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Fairlight CMI


The Fairlight CMI is a digital workstation used by Prince in the mid-1980s. It was one of the first workstations, combining synthesis, sampling and sequencing into a single unit. Prince first used one for the Parade album, with an early example being the outtake "Tibet", made entirely from Fairlight sounds. The "Bizarre" sample appears on "Christoper Tracy's Parade" and "All My Dreams".

By the Sign O The Times album, Prince was using the Fairlight extensively for synthesizer and drum sounds, with songs like "Sign O The Times" and "IT" consisting of mostly Fairlight sounds. Wendy and Lisa also used the Fairlight to record the song "Strange Relationship", with sitar and wood flute sounds coming from the instrument.

Prince also took the Fairlight on tour, with Lisa using a Fairlight on the Parade tour and Dr Fink using one on the Sign O The Times and Lovesexy tours. The Fairlight proved difficult to use live, so Dr Fink sampled Prince's favourite sounds into an E-mu Emax. Prince continued using this sample set into the early 1990s.

Prince got into the Fairlight, which was a synthesizer and a sampler all in one. It was basically a dedicated computer with big nine-inch floppy drives that you could load up your sounds. It was a great studio tool, but on the road they were very clunky and took forever to load. I went to Prince and said, ‘Hey, let’s get some of these [E-mu Emax]. I had all the Fairlight library transferred onto way smaller floppy discs, and then put them on hard drives inside those Emax rack models. That’s how we got away from bringing those Fairlights out on the road.