Fairlight Computer Musical Instrument

Legends of Innovation

For the first in our new series of posts on legends of innovation we cover the Fairlight CMI (Computer Musical Instrument) company from Sydney Australia made famous around the world by fellow legends like Stevie Wonder.

This new series is focused on global scale tech startups that were ahead of their time and often created by just one or two individuals from their garage.

My Fav Aussie Tech Startup: Fairlight Computer

This guest post is by Brent Clark from WattBlock.

In 1975, an Australian tech startup was created in a garage in Potts Point by Peter Vogel, an electronics enthusiast and Kim Ryrie, an fan of analogue synthesizers being used in Rock bands of the time.

Each day, they would see the Fairlight ferry running up Sydney harbour to Circular Quay and back to Manly. So they named the company “Fairlight”.

Their goal was to take analogue music recording studios into the digital age. They created the world’s first digital music studio, which they called a “Computer Music Instrument” or CMI.

They used a microphone to record live sounds onto their proprietary computer, a process which would later be called “sampling”. You could then modulate this sound into different pitches by pressing different notes on their proprietary electronic piano keyboard.

As a second invention, they realized the tape-based 16 track recorders, used to create albums were limiting. They introduced “sequencing” software to digitally replace analogue tape recording machines.

The Fairlight CMI came with 22 sounds stored on each 500kb 8in floppy disk. More disks, more sounds, plus you could make your own.

30 years before the iPad, they realized that touch was an important element for music composition. They integrated a “light pen” into the Fairlight CMI.

Each Fairlight CMI was sold to major recording studios around the world for between $50,000 and $250,000. Over 300 were sold in total.

Their foundation customer was Stevie Wonder.

The Fairlight CMI was also used to create some of the tracks on Michael Jackson’s Thriller album.

Other customers included B-52’s, Beach Boys, Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, Dire Straits, Fleetwood Mac, Darren Hayes (Savage Garden), Icehouse, Ice-T, Jethro Tull, Madonna, Mike Oldfield, Petshop Boys, The Police, Prince, Queen, U2 and ZZ Top.

Their market was destroyed by the introduction of the Atari ST computer in 1985 for a fraction of the price.

However, you can now download an iPad app called Vogel CMI which is a replica of the original software for $10 off the Appstore.

A great story of Australian innovation.

Brent Clark

CEO and Founder – Wattblock

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Want More?

You can see more about this remarkable devices which were ahead of their time in this post from 1980 on youtube

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You can also download the Vogel CMI app from the Apple Appstore

If you would like to share you favourite story of legends of innovation as a guest post please contact us and submit your post.

Title Photo Credit – 96fm.com.au

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