The Fairlight CMI, the ground-breaking digital synth created by Australians Peter Vogel and Kim Ryrie, is well known for its contribution to music. Think names like Peter Gabriel, Hans Zimmer, David Bowie, Herbie Hancock, Kate Bush, Bono, and … hang on, I’ll stop before this becomes a very long list. With tablet input and sophisticated sampling capabilities, the CMI holds up reasonably well against even modern tech, even if it cost as much as a luxury car. (See Keyboard Magazine‘s 2006 write-up.)

But less known is the CMI’s influential visual sibling, the CVI — Computer Video Instrument. Introduced to the market in 1984 at around US$6500, the CVI also used a tablet interface, accessing not a hybrid analog/digital design for visual effects and digital painting in real-time.

You may not know the name, but you’ve seen the effects — the ubiquity of the CVI’s distinctive effects, unfortunately, also made it a cliche in 80s design. But the idea of making an integrating visual instrument is still meaningful today.

It’s not really worth reading about the CVI. It’s better to watch it. We’ve been following videos uploaded by co-creator Vogel onto YouTube, as well as from aficionados of the hardware from the VJ community, on our video sister, Create Digital Motion:

State of the 80s: Fairlight CVI Demo Video, BBC on "Tomorrow’s World"

Video: Fairlight CVI Video Instrument Development, Ca. 1984

Glitch, Synthetic and Real: Free Vintage Fairlight VJ Clips, Glitch in Jitter

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  • Break change

    what is that song they are playing in the background? I know it, but dont know the name.

  • porchka66

    The Song is from Art Of Noise : "Moments In Love"

  • of course, Art Of Noise were complete Fairlight perverts, so it's very apt.

  • dan s.

    I’m hot coz I’m fly

    You ain’t coz you’re not

    This is why x2

    This is why I’m hot

  • Dub

    I recognise the video at the start of it (early computer graphics award winner IIRC) – Does anyone know if it's anywhere on the net? I seem to recall it was based in a virtual art museum – and the backing track was good

  • the CVI is a very cool toy to play with, some of the settings have never been duplicated in the virtual digital world. I have both an NTSC and a PAL version, but I've moved back to music production. If anyone is interested to buy one you can contact me via my website, these are very rare to find indeed.