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Fairlight CMI

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An early digital synthesizer designed by Peter Vogel and manufactured by Vogel's and Kim Ryrie's company Fairlight Instruments out of Sydney, Australia. The CMI (acronym stands for Computer Music Instrument) was an offshoot of an unsuccessful digital synth project called the Quasar, which had not worked out because affordable computer technology in 1975 was not up to the task. The CMI, designed in 1978-79, was built around the then-new Motorola 6800 microprocessor.

The original CMI was created without a specific idea of what kind of synthesis it would be used for. After an unsuccessful attempt to write an additive synthesis application for it, Vogel's team decided to experiment with using digitized samples of other instruments as starting points. This worked well, and the CMI was re-born as the first practical sampler. There were still plans at this point to write other application software, including a proposed virtual analog application, but once the CMI began to sell as a sampler, the other software efforts were abandoned.

The original model, retroactively named the Series I, hit the market in 1979, and it managed to do 8-bit sampling at 24 KHz. It was revolutionary at the time; early adopters included Peter Gabriel, Geoff Downes, and the experimental band Art of Noise, who, armed with the CMI, gleefully chopped up samples of other music and environmental sounds and reassembled them into dance tracks -- the concept for the loop-based forms of electronica that would come much later. The CMI became the sound of much of early 1980's music; everybody wanted the new sampling sound. Even the included green-phosphor monochrome video monitor, with its light pen interface, became an icon for the music of the era. One of the features accessible via this monitor was the "Page R" sequencer, which set the pattern that most sequencing software follows today, and it was heavily used by producers who loaded the CMI up with drum samples and effectively used it as a drum machine. The Series I was followed shortly by the Series II, IIx, and then III. The last finally achieved the goal of being capable of CD-quality sound.

However, by 1985, other samplers on the market were undercutting the CMI's price point. The CMI's processing architecture was actually not very efficient for the sampling job, and other keyboards such as the E-mu Emulator and the Ensoniq Mirage did basic sampling for a fraction of the price. The original Fairlight company went bankrupt in 1986. Vogel started a new company, Fairlight ESP, making digital movie and video post-production equipment. This company is still in business. In 2009, Vogel created a new company, Peter Vogel Instruments, which produced a new model called the CMI-30A based on a multimedia core processor developed by Fairlight ESP. The plan was to build 100 units; the model did go into production, although it is unclear how many were built or sold. As of mid-2015, Vogel is seeking orders to manufacture an upgraded CMI-30AX model.

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