Michael Turner-Craig, musician, synth collector and vlogger

Over the years, he bought and sold synths, just like most electronic instrument loving people do. But, he doesn’t consider himself a synth hunter. In fact, he’s quite picky: ‘I’m only going for the ones which have that unique sound or character I’m looking for.’  He is the proud, but modest owner of a rare Fairlight Series III machine and a NED Synclavier II system; the two titans of vintage musical computers. 

Michael Turner-Craig started out making music when he was very young. ‘Maybe two or three years old. There were always some instruments lying around the house. So I had little melodica’s, accordions, and at about the age of eight, we got a piano. My parents asked me, a bit out of the blue, if I wanted to take piano lessons. At first, I said “no, why would I want to learn piano?” Then, a few hours later, I changed my mind. I was determined to take lessons.’ 

100 things and more

He gets inspired by artist like Brian Eno, Jean-Michel Jarre, Klaus Schültz and Pete Namlook in particular. In 2015, he started his YouTube-channel 100 Things I do, showing clips of his synths, his DIY-projects and the creation of his ambient atmospheric music. ‘I didn’t take it very seriously back then. But along the way, I got more viewers and more e-mails with requests for more videos. A year later, it really took off.’ 

Although it’s quite a success; he didn’t quit his daytime job. Michael: ’Making a full living out of it, it’s quite hard, being an independent artist. Not many people are willing to pay for music, or expect to pay for music nowadays.’ Performing live comes with its own obstacles. ‘Moving the instruments for a gig, it is never without risks. They’re very old and temperamental, So, my music: it’s very much a part time job.’ ‘With most musicians, I think, you don’t make music by choice. You just feel compelled to create. You get so infatuated with the creation of music, and as you’re working on the piece you’re creating, you suddenly start having all kinds of other ideas, You just keep jumping from thing to thing. You sort of have to have the discipline to come back and finish things. That’s what many of us aren’t very good at.’

Synthesized Seventies

He grew up in England in the seventies. Electronic music seemed to be everywhere at that time. ‘Every time you turned on the tv, there was some Jean-Michel Jarre-track or a Vangelis-track playing. And like most kids my age did, I watched a lot of Doctor Who. It was just saturated everywhere. I must have been thirteen years when I heard the word Synthesizer for the first time, and hearing people talk about how you could create any sound you wanted. Being a teenager, that was the most amazing thing I had ever heard. And, I had to have one! My first synth was a Roland SH 03A.’ 

Like many others, he learned about the Fairlight through the famous demonstration on BBC’s Tomorrow’s World. Michael: ‘I think, as a child, it was very much the light pen technology and the singing into the microphone, doing whatever you wanted on the keyboard, that triggered me. Of course I didn’t think I’d come close to ever owning one myself. Computers were still a rarity when the Fairlight came out. Yeah, it was just unbelievable technology.’

Michael has been living in Australia for most of his life now. ‘My Family and I moved to a place, interesting enough, not too far from Fairlight Beach. We used to go swimming there all the time. That’s where the hydrofoil was sailing; where the instrument got its name from. It’s a very expensive area. Just like the instrument. Quite fitting.’

‘Is that one for sale?’

In 2016, he got his Series III. Michael: ‘I thought about buying a Fairlight, pretty much my whole life. But they were just incredibly unaffordable. And not available, even here in Australia. They were almost none around. The first one I ever got to use was the one I bought.’ In search of a Prophet 5, he found this advertisement on eBay. ‘I saw this mainframe in the corner of the picture of the ad. I instantly new what it was.’ He totally forgot about the Prophet  and asked if that Fairlight was for sale. And it was! 

‘It was a shop, specialised in synths, located in Gosford, near Sydney. They bought it from Peter Wielk, to be the centrepiece of the shop. But they didn’t turn it on very much, probably because the big iconic keyboard was missing. In stead, they’d hooked up a MIDI keyboard. It sort of sat there in the shop, collecting dust. And that’s why they had decided to sell it.’ 


‘It used to be a development machine, used for testing the then new MFX system. On the front panel, there are color swatches from where they were testing out different colours. It’s got somebody’s writings next to the color swatches. Because it was a test machine, they never actually completely assembled it. For instance, there was no way to connect the keyboard, for they didn’t cabled it up completely. At that time, there wasn’t a Series III keyboard available. I asked Peter to do some modifications to make it work with a Series II keyboard. The original plan was to swap it when there would be a Series III keyboard available, but as soon as I got the Series II-keyboard, I let Peter know: “I’m keeping this one!”  I painted it and spruced it up a little. That beige, off-white color of the Series II: I like it better than the newer white ones. It’s got more character to it.’ 


‘The thing that astounded me the most when I got mine was the size of the mainframe is. It was much bigger than I expected. It arrived in this huge flight case, and it was very, very heavy.’ Michael, laughing: ‘I can’t lift a Fairlight. It’s seriously well-built and it’s seriously heavy!’

‘After I got it, It never occurred to me I would have to learn how to use it. I thought, you just turn it on, press a few buttons and off you go. But of course, there’s this whole operating system underneath. So, it took me a while to learn. After that, I threw a Fairlight-party with a bunch of friends. We went through the library that comes with all of the refurbished systems. I think we went through the Pet Shop Boys-sounds, some break beats…’ His friends heard the new installed fans as well. They were quite impressed: “Oh my God… They are so quiet!”  First thing Michael played? ‘Its a Sin by the Pet Shop Boys. It’s got the choir voice and the string sounds, and I was like ”Oh, I gotta play that one!” Normally, i don’t play “tunes” by others, but this is a classic!’

The two titans

‘My choice of synths is very much driven by what the sound does or what the technology could bring to the music I make. Over the years, I’ve been looking for those unique instruments. The Synclavier, it’s got a very unique sound. It took me about six months to get it. It was shipped from the US. I was constantly worrying: did they made the right adjustments, according to the Australian standard 240V?  Little by little I tested the modules. A very stressful time. But to my surprise: no explosions!’ 

On the internet, people often talk about some rivalry between the two Holy Grail Systems. Michael doesn’t think about it that way: ‘A Fairlight was the price of a house; a Synclavier was the price of multiple houses. It’s modular, so you can keep adding new parts. More FM voices, sampling, it’s a system you can expand. They actually sold the computer part to institutes like NASA. The two giant systems developed in pretty much the same way. The Synclavier evolved into the Tapeless studio recorder, becoming a multitrack digital workstation. Pretty much the same as the CMI, becoming the MFX.’

‘They do slightly different things in slightly different ways. I think artists became attached to a particular work flow of these instruments. Kate Bush loved her Fairlight, and by the time the Series III came out, she had a full-time programmer, looking after the operation. And Depeche Mode, they were all about the Synclavier. But, the song Excellent Birds by Laurie Anderson and Peter Gabriel, it’s all Synclavier. And Peter Gabriel is known for being a Fairlight-person.’ As for Michael: ‘I still think, both systems have great abilities for making music. Most people tend to explore them for the ability to conjure up the sound of the ’80’s, but if you dive into them, you can get so much more out of them. The Fairlight and the Synclavier: I couldn’t part from them both. I think the Fairlight Series III is much more rare. If I were to sell mine, I don’t think I’d ever find another one again.’