Swannee 2

Made popular by China Crisis and Thomas Dolby, amongst others….

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A highly non musical sample, made famous by Kate Bush in her classic track, “Army Dreamers”

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The breathy, feminine quality of the Sararr sample was coveted by many and used to great effect….

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Assisting in the mystical presence of Peter Gabriel’s song of American Indian oppression, Pwang was the sinister undertone throughout his song, “San Jacinto”

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Similar yet distinctively different to Sararr….

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Quite possibly the most ubiquitous and instantly familiar Fairlight sample was the Orch5 orchestra stab that appeared on more pieces of music than one would care to remember. From this moment on, no self respecting synth or sampler would be without and orchestra stab patch that was some variation of the Orch5 sample.

Its origin….

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The Sounds

The Fairlight is known for many things. Its iconic design, the revolutionary way it allowed users to compose music, being the first digital sampler and of course, its unique and unmistakeable sounds.

For the first time, users of the Fairlight could not only synthesize their own sounds but actually create new sonic textures from any sound source they desired. Soon, we were hearing emulations of other instruments, along with fascinating sounds that spawned from the most unmusical of places. Dustbin lids, smashed television sets and stones run along guttering were turned into rhythmic or chromatic timbres and made the music of the day sound like no other. Just like the other artistic forms of the 1980’s, sound was now breaking new barriers and the Fairlight was at the forefront of such artistic adventures.

Fairlight themselves saw the amazing sonic potential of their instrument and assembled their factory libraries with many wondrous sounds that inspired and infiltrated almost every aspect of music. From the latest pop chart sensations to film scores and pseudo-classical works, the Fairlight’s factory library was omnipresent.

And now, over 30 years later, the Fairlight Instruments CMI 30A brings back those libraries, in their original format, played back through the meticulously modelled digital and analogue characteristics of the original CMI Series so that, for the first time since those pearl white behemoths of the past, we can revel in their sonic glory once more.

From here, you can explore the history of some of the factory library’s more iconic sounds and discover not only how those sounds were created, but also who used them and where. We have also provided links so that you may go and purchase these works to fully appreciate the influence of the Fairlight factory library.

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Fairlight CMI History

The Fairlight CMI (Computer Musical Instrument) was, in 1979, the first commercially available digital sampling instrument. For the first time, natural sounds could be played on a keyboard and used in compositions. It was a revolution.

The CMI consisted of a computer mainframe, music and typewriter keyboards, and a monitor with a light-pen that could be used to “draw” sounds on the screen. Those were the days before the mouse! Today every sampler, digital synthesizer, sequencer and audio workstation can trace its lineage back to this legendary machine. Known for its solid, hand-built quality and iconic sounds, the Fairlight CMI holds a special place in history and in the hearts of musicians everywhere.

The CMI was designed by two Australian engineers, Peter Vogel and Kim Ryrie, who worked in Kim’s grandmother’s garage overlooking Sydney Harbour. At that time a hydrofoil boat used to travel across the harbour from the city centre to Manly, a beach suburb. The name of that hydrofoil was “Fairlight”, which was adopted as the name for the new company.

Kim and Peter, circa 1979, from Sonics Magazine

Kim and Peter, circa 1979, from Sonics Magazine

Kim and Peter had no marketing team, but a chance meeting led to Peter taking a system to show to Stevie Wonder. He bought one immediately. So, subsequently, did Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, Thomas Dolby, Herbie Hancock and a host of other innovative musicians who embraced the ability to use natural, as opposed to synthetic sounds in their music.

A later development was “Page R”, which was the world’s first screen based rhythm sequencer. Here, musicians could create whole songs in the machine, which would change forever the way music was made.

Only about 300 Fairlight CMIs were ever built, each costing between $25,000 and $75,000 at the time. The “app” you have in your phone or pad is easily as powerful as the first Fairlight CMI. Enjoy this little piece of history in your pocket and watch out for the soon-to-be released CMI-30A … the legend returns.

Famous Owners

Here are some of the artists who owned and used the Fairlight CMI:

  • Alan Parsons
  • Annie Lennox
  • Barry Gibb
  • Billy Gibbons
  • Bono
  • Boris Blank
  • Brian Eno
  • Brian Wilson
  • Chick Corea
  • Daryl Hall
  • David Gilmour
  • David Hirschfelder
  • Elvis Costello
  • Geoff Downes
  • Hans Zimmer
  • Herbie Hancock
  • Howard Jones
  • Iva Davies
  • Jan Hammer
  • Jean-Michel Jarre
  • Jim Kerr
  • JJ Jeczalik
  • John Paul Jones
  • Joni Mitchell
  • Kate Bush
  • Keith Emerson
  • Laurie Anderson
  • Lindsey Buckingham
  • Mark Knopfler
  • Mark Mothersbaugh
  • Midge Ure
  • Mike Oldfield
  • Mike Rutherford
  • Nick Rhodes
  • Pet Shop Boys
  • Peter Gabriel
  • Roland Orzabal
  • Sir George Martin
  • Steve Winwood
  • Stevie Wonder
  • Stuart Copeland
  • Thomas Dolby
  • Todd Rundgren
  • Trevor Horn
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CMI On the Bus competition winners

PVI staff are delighted to announce that we’ve finally agreed on the winner for the “CMI On the Bus” competition. First prize ($1,000.00) goes to Antonio Antetomaso (Italy) for his piece “Enter the Race” http://youtu.be/fMla6s4KY_Q

We feel Antonio’s track makes particularly good use of classic CMI sounds, as well as being a great example of how Audiobus can brilliantly combine the CMI app with complementary apps like Animoog and Sunriser. We particularly like the structure of the song which evolves in an interesting way over time, and the arrangement and mix are all in a good balance in terms of level and frequency of the elements as the piece unfolds.

It wasn’t an easy choice, though, as the other three submissions were also excellent. All entrants will receive a PVI teeshirt as a small ‘thank you’ for their great work, so congratulations also to:

José Luis Suazo – (Honduras) http://youtu.be/lJYsuI7cVr8
Guido Seifert – (Germany) http://youtu.be/4Td6RCbHha4
Robert Lawlor – (Ireland) http://youtu.be/UWJ6nsgOuAk

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“On the Bus” competition closed, post your thoughts.

The CMI on the Bus competition has closed with four great entries, which you can see by clicking this link and scrolling to the bottom of the page.

From there you can visit the entrant’s Youtube videos and post your comments, these will give me some guidance in choosing the winner.

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