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60 seconds with Yamaha Music Europe’s Karl Christmas

Christmas is European marketing manager of digital mixers and production

‘All of the cultures of the world fascinate me’: Karl Christmas

To occupy a series of senior positions within Yamaha’s many music and pro audio faculties would be enough of a springboard to embrace the world in itself. But to reach these heights from a globetrotting childhood and classical music education simply thickens the cultural ragout and broadens the worldly outlook far beyond the ordinary.

Karl Christmas has been present throughout all of Yamaha’s seismic innovations of the past quarter century, honing his diplomatic and creative skills in the delivery of each one to a waiting world. Formative sojourns at both TC Electronic and SCV London only added to a holistic understanding of the relationship between music and technology, and now a new role beckons at his Japanese alma mater – one that brings it all back home in more ways than one…

You have a new role?

European marketing manager – digital mixers and production at Yamaha Music Europe, a position that brings me back to consoles, and Europe, after four years working for Japan promoting installation technology.

You started early…

I was brought up abroad – Malaysia, Bermuda, Aden – thanks to dad working for Cable & Wireless, with family in East Africa to visit too. After we finally settled in England, I studied French horn and piano at Trinity College in London, but I’ve never lost that wanderlust. All of the cultures of the world fascinate me.

French horn isn’t your usual qualification for pro audio…

I realise that now, and I may have had some inkling then because I switched courses to Composition and Electronic Studies. It wasn’t the music technology education you get today; more Studiomaster 16-channel analogue desk, Tascam 16-track reel-to-reel and a bunch of synthesisers – including a DX7, I should add. It was there I experienced live sound mixing for the first time which didn’t go well: a fellow student was John Powell, now one of Hollywood’s leading film score composers, who asked me to mix a performance of his in a nearby church – lots of tape loops and a Roland Space Echo. Half way through, a huge pumping sound began to fill the dome of the church. I did notice that the Space Echo channels were all in the red so, in my naivety and panic, I simply switched it off. It worked. But I haven’t seen Powell since.

When did Yamaha come onto your radar?

I worked in the Virgin Megastore for a while, but Yamaha’s then-flagship retail showcase Yamaha Music Pulse was nearby – managed by a certain Ricci Hodgson, who offered me a job. Ricci moved on to Milton Keynes, and a few years later took me there as marketing manager. That was the start of my Yamaha journey. Me, Peter Peck and Darren Power became known as The Three Marketeers.

You left for a while…

We’d launched the ProMix01 and the 02R, and they were massive. I burned out, basically. I stepped back, and spent some time away from digital console madness, programming XG files for Yamaha Japan’s website. That’s when TC called and said they were launching the System 6000 signal processor, right at the birth of 5.1 surround – which took me deep into the Soho post-production scene. I also got it, for the first time anywhere, onto a live tour – Robbie Williams.

There followed a brief spell at SCV London, establishing Genelec 5.1 systems, but the company didn’t survive. I retreated to Dartmoor and went back to XG programming, but then I got a call from a PA company looking for a FOH engineer and ended up touring with The Barron Knights and, crucially, a Yamaha 01V console. It got me back into Yamaha’s pro audio corridors: Ricci found a place for me just in time to launch the M7CL and, then, the LS9 – a pivotal moment when the last analogue dinosaurs were converted. It led me into high-end touring and West End theatre.

Those trips to Yamaha HQ must be very bonding…

They are, and more than that: travelling with Yamaha really makes you aware of the common human bond that we all share despite our cultural differences.