A Fairlight CMI Series II in operation.

The Computer Musical Instrument (often shortened to Fairlight CMI, CMI, or Fairlight) was the world's first commercially-available sampling synthesiser. It was designed and built by Australia-based Fairlight Instruments. A new edition of the CMI, the Fairlight CMI 30-A was released in 2011 to commemorate the instrument's 30th anniversary. Also, an app based on the CMI's Page R sequencer was released for iOS on the iTunes App Store in 2011.

Album appearances[]


In 1974, Peter Vogel and Kim Ryrie were looking for a way to make digital input for an analog synthesiser. They heard of an engineer who had been commissioned by the Canberra Institute of Technology to build a fully digital synthesiser and decided their two goals were compatible. Joining forces, they created a machine called the Qasar M8, whose abilities outpaced the technology inside, creating disappointing results. The machine was retooled to accept acoustically-recorded sound instead, which worked better.

The Fairlight CMI Series I was demonstrated at conventions in Australia, Europe, and the United States, Many audio producers and individual artists expressed keen interest in the idea and Fairlight Instruments began leasing the machines (which were being hand-built on an as-needed basis).

The instrument tended to be very expensive, often in excess of $25,000 US. In 2011, Vogel recalled one incident where a male pop-star (whose name Vogel refused to reveal) borrowed a Fairlight CMI to try it out, then decided to keep it. When Vogel asked how he intended to pay for the instrument, the artist refused to pay, citing the fact that, as a famous pop-star, he was always given what he wanted. Unfettered, Vogel replied, "All our customers are famous pop-stars--if not when they buy the Fairlight, shortly afterwards." After refusing a second time to pay for the instrument, Vogel had it repossessed.

The Fairlight CMI began commercial production in 1979.

Usage by Devo[]

Synth fairlight film

Dr. Byrthfood with the Fairlight CMI.

Devo used the CMI mainly on Shout, where every song on the record was completely presequenced. It was also heard in much more limited role on Total Devo, delivering the bassline and crowd chanting on "Some Things Never Change", among other roles. It was seen in the band's 1985 home video release, We're All Devo, at Lifeforms, Unlimited, where Dr. Byrthfood (Timothy Leary ) is seen with it. Primarily, it found its niche in Mark Mothersbaugh's composing company, Mutato Muzika. 

It was also used in the E-Z Listening Disc on multiple tracks, Notable examples being Gates Of Steel, That’s Good, Time Out For Fun, Goin’ Under, Shout, Shout (Hello Kitty) and Jerkin’ Back N Forth

Devo has not used the Fairlight since 1988 and its functionality has been largely eschewed in Mutato by the computer-based digital audio workstation, Logic Pro. Given Mark's tendency to hoard equipment, it is likely that the instrument is still in Mutato's possession, though perhaps not in use.

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