The Fairlight is the Penny Farthing of Samplers.

Look at this will you. (Go ahead, I’ll wait..)

Nostalgic Music Buffs Embrace The Return Of The Fairlight

penny farthing

I Don’t get it. Fairlight is coming back and for $20,000 you can own your very own piece of 8-bit sampling history. That’s fantastic for nostalgia buffs with more money than sense, but to imply there’s any musical value in the exercise is .. I don’t know .. stretching the point a bit. Why not just get the (equally awful) iPad app? You could get a keyboard controller and a dedicated iPad for under a tenth of the price of this re-issue and your audience won’t know the difference. Trust me, 99% of the time they won’t.

(I think Unca Tom’s already got this whole re-issuing old stuff because we have no new ideas thing pretty well nailed, so I won’t go there.)

I visited the Fairlight factory during a visit to Sydney as a spotty teenager back in 1985. I had imagined I’d just rock up to the place and there’d be a shop front and a couple of demo units on display, but it wasn’t quite like that. Luckily they took pity on me when I said I’d come from Tasmania to see the CMI, and I got a short but pants-wettingly exciting tour of their demo studio out the back. At that time, the CMI was all over just about every record I bought. Peter Gabriel IV was one of the earlier ones that I owned and I still love the distinctive, disturbing sound of that record. Jean-Michel Jarre’s Zoolook[1] was a fine comeback after what I thought was a somewhat flaccid Magnetic Fields. And of course Ms Bush’s Fairlight album is one of the all time pop classics, as is Songs From The Big Chair.

Back then in the past it really was the future.

But times change, and things – particularly technological things – move on. The thing that gave the Fairlight its distinctive sound was the awful sample resolution. A lot of people had to employ programmers to actually operate the thing because the software interface – although admittedly revolutionary at the time – was diabolical. And of course similar to today it required a mortgage or some extremely dodgy business practices to actually own one.

So now we have all this nostalgia wave and the chance to pay $20,000 for an instrument that frankly, half a dozen apps on my phone could eat for lunch.

Parked_penny_farthing

I Do Not Understand.

Money factor aside, why ride a Penny Farthing when you can get a modern bicycle with all the improvements that have been added over the years and enjoy a smoother, less ridiculous-looking ride? Your audience DOES NOT CARE. (Unless they’re hipsters in which case you all deserve each other ;)

The more I work on my latest project recreating a style of early-80s electronic music, the more I realise it doesn’t matter a jot what tools you use. What matters is whether you can raise the hairs on the back of someone’s neck by playing a particular combination of noises at them. (C minor ninths always do it for me.) Peter Gabriel’s record still sounds distinctive to this day, but the live versions of the same songs carry just as much punch, his (incredible) backing band could still keep playing if you pulled the power chord out of the CMI – and you’d still cry over Biko.

You can carp on about vintage authenticity all you like but if you’re not getting an emotional response out of the music – I’m sorry but splooging your pants over a bit of gear doesn’t count – you might as well go and play with Excel spreadsheets instead.

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Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. It says on the internet that Zoolook was released in 1984 – but I definitely bought it in ’85 from the new release bin of a record shop in regional Victoria. These days it’s hard to imagine not even knowing about an album for a whole year before it gets released in your own territory – but it happened.

In a Nutshell

The iPad was widely criticised at first for its Noddy home screen; there were no software or hardware concessions made regarding multitasking or task-switching. But the result is something my two-year-olds can easily navigate, and which really doesn’t need a manual.

via Samsung’s lovely illegal tablet: Why no one wants to know • The Register.

To which I’d add that most apps I’ve downloaded that have required reference to any sort of instructions have rapidly found themselves in the disused folder.

So there’s the fact that your 2 year old and your Gran can use it. Sure it’s got the grunt of a desktop machine from a decade ago but you can get apps that do more than my first (Pentium 100 Windows 95) PC ever did*, and more intuitively. Without instructions. The software-becomes-the-device.

*I still get the heebees thinking about how I struggled to get Cubase on that old PC to do more than any four-track cassette could have at the time..

On that Retrevo blog

“We’re not positive that some respondents didn’t confuse Amazon the manufacturer (Kindle) and Amazon the reseller ” – Retrevo

And that could just be the edge that Amazon needs. They have the best … what do they call it … vertical integration

You can’t seriously argue that Apple’s design>build>sell>support mobile strategy isn’t working for them so far, but to me the interesting question that’ll be answered when the dust settles, is how “open” or “closed” of an ecosystem would the Amazon offering have to be in order to effectively compete with Apple. Google’s version of Android is .. well it depends who you read but I’m not convinced the entirely ‘open-ish’ way is working yet. But then it’s not Google’s core business, and they’ve shown little interest or ability with hardware so far.

If Amazon took it upon themselves to invest smartly in polishing up the Android ‘experience’ on their own hardware, the fact they already have a large audience of consumers that already trust them and their sales channel (something much closer to a bricks-and-mortar store than the more nebulous Google has ever been) could give them the edge they need. They’d be like budget Apple, without the snazzy shop fronts. It’s not hard – they just have to come up with an ecosystem-in-a-box that works for the user as well as it does for the company.

$5 says this is the thing – the next-iPad-killer – that Apple is most likely to be actually looking over their shoulder at. Interesting Times.