Science Museum inventory number 1993-654

The Fairlight CMI was an all-round audio workstation. In the early 1980s, a workstation like this was only an option for the richest musicians and studios. This model II sold for around £27,00 in 1983 – more than the cost of a three-bedroom house.

The Fairlight II could synthesize or sample sounds, vary their pitch, envelope, timbre and other attributes then play them back at any pitch, using a midi keyboard or its built-in sequencer. The sample quality was modest by today’s standards – only 8-bit sampling at 24kHz – and samples were stored on fragile floppy disks. But the Fairlight had a rich sound, with wonderful, sonorous bass, despite these deficiencies. It can be heard on hit records by musicians such as Herbie Hancock, the Art of Noise and the Pet Shop Boys.

The silver object is a light pen that was used to select options on the Fairlight’s menu screens.

Oh Yeah! (Yello)

The vocal samples on this track were processed on the Fairlight.

(via jakavenek, YouTube)

Herbie Hancock demonstrates the Fairlight to Quincy Jones

(via froady, YouTube)