Digital sound recorder console, accessories and stand, 'Merlin', metal / plastic / cardboard / paper, designed by D3 Design, made by Fairlight ESP Pty Ltd, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 2000-2001
The Fairlight Merlin represents the continuing development of Australian innovation in the design of digital music technology.
Fairlight founders Kim Ryrie and Peter Vogel put together their first CMI (computer musical instrument) from off-the-shelf hardware. First sold in 1979, the Fairlight CMI was the first computer-based tool that could sample sounds from various sources (such as a dog barking) and use them in music. New sounds could be created by drawing a 'sound wave' on the screen, which the computer would produce as sound. Theoretically, any sound was possible. Apart from opening up a world of new sounds, the Fairlight gave composers and performers instant playback. By changing the wave patterns presented on a screen they could tweak a sound into shape without singing or performing it all over again.
Sales grew in the 1980s when the music industry started catching up with computers. At the same time, the technology got cheaper, and copies and other computer instruments took away the market created by Fairlight. The company went under in 1989, but Ryrie managed to buy back the patents. He set up a new and improved company, Fairlight ESP, specialising in custom-built electronic musical instruments and post-production audio editing technology. In 1991 the company released the MFX2 which was the first machine in the world that could sustain simultaneous play back of 16 tracks from a single disk drive. Its improved editing capabilities made it the fastest editor at the time.
The company continued to develop new digital music technology and in 2001 it won a Scientific and Technical Academy Award for the development of the DaD digital audio dubber technology for the motion picture industry.
The Merlin, developed by D3 design and Fairlight ESP in 2000-2001, was the first professional audio editing product without mechanical keys. The silicone rubber keys were designed to give the same tactile effects to the operator as mechanical keys. When depressed the keys can show multiple lighting states to indicate the status of the function or track, improving ease of use.
The Merlin received an Australian Design Award in 2001. As an audio recording device, it represents an attempt by Fairlight to return to the music recording market after specialising in post-production technology for several years. A Fairlight Merlin was used to record and play back the music for the opening and closing ceremonies at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.
The Merlin was designed by D3 Design in 2000-2001 in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia and made by Fairlight ESP in 2000-2001 in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.
The device was lent to the Museum by Fairlight ESP Pty Ltd for display in the 2001 Australian Design Awards exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney.
In March 2003 Fairlight ESP went into administration. Three months later the company's assets and intellectual property were purchased by former chief operating officer, John Lanken, who formed the new company Fairlight AU Pty Ltd to continue the business.
The Merlin received an Australian Design Award for Industrial Design and a Powerhouse Museum Selection Award for 2001.