Fairlight Week: Pt 1: Buy Your Own!

In honour of this Fairlight Series III turning up on Austrailan Ebay (currently £814, but it will go up), I've declared this Fairlight Week, a celebration of the biggest, most expensive, cleverest and most over-the-top vintage synth of all.
5 things I didn't know about the Fairlight CMI:
  • The name comes from this boat, a hydrofoil which sails across Sydney Harbour to Manley. Inventors Peter Vogel and Kim Ryrie were looking out of the windows of their harbour-front offices, trying to think of a name for their new machine, and there it was.
  • The first synth Kim Ryrie designed was the ETI 4600. ETI stood for Electronics Today International, a magazine founded by Kim which published instructions for the DIY synth. In Britain, it was known as the Maplin 4600.
  • The first digital synth that Ryrie and Vogel developed was the Quasar M8, a vast machine which used 2kw of power, was four feet long, took two hours to boot up, had 4k of waveform RAM and - by all accounts - sounded terrible.
  • Peter Gabriel was the first pop star to use a Fairlight. His brother in law became the UK distributor.
  • Kate Bush was an enormous Fairlight fan, writing 'Running Up That Hill' and 'Hounds of Love' on one. "I took one look at it and said, 'This is what I've been looking all my life.' I couldn't believe the Fairlight. It's called a synthesizer, but many of its sounds are of natural source. To be able to play with strings, waterfalls, anything you want, it's wonderful."

    I bought my Fairlight Series IIX from Stephen Payne (P.Gabriel's brother-in-law) when he was running Syco Systems. Later on he employed me at the ill-fated Tyrell Corporation as a Pro-Tools monkey. He was alright, if a bit too tall.
    I bought my Fairlight Series IIX from Stephen Payne (P.Gabriel's brother-in-law) when he was running Syco Systems. Later on he employed me at the ill-fated Tyrell Corporation as a Pro-Tools monkey.So did brother-in-law Peter ever visit Tyrell Corporation to shock the monkey?

    My BSc Music Tech Tutor used to work for syco systems, he was the guy that demoed them to potential customers. ace.
    it wasn't his brother in law but his cousin whose name was Stephen Paine not Payne. Gabriel was actively involved it setting up Syco Systems which started in Bath 1979 as a result of his purchase of a very early Fairlight and Gabriel proposing that his rock'n'roll cousin get his life together and distribute them in the UK. The second Fairlight went to John Paul Jones, the third to Bloch Laine in Paris. Syco opened extensive cutting edge showrooms in London in 1981. At one point they were retailing every leading digital synth on the market. Kurzweil, Synclavier, Linn Drum, Yamaha, Akai, Kobol FR, as well as eventually developing their own brand of digital MIDI matrixes. Sycologic. Kendall Wrightson joined Syco in the early eighties and was one of the foremost demonstrators of the technology. He later joined LSF where he became head of the music tech dept. When Syco Systems was sold in 1988 it had sales of 13 mill PA and had launched the digital synthesiser/ sampling market in the UK.
    and of course not forgetting but actually forgetting the Emulator, later the Emu, and the incredible PPG. The BBC radiophonic workshop is stuffed full of these...
    Don't forget WaveFrame, Syco was a major WaveFrame distributor and Peter bought one of the first machines.
    I have it on very good authority (a source very close to P.G.) that Syco was set up to enable Mr Gabriel to get his hands on all of the very lastest developments in keyboards. The "source" actually directed me in the "general direction" (as he would've said..) of Syco so that I might buy a sampler.. which I did. But there was an atmosphere that we (my mate and me) were being given special treatment as they didn't usually sell direct to the public... but it was all a long time ago.
    Me And my good friend Kerry sometimes locked ourselves into the studio at night at the London College of Furniture (or they'd kick us out) and make 'orrible noises on the IIX until morning. I worked on the III and IIX at Parasdise Studio in Chiswick and moved the fairlights, PPG, waveterm,,Kurzweils,Xpanders etc to Los Angeles in 1991. I loved the Sycologic. I could cut people off mid solo with it. Used to like going up to Syco and having a coffee with the charismatic Michael Kelly.
    And it is Manly not manley
    Boz Burrell of Bad Company took delivery of the third CMI Fairlight imported into Europe from Syco.
    I was there when it arrived and helped unpack the beast. Peter Sinfield the lyricist and founder of King Crimson had actually 'discovered' the fairlight and it was his original order that Boz took over. Peter had been computer programmer in the early days of computers and his knowledge helped get the CMI up and running. None of those present when the machine was fired up had any concept of what sampling was but when we plugged a microphone in and recored a simple 'hello' which could then be transposed on the keyboard the game was up !
    Incidentally, Poli Palmer locked himself away with that fairlight and produced some amazing stuff. For some reason none of us thoufght about sampoling other people's recordings........... Daaaah !
    I'm pretty sure they're called Fairlight because that's we they started, in Fairlight just out of Manly, Sydney. They're now in French's Forest also just out of Manly, if you go there notice they have the orignal logo on the parking spaces out the front!
    Having spent two years restoring a IIx I would argue that this synth is not "mainly software", the hardware is also part of the equation. Still a great instrument.
    Fairlight started in Rushcutters Bay near Paddington here in Sydney. They plowed truck loads of money into a earley digitaol Video editing system and it plunged them into the hands of the reciever. I remember getting a bit of a tour in the earlry 80's and a 20 year old then it just blew my mind. There are lots of parts and systems in peoples houses in Sydney and melbourne., The hardware is primative and hard to replace.
    Ricky (Sydney)
    john safran's music jamboree has a little mini doco of the fairlight and its creators on the dvd, pretty hilarious show, was interesting to hear about the fairlight
    I worked at Fairlight in R&D. The first Fairlight went to Stevie Wonder - there is a large poster photo of him on stage with the first machine at buried in the archives. Bruce Jackson (of Apogee converters fame) was the first distributor and showed it to Stevie Wonder who lived nearby.

    Another interesting person was Pete Townsend (guitarist with the Who). He was so fanatical about the CMI, he started a user group.
    i'm going out with peter vogel's niece!!! did'nt believe a word of her stories about him inventing things.... how wrong was I?
    Kim Ryrie has just been awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Australian Screen Sound Guild (ASSG) for his early work on developing Fairlight. Many ASSG members are Fairlight users.
    P.S. Fairlight was named after a Sydney hydrofoil that travelled back and forth from Circular Quay to Manly, long sice replaced by jetcats.
    Not to forget Mike Oldfield!
    I got my first CMI III in 1986 and remember sitting in front of it, shaking with the realization that I had laid out a fortune on something I did not know how to work. The first sampling project was to sample all the Chinese/Asian instruments we could lay our hands on. You can hear some of the results at www.bigskymusic.com.au
    Time passed and we bought a second one because it was so invaluable we could not afford down time. The remaining one still sits in the corner of my studio and sounds as brilliant as the day we booted it up. It serves as a reminder of the degraded sounds we are now subjected to, and the commercial reasons behind that annoying demon(for musicians)"Built-in-obsolescence".
    I'm thinking of writing up my Fairlight experience as I have a stack of archival material, but there are some holes in my records.

    If anyone has some Fairlight memories they would like to share with me I'd much appreciate an email peter dot vogel at anerd dot com

    Peter Vogel
    I have a fairlight CVI PLUS system .bought it new for mall studio .it still works great. jeff s.d.
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