I know 1980 puts this video out of the realm of Atompunk, but that’s never stopped me before. Besides, I’m a huge ambient music fan, so anything synth is right up my alley. Anyway, this video showcases the Fairlight synthesizer which used to cost $25,000 and is now available for $49.99 on the iPad.
The Fairlight CMI was a development of an earlier synthesizer called the Qasar M8, an attempt to create sound by modeling all of the parameters of a waveform in real time. Unfortunately, this was beyond the available processing power of the day, and the results were disappointing. In an attempt to make something of it, Vogel and Ryrie decided to see what it would do with a naturally recorded sound wave as a starting point. To their surprise the effect was remarkable, and the digital sampler was born – analog sample-playback units using tape had been around since the 1950s, in instruments such as the Chamberlin keyboard and the Mellotron.
By 1979, the Fairlight CMI Series I was being demonstrated, but the sound quality was not quite up to professional standards, having only 24 kHz sampling, and it was not until the Series II of 1982 that this was rectified. In 1983 MIDI was added with the Series IIx, and in 1985 support for full CD quality sampling (16 bit/44.1 kHz) was available with the Series III.
The Fairlight ran its own operating system known as QDOS (a modified version of the Motorola MDOS operating system) and had a menu-driven GUI. The basic system used a number of Motorola 6800 processors, with separate cards dealing with specific parts of the system, such as the display drive and the keyboard interface. The main device for interacting with the machine apart from the keyboard was a light pen, which could be used to select options presented on a monochrome green-screen.