Classic synths are coveted for a number of reasons. Whether it be for their warm (or charmingly naive) vintage sound, beautiful aesthetics or unique workflows, the old adage applies; "They don't make 'em like they used to!"...
...Or maybe they do? ln this series of articles, we'll cover attempts to re-make classic synths in the here and now. Will they live up to the original instruments or perhaps even improve on them? Read on, dear viewer...
This one is a little different from the hardware analogue clones featured in last week's article (https://sonicstate.com/news/2023/12/03/5-interesting-cloned-synths/) as it is entirely software based and seeks to recreate the sound AND workflow of a classic green-screen leviathan: The Fairlight CMI.
You can find Fairlight sample libraries all over the internet, of course, but there's far more to the classic instrument range than ARR 1 or ORCH 2. The machines could synthesize shifting additive timbres and also featured the legendary PAGE R sequencer (loop based, with notes drawn in by light pen!). A mixture of nostalgia, sound, and a workflow that some people really got down, made for a range of machines that still have a dedicated following today (check out the photo of Robbie Puricelli demonstrating a Fairlight Series III above!)
One such dedicated Orchtwovian (I'm trying to make it a thing) is AdamStrange, a talented artist, musician and the coder of Qasar Beach. He told us:
I've been obsessed with the Fairlight since it's release. My first attempts was a loong time ago on the Amiga (wahey! - Paulee), where I created a program that mimicked the harmonic system. - it was slow but functioned. Next came Wave, and then Wave2 http://www.visualjockey.com/wave2/specs.htm which was uber powerful but nobody came to the party. So I took all the concepts in Wave2 and decided to directly build a Fairlight complete with UI and full operation. and we have Qasar Beach.
And quite a system it is; 16-24 stereo voices, full voice editing and realtime control, harmonic additive synthesis and that Page R sequencer. Adam has worked tirelessly over the past few years to improve the sound, authentic workflow and timing/stability, even adding features that go beyond the CMI IIx. (How about an extensive list of file formats that you can easily import? Even Amiga IFF format!)
You can read about the extensive, regular updates at https://adamstrange.itch.io/qasarbeach. Adam told us this of the development process:
When creating Qasar Beach, I became accepted by the Fairlight community and hooked up with a number of old employees. They all had loads of information about the time, their work, the concepts, etc. Some sent me old manuals, development materials, etc. With their help, I was able to decode file structures and system operation. Page R was rewritten 3 times with the final approach being the exact one taken at Fairlight. Similarly, the method of generating the audio is not the general way of doing it today. It turned out that it was almost the same way (speeding up/down the reading process of audio). I even had the exact same issues with aliasing - the buzzing Bs!
When booting up Qasar Beach in full screen mode, you really get a sense of what working with the Fairlight may have been like (aside from the sounds those monstrous 8-inch disks made!), and some folks have even taken the immersive experience to the next level by running QB on beige industrial touch-screen PC's (The DSM J1900 Win 10 computer, pictured at the top of the page, is sadly no longer made; I'd like one! Thanks to Torsten M. Abel for the original photo.)
The best thing, surely, is that QB is completely free (donationware) and available for Windows, MacOS and Linux, so you can try it out and see if it appeals. There is an optional donation price of $32, very reasonable!
This isn't the end of the Qasar Beach story though, as Adam has a new instrument called Qasar Beach Alias. The core concept was to envision what Fairlight might have done if a CMI IV was produced.
Alias was built...to streamline the audio and push things with my knowledge from QB. So you have different audio engines. Fairlight Page 7 is where you set up the controllers and it was always a struggle to get people to work out what could be done. I wanted to...simplify the process - so everything became visual and wired.
Alias expands upon Qasar Beach, not only in modulation options (envelopes, LFO's, functions) but also sound possibilities. There are new sound engines, including ASYN - very much an expanded, real-time version of the CMI's original harmonic synthesis (with lots of sliders to tweak!) and DFM - a full four-operator FM synth! Find out more here: https://adamstrange.itch.io/alias
And if all of this Fairlight talk has encouraged you to learn more about the original, landmark instruments, then here are a couple of very good videos on the subject:
Thanks for checking this article out, there's plenty of interesting clones coming out at the moment, from both larger and smaller makers, so let us know in the comments what you'd like to see featured in this ongoing series!
Posted by MagicalSynthAdventure an expert in synthesis technology from last Century and Amiga enthusiast.
We take a look
Uses a unique ball and spring model
New PCM 80/81 Editing via the Electra One MIDI Controller
The Gas is strong with this one...