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Museum : Fairlight Room

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. Fairlight Instruments
CMI Series I
CMI Series II
CMI Series III

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Dinosaurs...Tyrannosauras Rex...Diplodocus...Fairlight CMI...wait..huh? What's that? The ultimate beast. The grandfather of all samplers. One of the most expensive systems ever made. What was it? Let's take a look at this mysterious machine...

Fairlight Instruments was founded late in 1975 by Kim Ryrie and Peter Vogel in Sydney, Austrailia, after discussing a microprocessor controlled synthesizer. Early on, they began working with fellow Aussie Tony Furse, an engineer and electronics whiz, who had already been working on a digital synthesizer for several years. The synthesizer, called the Quasar M8, was a hand wired monster that took 2 hours to boot.

Over the course of the next 3 years, work was done on a new type of synth. No one really understood it at first. Graphic Display, 88 note keyboard, Light Pen, etc. But lo and behold, orders came in, so 1978 was speant making some by hand. But it was sloppy and haphazard; each machine being a little different. At one point, Ryrie asked Vogel if there was some way to slim the 12 hand wired cards down to 8 cards (one per voice.) So they utilized the newest in technology at that point, which was 16K DRAM modules...8 per card. After a month, the new machine prototype was done, and they realized you could actually sample a sound into the memory, so Mr.Vogel made an 8-bit A-D converter for sound quality purposes. And then it happened. The first CMI (Computer Musical Instrument) was released to the public in 1979.

Again, no one knew how to handle a $25,000 machine control with dual 6800 processors, 8 monophonic notes of polyphony. Plus there was that little issue of quality, which was (by today's standards)sparse at best: 8 bit (10khz) resolution at 20kb per sample, which was broken down as 16kbs for the sound and 4kbs for paramater information.

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Series II raised the sample rate's high end to 16khz. Later, Series IIx (1984) which upgraded the processors to 6809's and basic MIDI functions were implemented. 1 year later the III was introduced with new designs, improved sampling resolution (16 bit,) 16 notes of polyphony, plus new processors. These new chips ( 68000's) were run in series...1 controlling global funtions and waveforms, the other controlling MIDI and newly added SMPTE parameters. 6809's were still used, however, to control the sound channels and sequencing/graphics.

[information from the book Vintage Synthesizers by Mark Vail, copyright Miller Freeman, Inc]

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