The 43-year-old invention behind 2022’s biggest music sensation

By Tom Compagnoni

When we talk about Australia’s influence on popular music, The Bee Gees, INXS and Kylie Minogue immediately spring to mind. AC/DC made the second-biggest selling album of all time in 1980, becoming such a globally revered rock juggernaut that it’s easy to forget they crawled out of the pubs of Sydney just a few years earlier.

Yes, we’re great performers and know how to write and record a catchy tune. But what about the tools of the trade? The flashing lights, knobs and faders on the other side of the studio glass? What part did we play in developing the technological wizardry behind the music we love?

We can thank the Americans for inventing records, the British for making them in stereo and the Japanese for bringing the whole process into digital domain. The stage was set for a 1980s revolution in how sounds could be made, stored and played back.

Enter two young men from Sydney, Australia.

With the introduction, in 1979, of The Fairlight Computer Music Instrument (CMI), Peter Vogel and Kim Ryrie brought digital sampling and sequencing to the music world, turning the recording industry on its head.

Early adopters Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush pioneered the Fairlight’s use in the early 80s and by the middle of the decade it had become one of the most coveted tools in music production.

It became so popular that if you listened to music in the 80s, or watched the most popular show on Netflix in 2022, you would already be familiar with the sounds that came from a computer made by a team of passionate engineers in a building on Boundary St, Rushcutters Bay, Sydney.

This is the story of the Fairlight’s creation, its impact and its ultimate demise — a short documentary created by Tom Compagnoni.

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