the graphics that would later be a part of the Fairlight CMI.[6] Despite this, the machine was unable to create harmonic partials, therefore the sounds that came from the synth were sterile and unimaginative.[6] Vogel and Ryrie licensed the design of the synth to help them make a digital synthesizer, majorly for its processing power,[6] and decided to now use microprocessor to make their machine instead of using analogue.[8] Over the course of a year, the duo made what Ryrie called a "research design", the very huge, expensive, un-marketable eight-voice synthesizer QASAR M8 which also included a two-by-two-by-four foot processing box and a keyboard.[6] As a last-minute attempt of producing a digital synthesizer that could make complex patches, the two conceived of using real-life samples to do so, which Ryrie considered "cheating" but "fun".[6] Vogel recalled in a 2005 interview about how he came up with this concept:

"I had this random idea late one night, probably in 1978. I thought that if we took a sample of an instrument and had a look at the harmonics we could get an idea of how to synthesise it. We were already making interesting sounds but we were still a long way from getting it to sound like a real instrument, like a piano or a trumpet. So I hooked an analogue-to-digital converter up to the radio and sampled maybe a second of some piano piece. Then I wondered how it would sound if I played it back without doing anything. So I played it back at different pitches and it sounded remarkably like a piano, a real piano. This had never been done before. [...] By today's standards it was a pretty awful piano sound, but at the time it was a million times more like a piano than anything any synthesiser had churned out. So I rapidly realised that we didn't have to bother with all the synthesis stuff. Just take the sounds, whack them in the memory and away you go."[8]

They continued to work on reaching their goal while making money by creating and distributing computers for offices located in the Sydney suburb of Ermington, which Ryrie descirbed as "a horrendous exercise, but we sold 120 of them".[6] With the Fairlight CMI, the use of samples did help the two succeed in their task of making an endless amount of sounds, but control over the sounds was much more limited than they had planned, as only attack, sustain, vibrato, and decay of a sample could be handled: "We regarded using recorded real-life sounds as a compromise - as cheating - and we didn't feel particularly proud of it."[6]

Series I: 1979–1982

Fairlight CMI

In addition to the keyboard, processing, computer graphics and interactive pen borrowed from Furse's synthesizer,[6] a QWERTY keyboard was added to the design and a large one-by-1.5-by-three foot box stored the central processing unit.[6] According to a magazine feature about the Fairlight company, the short length of each sample, which commonly lasted from a half of to an entire second, was the computer's biggest problem; it could only handle a sample rate of 24 kilohertz and a frequency response of ten kilohertz at most, so a sample rate had to be as low as eight kilohertz and a bandwidth of 3,500 hertz for sounds of longer length to be used.[6] However, Vogel has said that the low quality of the sounds was what gave them their own character.[9] Its Music Composition Language feature was also frequently criticized, with reviewers calling it too difficult for empirical users.[6] Other primitive aspects included its limited amount of RAM (208 kilobytes) and its green and black graphics.[6] Nonetheless, the CMI garnered significant attention from Australian distributors and consumers for being able to emulate sounds of acoustic instruments, as well as for its light pen and three-dimensional sound visualization. Still, Vogel was unsure if there would be enough interest in the product.[6] The CMI's ability to emulate real instruments made some refer to it as an "orchestra-in-a-box", and each unit came with eight-inch, 500-kilobyte floppy disks that each stored twenty-two samples of orchestral instruments.[6] The Fairlight CMI also garnered publicity in the science industry, being featured on the BBC science and technology series Tomorrow's World; given that futuristic theories of poor-sounding digital orchestras were also being made, Musicians' Union railed against the CMI who called it a "lethal threat" towards its members.[6]

In the summer of 1979, Peter Vogel went to the home of English singer-songwriter Peter Gabriel, where his third solo studio album was being recorded, to show him the Fairlight CMI.[6] Gabriel, as well as many other people in the studio at the time, were instantly engrossed by it,[6] and he used strange sounds such as breaking glass bottles and bricks for a couple of the songs on the album.[6] One of the people who was in the room when Vogel showed the machine, Stephen Paine, recalled in 1996: "The idea of recording a sound into solid-state memory and having real-time pitch control over it appeared incredibly exciting. Until that time everything that captured sound had been tape-based. The Fairlight CMI was like a much more reliable and versatile digital Mellotron. Peter was completely thrilled, and instantly put the machine to use during the week that Peter Vogel stayed at his house."[6] Gabriel was also interested in selling the CMI in the United Kingdom, and he and Paine formed Syco Systems to distribute the product in the country at a price of £12,000.[6] The first person in Britain to purchase the CMI was John Paul Jones. Other well-known figures from the British music industry soon followed, including Boz Burrell, Kate Bush, Geoff Downes, Trevor Horn, Alan Parsons, Rick Wright and Thomas Dolby.[6] The Fairlight CMI was a commercial success in the United States as well, used by American acts such as Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, Jan Hammer, Todd Rundgren and Joni Mitchell.[6] However, musicians came to realize that the CMI could not match the expressiveness and level of control offered by acoustic instruments, and that sampling was better applied as imaginative sound than pure reproduction.[6][10]

Series II: 1982–1985

The second version of the Fairlight CMI, Series II, was released at a price of £30,000 in 1982.[6] Although it still used 8-bit recordings like the Series I, the sounds produced were of better quality given that the system could handle a sample rate as high as 32 kilohertz and a maximum frequency response of fifteen kilohertz.[6] The CMI's popularity peaked in 1982 following its appearance on a special of the arts magazine series The South Bank Show that documented the making of Gabriel’s fourth studio album, where he used 64 kilobytes worth of samples of world music instruments and sequenced skippy-rhythm'd percussion.[11] Fairlight CMI Series II was used on nearly every album released in the early to mid-1980s,[6] and its most commonly used presets included an orchestra stab ("ORCH 5") and a breathy vox ("ARR 1").[11] The CMI Series II is also credited as helping launch popular musical styles such as hip hop, big beat, techno and drum and bass.[9]

The popularity of Series II was in large part due to a new feature, Page R, the first true music sequencer.[6] As a replacement for the complicated Music Composition Language (MCL) used by Series I, Page R helped the Fairlight CMI Series II become a commercial juggernaut. Page R expanded the CMI's audience beyond that of accomplished keyboard players.[6] Audio Media magazine described it as an echo of the punk era: "Page R also gave rise to a flow of quasi-socialist sounding ideology, that hailed the impending democratisation of music creation, making it available to the musically chops-challenged."[6] Graphically depicting editable notes horizontally from left to right, the music programming profession and the concepts of quantization and cycling patterns of bars where instrument channels could be added or removed were also born out of the Page R sequencer.[6] CMI user Roger Bolton recalled: "By definition, its sampling limitations and the Page R sequencer forced the composer to make high-quality decisions out of necessity. The CMI II was a high-level composition tool that not only shaped the sound of the 80s, but the way that music was actually written."[12] Fairlight kept making updates to the system, such as a 1983 upgrade called the CMI Series IIx which now allowed for MIDI, until the release of Series III in 1985.[6]

Series III: 1985–1989

Being able to hold 14 megabytes of RAM, which equates to about a three-minute long stereo sample, Series III was the first sampler to be able to create sounds with 16-bit, 44.1 kilohertz sample files, as well as 16-voice polyphonic patches.[6] Its design, graphics, and editing tools were also improved, such as the addition of a tablet next to the QWERTY keys for the lightpen to point on instead of on the screen;[6] this change was done due to arguments from users regarding arm aches from having to hold the pen on the screen.[12] A enhanced version of the Page R sequencer called Composer, Arranger, Performer, Sequencer, or CAPS, as well as Eventsync, a post-production utility based on SMPTE timecode linking, were also added to the Series III computer.[6] However, while many people were still using CMIs, sales were starting to diminish significantly due to much lower-cost, MIDI-based sequencers and samplers including the Atari ST and Akai's S612, S900 and 1000 samplers in the market.[6] Paine stopped releasing copies of the CMI in the United Kingdom because of this.[6] The Fairlight company was becoming more focused on post-production products, a market Paine had a hard time getting used to, and when HHB Communications Ltd took over distribution for the United Kingdom, they failed to sell any copies.[6]

Aftermath and legacy

In 2015, the Fairlight CMI was inducted into the National Film and Sound Archive's Sounds of Australia collection.[13]


A Fairlight CMI keyboard, featuring signatures from 43 celebrity musicians, composers and producers.

Peter Gabriel was the first owner of a Fairlight Series I in the UK, with Boz Burrell of Bad Company purchasing the second, which Hans Zimmer hired for many recordings during the early part of his career.[14] Other early users of the new system included Thomas Dolby, Kate Bush, Icehouse's Iva Davies and Landscape's Richard James Burgess who demonstrated it to many British musicians and on BBC TV's Tomorrow's World).

In the US, Bruce Jackson demonstrated the Series I sampler for a year before selling units to Herbie Hancock and Stevie Wonder in 1980 for US $27,500 each.[15] Meat-packing heir Geordie Hormel bought two for use at The Village Recorder in Los Angeles.[15] Other early adopters included Todd Rundgren, Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran, producer Rhett Lawrence and Ned Liben of Ebn Ozn.[16] The first commercially released album to incorporate it was Kate Bush's Never for Ever (1980), programmed by Richard James Burgess and John L. Walters. Wonder took his Fairlight out on tour in 1980 in support of the album Stevie Wonder's Journey Through "The Secret Life of Plants" to replace the Computer Music Melodian sampler he had used on the recording.[15] Geoff Downes of Yes conspicuously used a CMI with monitor on the band's 1980 tour to support the album Drama. The first classical album using the CMI was produced by Folkways Records in 1980 with composers Barton McLean and Priscilla McLean.[17] Titled "Electronic Music from the Outside In," it was adopted extensively in electronic music courses worldwide. Jean Michel Jarre used a Fairlight on Magnetic Fields (1981) and also made extensive use of it on his The Concerts in China (1982) and Zoolook (1984) albums. French keyboardist Roland Romanelli used the Fairlight on his 1982 solo album Connecting Flight. A Fairlight was used on Eye in the Sky and other albums by the Alan Parsons Project. The 1982 science fiction film Liquid Sky featured a soundtrack entirely performed on the Fairlight CMI.

Peter Gabriel's "Shock the Monkey" and its parent album Peter Gabriel (1982) also featured the CMI. In 1981, Austrian musicians Hubert Bognermayr and Harald Zuschrader started composing a whole symphony Erdenklang – Computerakustische Klangsinfonie.[18] This work premiered live on stage, using five music computers, during the Ars Electronica festival in Linz ,[19] and was released on LP in 1982.

Ebn Ozn's "AEIOU Sometimes Y" was the first commercially released American single recorded entirely on a computer, a Fairlight CMI, in 1981/1982, released in 1983 by Elektra Records and Arista Records in London. The first American album recorded entirely via Fairlight was Feeling Cavalier by EBN-OZN recorded in 1983/1984 released in 1984.

Jan Hammer used the CMI to compose the original soundtrack of the 1980s TV drama Miami Vice.

The English band Art of Noise and producer Trevor Horn used the instrument extensively. In the mid-90's, former Art of Noise member J. J. Jeczalik would release a sample album titled The Art of Sampling, which featured all of the unique CMI samples they had used throughout their career.

The last Fairlight IIx was given away through a contest in the magazine Keyboard in 1987. That particular machine has been in the hands of producer/musician Tim Curtis since 1990 and is still in use as of 2015.


The success of the Fairlight CMI caused other firms to introduce sampling. New England Digital modified their Synclavier digital synth to perform sampling, while E-mu Systems introduced a less costly sampling keyboard, the Emulator, in 1981. In the United States, a new sampler company called Ensoniq introduced the Ensoniq Mirage in 1985, at a price that made sampling affordable to the average musician for the first time.

In America, Joan Gand of Gand Music and Sound in Northfield, Illinois was the top salesperson for Fairlight. The Gand organisation sold CMIs to Prince, James "J.Y." Young of Styx, John Lowry of Petra, Derek St. Holmes of the Ted Nugent band, Al Jourgensen of Ministry, and many private studio owners and rock personalities. Spokesperson Jan Hammer appeared at several Gand-sponsored Musictech pro audio events, to perform the "Miami Vice Theme", as well as Keith Emerson, Stanley Jordan, Allan Holdsworth, Todd Rundgren, Jeff Baxter, Terry Fryer, Pat Leonard (Michael Jackson), engineers Roger Nichols (Steely Dan), Bob Clearmountain (David Bowie), Al Schmidt (Frank Sinatra, Diana Krall) and Cubby Colby (Phil Collins).

The ubiquity of the Fairlight was such that Phil Collins stated on the sleeve notes of No Jacket Required that "there is no Fairlight on this record" to clarify that he did not use one to synthesize various horn and string sounds.[20]

Coil considered the device unique and unsurpassed, describing using the Fairlight as 'An aural equivalent of William [S.] Burroughs cut-ups'.[21]

Features timeline

Series comparison

Models Year Price Notable new features Voice# Synthesis Software I/O
Qasar I 1972 prototype
  • Analogue/Digital hybrid synthesiser
  • Four octave keyboard with control panel
? ?
  • Four octave keyboard with control panel
Qasar II 1972
  • Digital/Analogue hybrid sound synthesiser
? ?
  • Four octave keyboard with control panel
Qasar M8 1974
$15,000~ / $8,000~ 1~24
  • Sequencer (MUSEQ 8)
  • Music notation software (?)
  • Four octave keyboard
  • 1-bit DAC
Qasar M8
latest model

Options as of 1984:

  • Extra sound synthesiser modules
  • External sound digitiser
  • Visual effects generator interface
  • Extra terminals (up to 8 terms)
  • 10 MB hard disk
  • 9-track magnetic tape
Qasar M8 CMI 1975
base price
  • Dynamic harmonic control
  • Waveform editing
  • No sampler (until 1978)
  • Dynamic harmonic control
    (128 harmonics additive)
  • Waveform editing
CMI Series I 1979 ~£18,000  8
  • Sampling: 8bit @ 16 kHz
  • Dynamic harmonic control
  • Waveform editing/drawing
  • Basic keyboard sequencer
  • Musical Composition Language (MCL)
CMI Series II 1980 ~£25,000
  • "Page R" (Rev.10)
  • Sampling: 8bit @ 2.130.2 kHz
  • Dynamic harmonic control
    (32 harmonics additive)
  • Waveform generating/drawing
  • "Page R" Realtime Composer
  • Basic keyboard sequencer
  • MCL
  • CV/Gate interface (optional)
CMI Series IIx 1983 ~£27,000  8
  • "Page R" Realtime Composer
  • Basic keyboard sequencer
  • MCL
CMI Series III 1985 £40,000 or£60,000
  • 16 voices (expandable), 16bit sampling
  • CAPS sequencer, maximum 80 tracks
  • Graphics tablet (instead of lightpen)
  • Sampling: 16bit @ 100 kHz(mono) or 50 kHz(stereo)
  • FFT (additive resynthesis)
  • Waveform editing/drawing
  • CAPS (Composer, Arranger, Performer Sequencer), 80 tracks
  • MCL
CMI Series 30A 2009/
  • Reissued using Crystal Core Sound Engine
  • Sampling rate: 44.1, 48, 96, 192 kHz
24 24-bit floating point quality. CMI-30AX, 24 polyphonic instruments, each containing up to 1024 sample. The classic "Page R" sequencer is retained but is expanded to 24 tracks.
Fairlight Pro App 2011 £39.99 ?
  • Sample player with:
    • entire IIx library (564 voices)
    • selected III sounds (over 100)
  • User sampling (ver.1.1)
  • "Page R" Realtime Composer
  • "Page D" Display waveform in 3D graphics
  • MIDI input via external interface
  • Import/export CMI data files


Qasar I (1972)[22]

Developed by Creative Strategies (Tony Furse)
  • Synthesis: Analogue/Digital hybrid
  • User interfaces: Four octave keyboard with control panel

Qasar II (1972–73[23])[22]

Developed by Creative Strategies (Tony Furse), with a grant from the Australia Council for the Arts (Don Banks), and purchased by Canberra School of Music.
  • Synthesis: Digital/Analogue hybrid
  • User interfaces: Four octave keyboard with control panel[23]

Qasar M8 (Multimode 8) (1974[22]c.1980 / 1975[23])[24]

Developed by Creative Strategies (Tony Furse), with the help of Motorola's programme development system.[25] In late 1974, Don Banks requested similar model for the electronic music studio of Canberra School of Music, and in mid-1976, Furse ended up selling the prototype to Canberra School of Music.[26]
  • Implementation: Wire-wrapped board[23]
Qasar M8 first model[27] (c.1974)
  • Price: $15,000~ (three voices~)[24]
  • CPUs: Interdata 7/16 processor[24]
  • OS: Real-time OS[24]
  • Memory: 32 KB processor[24] (?)
  • Storage: Two 8-inch floppy drives[23] (256 KB)[24]  piece of music could be re-orchestrated without altering the data)[22]
  • User interfaces: Four octave[23] keyboard, graphics display with lightpen
  • Voices: 3~24 voices[24]
  • Synthesis: All-digital,[22] additive synthesis with FFT.[23]
  • Sequencer: (MUSEQ 8 sequence playing system[25])
  • User interfaces: Multimode display (2 KB buffer)
Qasar M8 mc6800 model (c. 1975)[28]
  • CPUs: Dual Motorola 6800 @ 1 MHz[23] (unusual parallel configuration to speed up data I/O)[22]
  • Storage: Two 8-inch floppy disks
  • Memory: 4 KB RAM (shared with the system and the eight channel cards)
  • Voices: 1~ voice (default: eight voices)[24]
Eight voices (8× 20 cm square channel card, 1-bit DAC)[28]
  • Synthesis: Additive synthesis with FFT
  • Software: Sequencer, music notation software[28]
  • User interfaces: Four octave keyboard, monochrome graphics monitor, lightpen
Qasar M8 latest model (c. 1980/1984)[24]
  • Price: $8,000~ (one voice~)
  • CPUs: Dual Motorola 6800
  • OS: QDOS[29]
  • Memory: 8 KB RAM
  • Voices: One~ voice (default: eight voices)
  • Synthesis: As of 1984, Qasar M8 hardware supported following sound synthesis modes: 1. Additive synthesis: (a) time domain, (b) mixing, 2. "Phase summation", 3. Sampling ("progressive structure (mellotron)").[30]
  • Software: Fortran compiler for programming, custom software developed by order.[31]
  • Sequencer: MUSEQ 8 sequence playing system, for the composition and the performance of music)[25]
  • Options: As of 1984, Terminal interface (eight terms supported), Terminal display, Terminal analog panel ($150), External sound digitiser ($1,650), Visual effects generator interface ($1,000), Custom interfaces ($1,000~), 10 MB mass storage & controller ($12,600), 9-track magnetic tape & controller ($8,800), Extra sound synthesiser modules ($4,900)[32]

MUSEQ 8 sequence playing system (c. 1974 c. 1979)[25][29][33][34]

Developed by Creative Strategies (Tony Furse)

Qasar Polyphone 8 (c. 1974)[35][36][37]

Developed by Creative Strategies (Tony Furse)
  • Voices: Eight voices

Qasar M8 CMI (Multimode 8 Computer Musical Instrument)[22] (1975–77 or 1976[22][23])

Made by Fairlight, under the license from Creative Strategies[23]
  • Price: $20,000 base price
  • Implementation: Printed Circuit Board[22]
  • CPUs: Dual Motorola 6800
  • OS: QDOS (Qasar DOS, an adaptation of MDOS (Motorola DOS) with a full implementation of the lightpen)[23]
  • Storage: Hole paper tape reader
  • Memory: 4 KB per voice
  • Voices: Eight voices (no sampling, just numeric additive synthesis with 128 harmonics)
  • Synthesis: Additive synthesis; dynamic harmonic control, waveform editing. (sampling function was added in 1978[23])
  • Keyboard: Six octave keyboard (with a better quality of the touch)[23]

CMI Series I (1979)

Musical sampler was introduced.
  • Price: ~£18,000[2]
  • CPUs: Dual Motorola 6800
  • Storage: Two 8-inch floppy drives
  • Memory: 16 KB per voice, System: 64 KB, Video: 16 KB (512x256 pixels)
  • Voices: Eight voices of polyphony
  • Synthesis: Waveform drawing via lightpen; dynamic harmonic control, waveform editing
  • Sampling: 8-bit at 16 kHz (mono)
  • Sequencer: Basic keyboard sequencer, Musical Composition Language (MCL)
  • Keyboard: 73-note unweighted velocity sensitive + slave keyboard

CMI Series II (1980)

  • Price: ~£25,000
  • CPUs: Dual Motorola 6800
  • Storage: Two 8-inch floppy drives
  • Memory: 16 KB per voice, System: 64 KB, Video: 16 KB (512x256 pixels)
  • Voices: Eight voices of polyphony
  • Synthesis: Dynamic harmonic control (Page 4); waveform generating (Page 5); waveform drawing via lightpen (Page 6)
  • Sampling: 8-bit at 2100 Hz to 30.2 kHz (mono) (Page 8)
  • Sequencer: Basic keyboard sequencer (Page 9), Musical Composition Language (MCL, Page C), Realtime Composer (Page R)
  • Keyboard: 73-note unweighted velocity sensitive + slave keyboard
  • I/O: No MIDI, optional CV/Gate interface (Page A)

CMI Series IIx (1983)

  • Price: ~£27,000
  • CPUs: Dual Motorola 6809
  • Storage: Two 8-inch floppy drives
  • Memory: 16 KB per voice, System: 256 KB, Video: 16 KB (512x256 pixels)
  • Voices: Eight voices of polyphony
  • Synthesis: Waveform drawing via lightpen; dynamic harmonic control; waveform editing; FFT (additive resynthesis)
  • Sampling: 8-bit at 2100 Hz to 30.2 kHz (mono) (Page 8)
  • Sequencer: Page R, Basic keyboard sequencer, Musical Composition Language (MCL)
  • Keyboard: 73-note unweighted velocity sensitive + slave keyboard

CMI Series III (1985)

  • Price: £40,000[3] or £60,000[2]
  • CPUs: Dual Motorola 6809 CPUs, and one 6809 CPU for each voice card, one Motorola 68000 (to 68020) for waveform processor card
  • Storage: Hard drive and Tape DC600 Streamer (ESDI, SCSI), one 8-inch floppy drive
  • Memory: 14 MB, expandable to 32 MB and maximum 64 MB on last hard revision (RAM disk), System: 356 KB
  • Voices: 16 voices of polyphony (expandable)
  • Synthesis: Waveform drawing via graphics tablet; waveform editing; FFT (additive resynthesis)
  • Sampling: 16-bit at 100 kHz (mono) or 50 kHz (stereo)
  • Sequencer: CAPS (Composer, Arranger, Performer Sequencer), 80 track polyphonic, Musical Composition Language (MCL)
  • Keyboard: 73-note unweighted velocity sensitive (MIDI compatible)

CMI Series 30A (30th Anniversary) (announced in 2009, released in 2011)

  • Price: ~$20,000
  • User interfaces: Retro look and feel of the original CMI
  • Sound architecture: Based on the new Crystal Core
CMI-30A hardware specifications
  • System components:
    • Mainframe  free-standing and adaptable to rack mount, includes 500 GB SATA hard drive, DVD R/W drive, USB ports
              (Welded aluminium enclosure. Width:58 cm, Depth:50 cm, Height:30 cm, Weight:32 kg)
    • Monitor  17-inch 1280x1024 pixels
              (Width:51 cm, Depth:28 cm, Height:38 cm, Weight:12 kg)
    • Lightpen  Precision machined stainless steel pointer with left/right click button
    • QWERTY keyboard  85 clicky keys, USB output
    • Music keyboard  Fatar 76-key TP40GH, with weighted keys and hammer action for a real piano feel, velocity and aftertouch, pitch wheel, mod wheel, three assignable rotary controls, two assignable switches, assignable multitouch colour screen
              (Width:130 cm, Depth:44 cm, Height:9.5 cm, Weight:25 kg)
  • Audio outputs:
    • 12 channels analogue, balanced TRS
    • Two-channel analogue monitor mix, balanced TRS (front panel access)
        (Dynamic range > 100 dB (unweighted); THD < 0.002% @ 1 kHz, -1dBFS; Frequency response +0.05 / -0.15 dB, 20 Hz 20 kHz)
    • Digital output: 64-channel BNC MADI
  • Audio inputs:
    • Two balanced mic/line inputs XLR, phantom power 48 V option
        (Sample rate: 44.1, 48, 96 or 192 kHz; THD < 0.002% @ 1 kHz, -1dBFS; Frequency response +0.05 / -0.15 dB, 20 Hz 20 kHz)
    • S/PDIF
  • Other I/O:
    • USB, three pedals
    • MIDI and MIDI timecode input and output via 5-pin DIN
    • LTC (Linear Time Code) input and output
    • Word clock (for synchronisation to external sources)
  • Power:
    • 100240 V AC  Mainframe & Keyboard: 9 W, Monitor: 50 W

Fairlight Pro App for iPhone, iPod Touch & iPad, iOS 4.0 or later (2011)

  • Price: £29.99
  • User interfaces:
    • Authentic Fairlight CMI user interface
  • Sound library:
    • Entire original Fairlight CMI IIX Sound Library containing 564 voices
    • 100+ selected CMI III sounds play the CMI voices from an external MIDI input or the on-screen keyboard
  • Software:
    • Ability to create instrument sets that store settings for all eight channels, including the voices, pitch shifts, volumes, release times etc.
    • Import/export voices, compositions, MIDI and instruments
    • Display voices graphically using 'Page D', and change your viewpoint by tilting the iPhone/iPad
  • Sequencer: 8-track composition using 'Page R' pattern-based sequencer
  • I/O: Audiobus Audio Routing Support (ability to combine in tandem with other running sound processing/recording apps)

Sound clips

Note: These sound clips require a Vorbis player. Click here for a list of downloadable players.

Jean-Michel Jarre – Arpegiator
An excerpt from Arpegiator (recorded October 1981), highlighting the use of the Fairlight CMI

Problems playing this file? See media help.

Note: These sound clips require an MP3 player.

Two tracks showing Mode 4 (sampling) and Mode 2 (synthesis) and Page-R capabilities on a Fairlight CMI II and a small analog mixer

Artists who have used the Fairlight CMI

Jun'ichi Sato of Fhana using a Fairlight Series III keyboard during Animelo Summer Live 2014.

American band Devo used the CMI extensively on their 1984 album, Shout, but only occasionally after that (mostly being used by lead singer 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 was one of the most prolific composers to use the Fairlight in the 1980s, particularly for his work on the television series Miami Vice, for which he provided the theme song as well as an entire catalog of score music throughout the first three seasons.

The Fairlight CMI 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). A monitor of a Fairlight CMI appears at the 1985 music video "Machine Age Voodoo (Junk Funk)" from the Band SPK. 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.

Having incorporated the Fairlight extensively into their music in the 1980s, the Pet Shop Boys also repeatedly used it for their TV performances, especially during frequent Top of the Pops appearances. Chris Lowe can clearly be seen operating a Series III Fairlight (along with an Emulator II) on TOTP during the 1987 song "Always On My Mind".

Jun'ichi Sato of the Japanese pop band Fhana used a Fairlight Series III in performing two songs at the 2014 Animelo Summer Live concert.



  • Vail, Mark (2000). Keyboard Magazine Presents Vintage Synthesizers: Pioneering Designers, Groundbreaking Instruments, Collecting Tips, Mutants of Technology. Backbeat Books. ISBN 978-0-87930-603-8. 
  • Chapman, Jill (2012), Guide to the Qasar Tony Furse archive (PDF), Sydney, Australia: Powerhouse Museum, 96/382/2 


  1. "Mix Announces Certified Hits of NAMM 2011". Mix (28 January 2011).
  2. 1 2 3 Leete, Norm. "Fairlight Computer". Sound On Sound (April 1999). The original CMI started at about £18,000, going up to £27,000 for the Series II and finishing up at £60,000 for the Series III.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Holmes, Greg (2010-09-17). "The Holmes Page: The Fairlight CMI". GH Services.
  4. "Fairlight History". FairlightUS.com.
  5. "Peter Vogel history". anerd.com. — with links to some Fairlight history and photos
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 "Fairlight – The Whole Story". Audio Media. January 1996.
  7. 1 2 3 Vogel, Peter. "The Fairlight Story". Anerd. Retrieved 5 April 2016.
  8. 1 2 3 Hamer, Mick (26 March 2015). "Interview: Electronic maestros". New Scientist. Reed Business Information. Archived from the original on 8 July 2008. Retrieved 4 April 2016.
  9. 1 2 Leo Brown, Simon (17 November 2015). "Fairlight CMI synthesiser, used by stars like Michael Jackson, added to Sounds of Australia registry". ABC Online. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 5 April 2016.
  10. "Gabriel looks for live sound in the studio". Billboard (26 July 1986).
  11. 1 2 Moran, Michael (29 April 2011). "Fairlight: The Rolls Royce of synthesizers". The Register. Situation Publishing. Retrieved 5 April 2016.
  12. 1 2 Willox, Mike (28 May 2014). "Studio Icons: Fairlight CMI Series". Music Tech. Anthem Publishing. Retrieved 6 April 2016.
  13. "2015 Registry additions". National Film and Sound Archive. Retrieved 5 April 2016.
  14. Dawson, Giles (4 August 1983). "Machines alive with the sound of music". New Scientist: 333. Retrieved 19 July 2010.
  15. 1 2 3 Stewart, Andy. "Name Behind the Name: Bruce Jackson — Apogee, Jands, Lake Technology". Audio Technology (40).
  16. "Fairlight – The Whole Story". Audio Media magazine (January 1996).
  17. Olmsted, Tony (2003). Folkways Records: Moses Asch and Folkways Records. New York, N.Y.: Routledge. ISBN 1-56098-812-6.
  18. "About us". Erdenklang Musikverlag.
  19. Hubert Bognermayr; Harald Zuschrader. "Erdenklang - Computer-Acoustic Dance Theatre". Ars Electronica 1982. Ars Electronica (aec.at). Archived from the original on 2006-01-28. (see also other archive)
  20. "Phil Collins - No Jacket Required". Genesis News. Retrieved 25 April 2014.
  21. COIL - Part 1 - rare unedited May 2001 interview w/ John Balance & Peter Christopherson (video). YouTube.
  22. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 "Tony Furse archive re computer musical instrument Qasar M8, 1965–1980". Sydney, Australia: Powerhouse Museum. Object statement: Archive, relating to development of Qasar M8 and Fairlight CMI, paper, Tony Furse, Sydney, 1965–1980 / History notes: Used as on-going plans in the development of the M8 and Fairlight CMI. / ..., (collection image); Full descriptions are found on: Chapman 2012
  23. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 "Fairlight Qasar". Candor Chasma. 2005–2007.
  24. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Furse, Tony (August 1984), "Qasar Multimode 8 Synthesizer" (PDF), Lecture notes: Presented at Australian National University
  25. 1 2 3 4 Chapman 2012, p. 3, Biographical Note "After having made a deal with the large American electronics company, Motorola to use their programme development system, Furse was able to develop the MUSEQ 8 sequence playing system. The idea was that the MUSEQ 8 system, when used in conjunction with his M8, could be used by composers of all kinds of music, not just electronic, for the composition and the performance of music. Another major innovation with the M8 synthesiser was Furse's use of two 8-bit Motorola 6800 microprocessors in an unusual parallel configuration which greatly speeded up data input and output."
  26. Chapman 2012, p. 4, Biographical Note (cont.)
  27. Furse 1984, pp. 67, System available
  28. 1 2 3 Candor 2007, M8 technical features
  29. 1 2 Computer software and firmware for CMI M8 Programmes and Experiments, Sydney, Australia (Cardboard boxes (4) containing labelled 8 inch floppy disks, a handwritten letter and annotated computer printouts), ca. 1978–1980; Powerhouse Museum 96/382/2-10; described on: Chapman 2012, p. 49
    • Furse, Tony, IBM diskette 1, MUSEQ SYSTEM (8 inch floppy disk), ca. 1974–1979; Powerhouse Museum 96/382/2-10/2/8, Drive: 1 Disk I.D.: QDOSYS", "MUSEQ SYSTEM; described on: Chapman 2012, p. 51
    • Furse, Tony (March 1979), Memorex markette, System Disk - QDOS 02.01 & MAINZ Z8 SYSTEM 14-03-79 (8 inch floppy disk), Powerhouse Museum 96/382/2-10/3/4, Drive: 0 Disk I.D.: QDOSYS", "MUSEQ BACKUP 1-4-79; described on: Chapman 2012, p. 52
    • Furse, Tony (April 1979), IBM diskette 1, MUSEQ SYSTEM BACKUP 6.4.79 (8 inch floppy disk), Powerhouse Museum 96/382/2-10/3/5, Drive: 1 Disk I.D.: QDOSSYS", "MUSEQ SYSTEM; described on: Chapman 2012, p. 52
  30. Furse 1984, p. 6, Short Hardware Description "The Qasar M8 operated in several modes for sound synthesis - ..."
  31. Furse 1984, p. 8, Programming Language & Systems
  32. Furse 1984, p. 7, The available options are
  33. Furse, Tony (Creative Strategies Pty Ltd) (1974–90), Reports, Proposals and Talks, Powerhouse Museum 96/382/2-5; described on: Chapman 2012, p. 28
    • MUSEQ 8 - A General Purpose Musical Sequence Programming System, Powerhouse Museum 96/382/2-5/12; described on: Chapman 2012, p. 31 (see below)
    • Introduction to Museq Command Structure, Powerhouse Museum 96/382/2-5/12; described on: Chapman 2012, p. 31 "MUSEQ was a polyphonic sequencer programming system for the QASAR M8 synthesiser. Information in these reports includes an overview of the various application of MUSEQ including: uses of the QASAR M8 MUSEQ 8 combination for composers; the various applications of MUSEQ 8 software using 8 inch floppy disks, among them communication via the international User Group library, programming musical sequences and command uses for the MUSEQ software system using 8 inch floppy disks."
    • Furse, Tony (February 1978), Report to Australia Council on Computer Synthesiser Project 22/2/74 to 16/2/78 (transcripts: draft copy/photocopies), Powerhouse Museum 96/382/2-5/13, 96/382/2-5/14, 96/382/2-5/15; described on: Chapman 2012, p. 31 "In it Furse : Outlines his dealings with the American company, Motorola, in using their programme development system to develop his sequence playing system, MUSEQ-8. Describes his association with Don Banks of the Canberra School of Music which included the sale of the protype QASAR M8 (Multimode) synthesiser to the School for use in its electronic music studio. Gives an account of the work he carried out in developing the CMI (Computer Musical Instrument) in association with Peter Vogel and Kim Ryrie of Fairlight Instruments. "
  34. Furse, Tony, MUSEQ DETAILS (computer printout, 4 pages), ca. 1974–1979; Powerhouse Museum 96/382/2-7/6/3, MUSEQ: SEQUENCER FOR M8 MK.1; described on: Chapman 2012, p. 38
  35. Correspondence, Tony Furse, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, Oct 1973- May 1990, Powerhouse Museum 96/382/2-3; described on: Chapman 2012, p. 10
  36. Furse, Tony (Creative Strategies Pty Ltd) (18 May 1974), "QASAR Polyphon 8 Block diagram", Circuit Diagrams, Powerhouse Museum 96/382/2-4/3; described on: Chapman 2012, pp. 12, 15
  37. Furse, Tony (Creative Strategies Pty Ltd) (1974–90), Reports, Proposals and Talks (96/382/2-5), Powerhouse Museum 96/382/2-5/2, 96/382/2-5/3, 96/382/2-5/8, 96/382/2-5/9, 96/382/2-5/10, 96/382/2-5/11; described on: Chapman 2012, pp. 2831.
  38. As heard, for instance, on her 1988 hit "Buffalo Stance".
  39. 1984's Under Wraps album was almost all Fairlight-recorded.

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