Fairlight: How Australia Changed the Sound of Music, Image of a Fairlight CMI synthesiser & sampler

Fairlight: How Australia Changed the Sound of Music (Artsound FM, Canberra)

Emma Ramsay, 23rd September 2015
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By Paul Conn

Behind this strange claim is a story that started in a Sydney basement and ended up in recording studios around the world. Along the way, the sound of music (yes, the way music actually sounds) was changed.

The best part is that it all started in Australia, just because two nerdy guys thought they would push the boundaries of technology 40 years ago without ever realising where it would lead.

So what was this Fairlight? Its proper name was the Fairlight Computer Musical Instrument, or Fairlight CMI for short. As the pictures show, it was a plain looking computer with a keyboard, big floppy disks and monitor, but no hard drive or external storage. It was custom built long before today's mass manufactured personal computers, laptops, tablets and more. But this dull exterior hid what it could really do.

It went from that Sydney basement through an amazing set of circumstances to the recording studios of Stevie Wonder, Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, Duran Duran, Tears For Fears, the Pet Shop Boys, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and literally hundreds of other musicians. In the end, you could not listen to radio in the late 1980s and not hear the Fairlight's sounds on nearly every song.

And then, in the 1990s it just disappeared.

Image of Fairlight CMI Synthesiser      Image of Fairlight CMI Synthesiser

'Fairlight: how Australia changed the sound of music' tells the story of its strange rise, its immense success and its sudden demise, as well as letting you hear plenty of the sound effects and music it was used to create.

If you enjoy the Fairlight story and would like to see it in action, here are some great examples:

Herbie Hancock showing children on a Sesame Street program what the Fairlight could do (entertaining and clever)

Pet Shop Boys performing Opportunities (Let's Make Lots Of Money) live in the BBC's Old Grey Whistle Test in 1986, with two Fairlights in the keyboards array and up on the monitors

Pictured: "Fairlight" by Joho345 - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons 

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