Fairlight's Father Flies In!
On the 29th of July a demonstration entitled 'A Nightingale in Conduit Place' was organised by Syco Systems, U.K. importers of the Fairlight CMI.
The nightingale was in fact a reproduction of a Victorian Automaton using a clockwork drive to force air through the sound mechanism. While the nightingale was 'singing' the Fairlight was used to sample a note in its song, by converting and digitising the waveform, then displaying it on a monitor.
The Fairlight then replayed the complete song 'A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square' by Manning Sherwin using the sampled nightingale sound and several other 'instruments' from its sound library. The score of the song had been entered before the demonstration using the Music Composition Language, via the alpha-numeric keyboard.
The reason for this rendition was to introduce us to Kim Ryrie, the co-inventor of the Fairlight, who at only 29 is the Chairman and Managing Director of Fairlight Instruments Pty Ltd.
In 1975 Kim Ryrie, Peter Vogel and Tony Furse formed the company to continue development of an instrument called the QASAR M8 (multimode 8), which had been started by another small Australian company, Creative Strategies. This machine was a polyphonic digital synthesiser with 8 waveform channels based around TTL circuitry with dual microprocessor control. The system attracted a lot of interest but was not really commercially viable. The team then completely redesigned and improved the system, using the experience they had gained, to produce the Fairlight CMI.
The beauty of this instrument is the way in which new updates and enhancements can be made simply by adding new software. Kim had brought with him a new software package called the 'Rhythm Sequencer' which should be available shortly to CMI users.
Loading in the new disc turns the Fairlight into the most incredible rhythm machine. Any sound which is stored in the sound library can be assigned to anyone of 8 voices. Each voice can be triggered by using the light pen to place beats of selected length onto the bar or by recording in real time from the keyboard (in this mode both pitch and duration are stored). Tempo, time signature, repeats, breaksand chains can all be programmed.
To quote Dr. Robert Moog speaking about the Fairlight at a musical industry presentation in Los Angeles "I have found the Fairlight to be by far the most intuitively efficient and satisfying tool for manipulating sound that I have ever used, and that includes modular synthesisers. The organisation of the instrument by software is your most important guarantee that this instrument will develop with the state of the art and the requirement of its users. What it does is just too useful musically, too general and too versatile to be limiting in any significant way." — Praise indeed.
See E&MM June 1981 for an in depth review of the Fairlight Computer Musical Instrument.