Tag: MFX

Tim Curtis, producer, engineer, musician

He started out with a LinnDrum and an Oberheim OB-8 when he was about 12, 13 years. “I still have them. And they still work.” Tim Curtis, producer, musician and tech wizard, has been around the block for many years. Need to get that punchy sound we all love so much? He’s the one you gotta call. Need to get things up and running again? “I fixed-up Prince’s two Fairlights in less than an hour.”


“To me, there’s no such thing as old school or new school. Some prefer working with software and a bunch of plug-ins. Some prefer working with hardware. To me, a table with a flatscreen and a couple of monitors on it; It’s as boring as it can get. The way I’m doing my job hasn’t changed very much. For me, it still works. ” He has a stack of vintage synths and some other fine gear stored in his Blinky Room. His three Fairlights – a Series I, IIx and a III/MFX2 – are set up in his home. “I’ve used the Fairlight on practically everything I’ve worked on.”

‘Look what I’ve won!’

“I was a big fan of bands like Duran Duran. A lot of music of that time period sounded great. I was convinced I could make the same good music if I’d have a Fairlight.” When he was twenty years, he bought his first CMI. But, in order to find one, he had to do some detective work. “Back in 1986, Keyboard Magazine was having this Fairlight give-away contest. A Series IIx; probably the last one, for the later models were already on the market. I entered the contest. Unfortunately, I didn’t win. Somehow, I managed to find out who did. It was a woman called Cherie. Not really into the tech stuff, not a professional keyboard player; just a lucky devil, loving give-away-contests. I think, it was her boyfriend at the time who told me it was sold to a studio in Davenport, Iowa. I called the studio and made arrangements with them to buy it. I never actually spoke to Cherie until a couple years ago. As it turned out, she didn’t have much use for it. She kept it for about a year. Most likely, she’d fire it up, playing the dog barks to her friends on parties. Eventually, she sold it.”

“The studio she sold it to never even set it up.  I got it with about 10 hours on it. “It was July 6, 1990 when I picked it up. I remember it well. It was a three hour drive in my powder blue Ford Escort, no air conditioning. Michael, a friend of mine and my bandmate, was waiting for me at my place. We carried it in, fired it up and figured out how to load sounds. Before that, I had never been in a room with a Fairlight before. I remember listening to the string sounds, thinking: ‘Now I have the power everyone else has…’. It felt pretty awesome.”


Back in the early nineties, the Fairlight CMI wan’t considered vintage yet. Just older, yet valid technology. “Information on the instrument wasn’t really available at that time. There was no internet and there were no e-mail groups, and around that time, the original Fairlight company went bankrupt. So, there weren’t many people around knowing about this older technology. I’d spent lots of time trying to find fellow owners to share some knowledge with. That’s how I came into contact with Clive Smith, who knows the machines from the inside out. He did the soundtrack for Liquid Sky, he worked on the Hall & Oats album Big Bam Boom back in the early eighties, just to name a few examples. He was more than happy to share his knowledge with me. I still have the notes I took during our phone calls. I remember having huge phone bills. He answered all my questions, he was very patient. He taught me every bit there is to know about the Fairlight.”

Fixing famous Fairlights

Tim studied the machine in depth, composed a lot on it, and so, the IIx became the main tool in his studio. “There weren’t that many users at that time, for people got more into newer and cheaper alternatives. But there still was a group of Fairlight-users out there who needed to keep them going. So I started a users-group. Suddenly, I was getting phone calls from people who were idols of mine. Like, from the Duran Duran-camp, Peter Gabriel, Tears for Fears… When they needed technical support, they’d call me. That was a cool time.” Meanwhile, Tim did a lot of work in the studio, working with lots of bands. And then one day, there was this call from Andrew Brent, the West coast Fairlight technical genius. He started an independent company, handling support for CMI’s in the US. “It was 1996. Prince wanted to get his Fairlights up and running again. Andrew asked if he could pass on my phone number.” Tim got a call from Prince’s Guitar Tech, and a few days later, he arrived at Paisley Park. “Prince had two IIx machines. He wanted to use them again, but they didn’t work anymore, the floppy discs were lost and so were the manuals. I got them up and running again within the hour. For a year or so, I freelanced for Prince, being the keyboard guy. It was a cool time.”
People who closely followed Prince’s career might remember him, moving into another direction around 1996. Tim: “He decided he wanted to do things differently. He fired the band, the maintenance crew; basically everybody who worked in the studio at that time. I didn’t realise it back then, but I think I came in, right after his former staff went home.” After his death in 2016, some studio pictures were released; evidence pictures, taken by police officers. They were all over the internet. Tim: “The Fairlights still were there.”

Defining moment

With his three machines, and the ones he fixes for others, you can say, Tim got himself a home full of Fairlights. “Nowadays, about 30 years later, I’m still doing a lot of Fairlight stuff besides my other studio work. I just fixed one of Stewart Copelands’ old machines, along with two or three others from befriended colleagues.” He adds: “I’m still getting requests for renting out my Series IIx. Maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it’s just because it just sounds awesome. People still want that sound, which is a pretty cool thing.”

Obviously, through his Paisley Park-experience, he got noticed. It got him a lot of work in the LA music industry. “But, I think it all started the day I got my first Fairlight, back in 1990. Because of that machine, many doors had opened up for me, giving me the opportunity to work with a lot of good people. That day in that powder blue wagon, picking up that IIx….That was a defining moment in my life.”


Honouring its history

“I guess you could say that I’m kind of a devotee to the CMI as an instrument, without judging it for its technology, or trying to improve it. It seems that 80% of the people who are new to the Fairlight community are interested in having it as some kind of attempt to legitimise themselves – ‘80’s cred or something – to capitalise in on a retro craze. Another 10-15% are trying to ‘modernise’ it instead of appreciating it for what it is. You know, I’ve got a ’69 Pontiac Firebird. If someone should be putting a Tesla engine in it, he should be flogged. Same rule applies here. The over-repeated comments are focusing on how old the technology is. Who cares? It’s not a PC to game on, it’s an instrument that was beautifully designed and crafted; the product of a lot of forward thinking vision and a response to feedback from some of the most creative people in the field. Yes, your iPhone has more computing power. But, who fucking cares? Your iPhone hasn’t been used to create some of the greatest music of our generation. Cheesy as it may sound, the Fairlight CMI, to me, is up there with great instruments such as a Steinway or Stradivarius. With this difference: The CMI was first of a kind and therefore, unique.

Danny Weijermans – Composer, orchestrator/arranger, sound designer, teacher

In a nutshell: Danny studied Music Technology, he has been involved in numerous productions for film and television, theatre and art exhibitions. And, he teaches Composition and Music Design at that very same college he attended. In 2014, he bought a Series III. “To me, it’s a great tool for creating my own sounds. I wasn’t really after getting those signature sounds or anything like that. Its quality was more appealing to me.”

He attended the HKU University of the Arts, Utrecht – Music And Technology, back in 1988. During his studies, Danny and a few friends started their own business in developing plug-ins and software, and they started a firm, Soundpalette, specialised in music productions.”TV-shows, film, commercials, theatre, art performances…. The six of us worked on just about anything you could think of. That were some crazy times! You name it; we did it. At some point, I kind of withdrew from Audio Ease, the software company, so I could really focus on the craft of programming and composing.”

Nowadays, Danny is covering the whole spectrum of music production. “It depends; sometimes, it’s more about composing and arranging. Sometimes, I’m orchestrating; sometimes, I’m the sound designer. Or, I’m doing a bit of everything. Whatever is necessary to get the best results.” The list of projects he worked on is excessive. 

Like with most musicians, his training began when he was very young. “I started with trumpet lessons at the age of six, followed by organ and classical piano.’ In addition to his Musical Technology studies, he chose Trumpet as a subsidiary subject: ‘I performed with lots of bands. My experience with both keyboard instruments and brass instruments still comes in handy in my line of work. It makes it very easy to communicate with the musicians, performing my compositions.”

Magical, mythical

Way before he entered the Utrecht conservatory in 1988, he already discovered the wide possibilities of sampling. “It had a great impact on me. I started out with an Ensoniq EPS. During my studies, I went to India for a year, to work as a Synclavier specialist. Owning a Synclavier system was my biggest dream. The Synclavier has always been my greatest love. The Fairlight on the other hand; its magical and mythical status was very appealing to me. People were called ‘programmers’, it was unobtainable and unaffordable; only available for those who made name and fame…” Danny, thinking out loud: “It is likely, this perpetuated the whole mythical aspect of the Fairlight. At the hands of a wealthy amateur, it probably would have been nothing more than a very sophisticated musical instrument.”

“People knew about the records it was used on: “Oh, yeah… that’s done on a Fairlight.” It had the reputation of a machine that could make miracles. I think, back in the ’80’s, most of us presumed it was all Fairlight we were hearing, when in fact, it’s always a combination of the CMI and several other synths or instruments.
Back in 2011, I bought my second Synclavier, a DirectToDisk system, from Dave Lawson, who also worked on the string arrangements for Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love-album. According to him, the string parts were Fairlight, mixed with acoustic strings.”

His first Fairlight encounter? “I think it was a year before my studies began. There was a trade show at the Utrecht Mercury Hotel, hosted by Synton. It was set up in a separate room, ready to give it a go. Oh yes, it was magic. But of course, it was way, way out of my price range!”

Pure quality

Sound designing wasn’t his first love: “I got into it because very often, I felt the need to improve the quality of music and sounds that were used with the productions I worked on. I grew to like this part; moulding and forging sounds, letting them morph into musical elements.”  He uses a Series III (upgraded to MFX), alongside other high end equipment such as the Synclavier and the Kyma system. “Every machine has its own capabilities and its own limitations, and every one has its specific purpose. When I need that crunchy sound, I’ll grab the Ensoniq Mirage. I hardly use the Fairlight library sounds. I bought one, solely for sampling and sound scaping. And besides: nowadays, the library sounds are way too recognisable. There are libraries on the market who are doing a much better job, especially when it comes to orchestral sounds. But if possible, I prefer working with a live orchestra.”

“Mostly, I’m using the Fairlight for ambient sounds. While the Synclavier reproduces sounds; the Fairlight enables you to mould sounds in many more ways, thanks to filtering. And the sound quality is extraordinary. That’s really something. Even the softer sounds used in theatre productions, tucked away deeply within the mix, are coming through clearly. The D/A conversion in both the Fairlight and the Synclavier: it makes them unique in comparison to other samplers.”

Unpacking and exploring

“I bought mine in 2014, from Peter Wielk, Horizontal Productions. I knew he was selling refurbished machines, so I reacted to one of his posts on the internet forum. It used to be a test-model, used at the R&D-department. It wasn’t a 100% up-to-specs and the top panel of the casing wasn’t there. Peter made some modifications and it’s working fine. Back then, I didn’t buy the big keyboard that goes with it, but since I was planning on using it with midi, that wasn’t much of a problem. The day it came: yeah, that was a memorable day. It was packed into a large box, and some pieces were taped together. I had to be careful, for I didn’t want to ruin the paint whilst pulling the tape off.”

“It took a bit of exploring, getting it going. It’s not like there is a crash course in first time Fairlight-usage. But, it was fun! Although I didn’t buy it for those recognisable sounds, It’s certainly nice to have ‘m. I remember calling up the string sounds that were used on Kate Bush’s Cloud Busting.”

A touch of history

Since 2004, Danny teaches Composition and Music Design. Most of his students are between 18 and 24 years old. “I do try to convey the charm of using vintage equipment such as the Fairlight or the Synclavier; telling them these machines are more than just some kind of computer. They were designed and perfected to be a solid musical instrument. Well, yes, sometimes, I get mocked for that. And of course, it’s outdated. Once it was the cream of the crop, and nowadays, you can do more on just a smartphone. But some of the students are seeing what I’m getting at. To me, that tactile aspect that comes with using hardware, it’s of great value. Speaking of which: eventually, I bought the original Fairlight keyboard as well. As we speak, it isn’t operational yet, but I’m looking forward being able to use it. It’ll surely add to the whole user experience.”

Check out some of Danny’s work here! 

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.’

Karel Post – producer, engineer, studio owner

Picture this: a nice, idylic village in Friesland, a province in the north of the Netherlands. A studio stuffed with all the legendary hardware one could possibly dream of. Its design, based on the world famous 1970’s Atlantic studios. That’s Mixroom One, Karel Posts’ life’s work. “It took me years, collecting all this.” 

Karel Post has been in the business for more than 30 years now. He has worked for companies like BMG Ariola and Capitol Studio’s, and in the nineties he was producing and remixing for XSV Records. They were massively into the upcoming Trance house music. “I was producing flip sides, mostly. My name wasn’t on all of the credits, but fortunately, I earned enough in royalties to help build me this place.” Nowadays, clients with special interests in using vintage hardware, who are really into authentic sound quality, are finding their way to Mixroom One.

“I’m something of a purist. I’ll always be going for the original gear. No matter how.” Along with the Fairlight, there are the 303’s, 808’s, 909’s, LinnDrums, Jupiter’s, Juno’s, Prophets, Akai’s, the Emulator II and III…. Well, practically every hit making high-end machine you can think of. Icing on the cake: the MCI JH556D-LM mixing console, of which he is extremely fond. “Many famous records were mixed on these consoles. Mine came from the Atlantic Studio’s in New York. It was present in studio A from late 1980 until 1985. Against All Odds by Phill Collins and I Feel For You by Shaka Khan were recorded and / or mixed on this very console. Just to name a few.” In 2011, he found himself a Fairlight Series III MFX, fully equipped. “The reason I bought it, is because – obviously – I wanted the real mcCoy.”

Can we fix it?

He started out in 1988. “Some of the gear over here has been with me ever since, and is still working perfectly. Like my beloved, good-old Roland MSQ 700 sequencer. Works like a charm for synching old machines like the 303’s, 808’s etcetera to MIDI or SMPTE. I really can’t do without it.” 

Being a handyman at heart, he tends to buy broken gear and repair it himself. “I bought my Emulator II for a mere 150 euros and fixed it up. Recently, I bought two broken Urei 1168 compressors for less than nothing. Now, they are good to go again and worth about 2,000 Euros a piece.” The Fairlight he bought came from a German firm, handling secondhand high-end studio equipment. It was in perfect condition, until it got delivered… The day it arrived from Germany, he missed the delivery guy. Preventing his fragile package from a bumpy ride throughout the province, he called the delivery service to ask if they’d drop it off to his friend living nearby, who coincidentally was waiting for a delivery as well.  

“So there it was, this heavy priced machine, in a big box on a pallet. And there was that ‘uh-oh’-feeling…  It took me quite a while, putting all the voice cards back in place, doing some repairs, making it work again. But I got it up and running. Smooth as silk!” 

Hitting the jackpot

“It wasn’t easy to find one. Well, let’s say: to find one that is actually working. You can say I’ve found the needle in the haystack. It used to belong to Jörg Evers, who became famous as a musician/composer/arranger for a lot of German movie productions and artists. Later in his career, it seems he composed some music for commercials. I’ve found some very familiar tunes in my machine, along with some very nice home-made samples and drum patterns.

It was one of the first Series III MFX’s, probably delivered somewhere around 1986. It has all the available extra options. I still have the original monitor that came with it, but I hooked it up to a full color screen. The 24-track recorder workstation-mode is in full colour. But ‘escape F1’  starts all the fun! Doing that, it flips back to the ‘back-in-the-old-days’ resolution and screen layout.”

The original monitor comes in handy for this other piece of Fairlight equipment he has: the Voice Tracker. “I think it’s from 1985. It analyses and displays the notes it is ‘hearing’. A very early pitch-to-MIDI. It works with midi, and with control voltages as well. With this device, I can whistle a tune right into a midi track. Just like the Fairlight CMI, very much ahead of its time. Not many are made; it’s quite a rarity.” Laughing: “To be honest, I wanted to have it, just because it’s Fairlight!” 

In love with the libraries

“I think I started discovering synth sounds around 1976, through Jean Michel Jarre’s Oxygen. It was a revelation! Later on, Art of Noise, Jan Hammer.…  I learnt that some major parts of ’80’s Fleetwood Mac songs were done on a Fairlight. And, Sowing the seeds of love by Tears for fears, a master piece, with massive use of the instrument as well. Just to name a few. First thing I played when I got mine? Probably the intro of Fleetwood Mac’s Big Love. 

“Yes, there are some really good sound libraries out there today too, but if you ask me, those on the Fairlight Series III are the top of the bill. Songs by ABC for instance, or Grace Jones, are stuffed with these good quality orchestral sounds, all coming from the Fairlight. That’s what made it all sound so tasteful. Strings, brass, drum loops.. every waveform is so useful, with such rich dynamics.”

“The Series II was somewhat limited, although Vince Clarke managed to make it sound fantastic on the Yazoo-album Upstairs at Eric’s. When the Series III came along…  Man, It just was all over the place! Probably until Akai came up with their also legendary, more affordable samplers.”

Collaborating with enthusiasts 

Over the past few years, Karel worked with artists who appreciate good oldfashioned craftsmanship when it comes to producing records. By the name of Lonestarr, he made some productions, loved within the Italo scene. Recently, he has done a 12″ record with Systems In Blue, a German band. Originally, they were background vocalists for a number of acts in the late 70’s and ’80’s, and mostly known for their collaborations with Modern Talking. “Itamar Moraz wanted to make a remix of a SIB-song in the original sound of Modern Talking. Moraz pre-produced the tracks in Israel, and here at Mixroom.one, we replaced the virtual instruments with the real deal; vintage synths, and all original hardware. It was released as a conaisseur’s edition, only on vinyl. To my satisfaction, it sold out in a few months! Vinyl has made a comeback over the past few years and it’s nice to know there are still people out there, appreciating these kind of complex productions.” He is also working on a remake of a song by the KLF; notorious for their early nineties stadium acid house. “I’m working with Azat (Isaac) Bello, who did the rap on What Time Is Love, and Maxime Harvey will join too, she’s the amazing vocalist on 3 AM Eternal. By the way, their music was chockfull of Fairlight as well. They used the one owned by Hans Zimmer at Lilly Yard Studio, and I have that library too.”

Glamour and mojo

“Having a Fairlight hasn’t changed my whole way of producing music. I’ve always worked with hardware. In most cases, I’m not using those famous signature sounds very much, but try to explore its depths. And as for sampling, I usually grab my first generation 12 Bit Akais; they’re really practical beasts. 

The first time I heard the Fairlight parts coming through my mixing console, joining a mix, I felt like: ‘Ok… this is something else! This is the shit! So that’s what the Fairlight sound is all about!’ Just amazing. It does an amazing job when it comes to time code / synching. Sometimes even faster than modern day computers. Just spot-on! Every sound or waveform coming from the library, is so useful, with great dynamics. Whatever song you’re making: the Fairlight will make it shine; it adds some real glamour to the production.”

It’s not like he holds any grudges against those who are climbing the charts with their bathroom-bangers, using just a laptop. That’s all fine with him. But in his humble opinion, much modern-day productions are stuffed with worn-out preset sounds he recognises in an instant from previous hit records: “The same bass drums, the same xylophone-sound, the same vocals, the same mix… Just too bloody boring. Even the today’s Trance records sound nearly identical to some of the stuff I did in the late 90’s. But luckily, there is still some good new music out there.”

“I guess what I’d like to say is: when you’re using software and you do like these vintage sounds, try to get your hands on real original gear, at least for once in your life. Let it inspire you. There are studio’s specialized in giving you that kind of experience, with people driven by enthusiasm. Yes, you’d have to spend some money, but it’s definitely worth the experience. You will hear the difference. You’ll get that ‘home coming’ feeling.  That just cannot be emulated by software. It’s all about mojo. That’s what makes the difference, and Fairlight, like the Jupiter 8 and the Minimoog, delivers that in spades. The same goes for a really high quality console like my MCI JH556D. It’s more of everything!” 

Final thoughts

“To me, using vintage gear is just sublime. No virtual instrument or plug-in can compete with that hands-on feeling and workflow. As for the Fairlight: I think it’s a matter of love people such as myself are having for its high-end quality and its authentic sonic characteristics. It’s nice to knowpeople are still using it and there’s still a steady fan base. Its sound, its quality: it’s just unique. There’s nothing like it.”

Cris Blyth – film maker / graphic designer

His father was a musician, an artist, a Renaissance man. Like him, Cris is what you call a typical example of an autodidact. As a young boy he taught himself to play some instruments and he built his own multitrack recorder. His first keyboard was a Casio VL-tone his father gave him. He encouraged him to get into computer graphics and programming. That turned out to be a pretty good move. His love for the Fairlight arose when he heard Jean Michel Jarre’s The Concert at China. ‘But with the Zoolook album, it got burnt in my heart.’

It’s raining cats and dogs. You can hear the clattering on the roof of his studio in Nairobi, Kenya, where he and his wife are running a company specialised in creating and producing content based on storytelling. “It’s hard work, a labour of love. There’s little money and the local authorities are not very cooperative, but it’s very rewarding, there’s so much talent here; so many opportunities for this to grow.” He gradually shipped some studio equipment from LA to Nairobi. ”Most of my synths are still in LA. I really wanted to bring the Fairlight over here.” It’s that one piece of equipment he just can’t do without.

The whole proces

Cris started out as a graphic designer at Team17. Did you play a lot of computer games in the nineties? Chances are you might have heard of Wormes, which was very popular. He created the opening sequence. One thing led to another. He moved to LA and built himself quite a resumé. His work can be seen in lots and lots of tv and film productions.

Photographer, film maker, director, graphic designer, collector of camera lenses, music producer… “I’m a jack of all trades”, he says. ”I’m involved in the whole creating process, and I love creating music and sounds for the projects I’m doing. In the industry, this is a very uncommon thing. People want specialists. When you’re famous for doing car commercials, they will hire you to do a car commercial. See, I’m a director, and I’m creating the music because I love to. But I’m not necessarily telling people I did the music as well.”

Remotely loved

At Method Studio’s he had worked with the Fairlight MFX II. “I convinced them it would be a good thing having one in our studio. When I got to work with it, I thought… “I don’t know … Help!”, but I’ve learned how to use it along the way. For years, it was the heart of my production and editing process.” He still cherished the desire to have one of his own.”For a long time, I just loved it remotely. I think it started about after seeing Jean Michel Jarre’s ’The Concert at China’, but ever since I heard the Zoolook album, hearing the things you can do with this instrument; it got burnt in my heart.” He read about it in magazines and he often talked about it with fellow musicians. ”Some of them had been using the Fairlight. They said they moved on and they’d ask me “Why would you want one anyway? It’s outdated technology”.”  Yet, it still remained a dream, safely hidden somewhere in the back of his mind. And so, he had forgotten about an e-mail alert he had once set. To his surprise, he got an alert about an advertisement in which a Series III was offered.

Striking gold

”It used to belong to Robert Ferris. Or to be more specific: to Kevin Gilbert, who was a musical prodigy.” Kevin Gilbert played several instruments, he played in several bands and he was part of the Tuesday Night Music Club, where he introduced his then-girlfriend Sheryl Crow. He died at the age of 29. ‘His Fairlight ended up with Robert Ferris, one of his bandmates. There’s a tiny black spot on the white casing, but other then that it was in mint condition. Even the cables were. Robert likes to keep things clean and tidy!”

It took a while before he could enjoy his purchase. His wife asked him to head over to Africa for a film project. His Series III was left behind in LA. The only thing he took with him was the manual, which he read during his flight. After a year, he managed to ship it to Kenya, where it got impounded by the authorities at the airport. They searched the Internet, they stumbled on the sparking new anniversary model, the 30A, and charged him accordingly. ”It took me days to convince them it wasn’t the same thing.”

Smells like Fairlight!

But now, it is safe and sound, occupying a nice, central place in his studio. ”People come in here, I play them some recordings I’ve made with the Fairlight, recorded into Logic, and they are stunned by the quality of the sounds.” Often, he sits himself down with a glass of wine and the manual.”I’m still learning and I really enjoy it. I like the process of creating my own sounds, working on my craft. With preset-based synths. You can browse through about 200 sounds and you probably still don’t find what you’re looking for. Yes, this soundscaping, it’s a slow proces, but it’s got so much to offer.”

Even after all these years, he keeps discovering and learning new things.”Did you know the Fairlight has a specific smell? It heats up, for it uses a lot of power. You can smell it when you step into the room.” His love for the instrument is deep. ”You know: why would you get rid of a Stradivarius? Because a brand new violin sounds better? The Fairlight is a true work horse. It’s timeless. Every time after I’m done, and I’m switching it off, I say: ‘Thank you, Fairlight!’ “.