New Life For A 30 Year Old Music Computer
By James Grahame
The Fairlight Computer Music Instrument is one of the most distinctive digital samplers ever made. Back in 1982, it cost a stratospheric $32,000. In return, you got eight voices of 8-bit lo-fi audio sampling (each voice card had only 16K of memory), along with a musical keyboard and a futuristic terminal with a lightpen.
Only a few hundred Fairlight Series II machines were manufactured, and factory support has been non-existent for decades. Repair technicians have been forced to strip dead machines to keep others running. However, some parts are impossible to come by.The lightpen was a clever way to navigate screens in the pre-mouse era, but many lived hard lives in the studio and no longer function. The manufacturer is long gone, and there's no plug-in replacement. Until now, the only solution has been to memorize keyboard shortcuts.
One of the members of the Fairlight-CMI Yahoo! group decided to design a replacement for his dead light pen. After countless hours, Joe Britt's Fairlight CMI lightpen/mouse interface was announced to the Fairlight community last year. Dozens of users expressed immediate interest, because in addition to supporting your favorite USB mouse, the little box outputs PAL video to generate B&W video on a modern LCD screen. It even allows you to use the lightpen alongsite a mouse.
Only 20 converter boxes were manufactured in the first run (with potential for more), allowing several dozen vintage samplers to continue making music will into the 21st century.