Fairlight CMI 2X Rebuild Part 3: "Becoming the 'F#' Fairlight"

So with the beast finally up and running, now to the job of the missing black key and sorting out the dreaded light pen.


Pulling apart the keyboard, I took out one of the existing black keys to take photos and measurements.

I read somewhere that Fatar had made the keyboards for Fairlight so I emailed the keyboard maker directly and after several no replies I finally git a response saying they never made the keyboards and could not help. Hmm..I then took the one of the keys into work to see if it's profile matched anything made by Roland. NO! Turns out every single key has a different profile. amazing. With a bit of searching I found some spare parts companies around the world but none of them knew of the Fairlight keys so I was pretty stuck.


I then had to face the fact I'd have to make my own key. A call to Roland



Fairlight CMI 2X rebuild Part 2: "Honey, I'm home"

About the half way mark about 5 hours into the Fairlight repatriation quest, a big AV van pulled alongside and lingered rather than just passing. A little way up the road I stopped for fuel and noticed the AV van there also refuelling. On the way back from paying, I noticed two guys peering into the back of my car at the gear. "Are they Fairlights?" one guy asked. He mentioned he'd always wanted one and we talked a bit about music and I told them about the task ahead. "Good luck!" he said. They were on their way to Sydney to record an event in their mobile recording van. And off we went on our ways again.

Back in Sydney, I lugged all the bits upstairs to start work. Heavy stuff. The main CPU has two 8" floppy drives, 8 voice cards plus big chunky PSU and a bunch of main processor, VDU, memory and floppy boards and several wires hung from the slots.

I had also grabbed another almost bare chassis with no PSU which i hoped I may be able to salvage parts from.  

fairlight bits in car    fairlight front cards

First task would be to establish exactly what was wrong. I found all the fuses in the VDU and CPU were blown so a quick trip to Jaycar to sort that out. Next was to check the state of the power supplies. Luckily accessing the components is pretty much like a modern computer. Removing the sides and top I was easily able to pull each of the cards and lay them out in numbered orde. Luckily each one has a unique model number and with a quick search online I was able to find a list of the original boards and components that made up a series IIX fairlight from The Holmes Page.. A great resource for tricky synth repairs and info.



Fairlight CMI 2X rebuild Part 1: "Hello Keyboards, Simon speaking!"

My fascination with sampling began with my Ensoniq EPS which I bought second-hand in 1989 and still own!

After exhausting the usual fart sounds, screams and slowed down ruler wobble over the desktop sounds, our tastes matured and we moved on to more high class sounds we'd heard from Boris Blank on Yellow albums like "ohhh yeahhh" and "chikkachikkah...Bom bom". Classy, pants-wetting stuff this sampling.

My sister and I sat recording silly voices into that thing for bloody hours playing them up and down the keyboard Til dad came in to check if we'd gone insane. I remember us all being gobsmacked by how similar her voice sounded to mine when played down a few semi-tones. The family connection meant that the tonal likeness was uncanny.

First as a child watching my dad building things and then whilst training as an instruments technician, I'd developed a thirst for understanding how things worked and had the beast in parts before long dissecting and learning how it worked. This experimentation set me up well and obviously what the designers had in mind as it had a hinged top panel to easily access the insides should/when something was to go wrong. And it always did...usually right when you were feeling like recording that monster hit...

Roll-on five or so years later and I found myself working in the keyboard department of a city music store.

I loved it! These were happy and productive times...There's nothing like talking about and working around music gear all day to catch a dose of gear lust then abruptly kill it!

A gib motivation for going to work was thanks to co-worker, newly found friend, synthologist, synth mentor, mono-synth collector Steve Williams. 

Steve's knowledge was epic and his stories of playng Radio City Music Hall with his band Real Life left me in awe.

It was birthday and Steve turned up to work where he presented me with a Korg VC-10 vocoder. The next few weeks were a blur of creation with most of my time spent trying to write pieces around the new beast. I had the bug bad and it wasn't long before I snapped up Steve's partially working Roland SH-5 with the tip that "on that front panel is everything you need to know about analog synthesis". So true. Within days I'd repaired the faulty band-pass filter, hard-wired the main connectors to fix the oxidised terminals and generally cleaned up the synth. I think it's still my favourite object I own along with my 67 Morriss Minivan.

It was fitting then that Steve and I became partners in synth crime. Every Thursday Steve would arrive at work, coffee in one hand, Melbourne Trading Post under his arm and spend the next few days trawling through the offers. I'd pick at the scraps and ask questions like what's an ARP? Who's Serge? Can you hit a Linn drum?



working on minus-drums mixes and odd-time thinking

Now that the album's up and out I've been getting together different versions of the mixes designed to drum along too. I'll also be making the kit patches and actual midi recordings for the tracks available to load into the Roland TD30 V-Drums. I use v-Drums all the time for recording because they're so much easier if you're a self recording drummer and allow you infinite choices sound wise when mixing without having to decide on drum sounds when the initial idea or urge to play strikes.

I've decided on versions with click and without and it's really highlighted how weird my timing choices are for some tracks! I want the parts to be challenging but musically satisfying to play at the same time.

 'Been Down' for example has two bars of 7/8 and 1 of 9/8 before repeating then goes into 4/4 for the verse. I didn't mean to make it such a complex drum part, but as the idea for the song came from the cyclic bass pattern, the drums had no choice but to follow the bass.

Talking about odd time, the way I like to count odd time is in groups of 4 until it's not possible to count 4 any longer then add the extra bar on top. So the way I'm counting Been Down is 1,2,3,4 (4) + 1,2,3 (3)=7 For the 7/8 part and 1,2,3,4,(4) 1,2,3,4,(4) 1 =9 To follow the melody.  This really simplifies playing it and helps give it a pulse and swing that suits the bass melody.

This technique was a revelation to me when I saw and heard Terry Bozzio explain it in one of his instructional videos and opens up all sorts of freedom with even more complex parts. You just count 4 til you can't anymore then add a bar of what's left.

On the flip side, switching the timing around so you play the odd bar first then the even bar totally changes the feel of the part. For example you could count 7/8 as 1,2,3 (3) 1,2,3,4 (4) = 7 or 1,2,1,2,1,2,3 (7) same count but totally different feel if you play the kick on 1 and the snare on 2 as you would in a conventional beat. 

Of course the aim is to not have to count once you've examined the beat and played it over it becomes automatic whenever you hear an odd time melody. When it gets in your bones, you actually stop thinking of it in little sections but more like long passages which helps you and your band mates to really enjoy playing it as it's like your all keeping the train rolling along.

one of my favourite drum parts is the one Matt Cameron played on Soundgarden's  Rhinosaur. It really demonstrates just what a huge difference to the feel it can make depending on how you count it. Rhonosaur's in 6/8 but the phrase Matt plays is actually over 2 bars so you can think of it as 12/8. The count seems to be 1,2,3,4 (4), 1,2 (2) for both bars but what makes it so interesting is the half time feel he gives it by playing the snare on 3,6 & 11. This makes the groove sound odd time but it's actually perfectly even being in 6/8. It has a hypnotic effect and when it goes into the chorus it drops into 4 which feels super straight against the previous 6/8. Very clever And musical playing...gotta love rhythm.


Clicks & Giggles: How the Metronome can be your Best Friend

For many drummers, the mere thought of playing to a click strikes fear into the heart. On the flip-side, there are many others for whom the click is their best friend. Playing comfortably with a metronome can open up many avenues for a drummer and help you think of it as your best friend rather than sworn enemy...Article here

Do I really need to run my live sound in stereo?

Asked how many ears you’d prefer most people would obviously say two so why are so many people still connecting their beautiful sounding, stereo instruments with one output in mono? I suspect it’s a case of not knowing what they’re missing?

In order for the human brain to detect the position of a sound in a space, stereoscopic hearing is required. The difference in time, amplitude and phase of the signal reaching each ear at slightly different times is crucial information used by the brain to determine the location of the source of the sound.

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