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.”
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.
”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!’ “.