Roundtable Editor

Judging Amplification and Electronics

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Question: In light of the new electronics proposal passing, can you explain specifically how electronics is handled by the DCI judging system? Which captions evaluate A&E and what are their individual responsibilities in that regard? Is there specific language on the judging sheets regarding the use of electronics and amplification?

In the past there have been many complaints about the balance of electronics and amplified sound relative to the level of the brass and percussion. Is the quality of this balance adjudicated? Is reinforcing a brass part considered a legitimate use of electronics or is it discouraged ?

Sometimes there are clearly technical problems with sound equipment (buzzes, static and other non-desirable sounds). Sometimes the equipment fails and the audience can't hear the intended sound. Are these failures treated the same as undesirable sounds from the brass or percussion?

The sound systems seem to be highly directional and focused to judges. Is there an effort to make sure that the entire (or at least a large part of) audience is able to hear a balanced ensemble sound from performing corps?

Answer: (from Michael Cesario, DCI Artistic Director)

As with anything new, the evaluative process at Drum Corps International grows any time a new idea is adopted. The same is true for Amplification and Electronics. The rules are actually quite specific about what can and cannot be used, but the creativity of the Performers and Arrangers is really just now beginning to be explored. Some timbres and textures that were previously unavailable are finding their way into today's productions, with everything from harp and celeste voices to thunderclaps and ocean sounds becoming part of an expanded musical score.

The Music Judges, including Percussion, consider all the voices presented, each according to their caption. Certainly, overbalanced electronic contributions might not garner the same credit that a well-balanced ensemble would receive. In recent weeks, the Voting Membership of DCI passed a rule change to allow the balance of the amplified and electronic voices to be controlled from audience/grandstand/press box areas. Since the acoustic atmosphere changes dramatically from venue to venue, it was felt that the control of volume and balance might be better adjusted from "out front". Much of the aural blend also regards field placement of Percussive and Brass voices. After all, if the tubas are in front of us, we expect to hear them. In fact, they may be featured at that moment, and we would not want an even blanket of non-directional sound to encompass the entire stadium.

A broken piece of electronic equipment is treated similarly to a broken drumhead or broken rifle. It may or may not affect the overall impact of the show, the ensemble cohesiveness, or the ability of the performer to achieve excellence. As with those events, the program may not receive the credit it might when all is going smoothly, but there is no specific penalty for an equipment breakdown.

[Additional response within thread below]

Edited by Roundtable Editor
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. . .that's not really too much of an answer. It's two paragraphs of reiteration of what the rules are now, and one paragraph of a "well, kinda . . ." answer.

The question wasn't meant to ask for the artistic directors take on what kind of sounds can be made, it's asking for how, specifically, the sounds that are made are judged, and where they're specifically judged.

I didn't submit this question, but, if I did . . .I'd rather see an answer from someone from the judging side of things than Cesario on this.

Furthermore, with a large reliance on electronics in some shows, I'd say it rates a lot higher than a broken drumhead or rifle. If the Bluecoats had lost their entire rig for a show, or even part of a show, this year it would seriously affect the overall GE and musical effect of the entire show, not just in the singular part of a larger ensemble, as a broken drum or flag might. There's no "backup synth" player to cover for you. :tongue:

It's not a matter of agreeing with the proposals or not, as that's besides the point here . . .but, really, if we're going to use this stuff, why can't we get concrete answers as to who evaluates it, what context they do it in, and so on?

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. . .that's not really too much of an answer. It's two paragraphs of reiteration of what the rules are now, and one paragraph of a "well, kinda . . ." answer.

The question wasn't meant to ask for the artistic directors take on what kind of sounds can be made, it's asking for how, specifically, the sounds that are made are judged, and where they're specifically judged.

I didn't submit this question, but, if I did . . .I'd rather see an answer from someone from the judging side of things than Cesario on this.

Furthermore, with a large reliance on electronics in some shows, I'd say it rates a lot higher than a broken drumhead or rifle. If the Bluecoats had lost their entire rig for a show, or even part of a show, this year it would seriously affect the overall GE and musical effect of the entire show, not just in the singular part of a larger ensemble, as a broken drum or flag might. There's no "backup synth" player to cover for you. :tongue:

It's not a matter or agreeing with the proposals or not, as that's besides the point here . . .but, really, if we're going to use this stuff, why can't we get concrete answers as to who evaluates it, what context they do it in, and so on?

I did submit the question and your post sums up my reaction very well. This kind of "fluff" does little to advance anyone's understanding. I tried to ask a question that would be relatively straightforward to answer and goes the heart of many of the issues surrounding A&E. Now I feel like I wasted my time composing and submitting the question.

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I'll add on and go one step further:

the percussion caption, as it stands on the field for most of the summer, is the LAST place amplification balance should be discussed. Sure early season when the 5 man panels are in, fine, and there he and the music ensemble guy are at times doubling each others work.

I know judging for a local band circuit if I dreamed of discussing amp balance from the field level, I'd be crucified. I can't even imagine a percussion judge at the DCI level even thinking about it.

now, if they brought back the upstairs judge for big shows, I could see it.

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Addition to Original Response:

The contributions of the amplified instruments, as well as the musical contributions of electronic sounds and textures, are evaluated within the realm of the music captions. They are not separated out and treated independently from the musical presentations of the corps. There is no "A&E."

If there is a concern regarding the balance or alignment, it is mentioned in Music Ensemble adjudication, using the current sheets and guidelines. Credit is only given based upon the achievement of the performers. There are no points for simply owning the equipment. If the amplified or electronic musical contribution enhances the effect and impact of the corps' musical production, credit will be given for the achievement in Music General Effect using the current criteria. There is no removal of points, or ticks, for errors since all of the scoring at DCI is based on a "build-up" system.

With the recent re-organization (of the adjudication hierarchy), there are no Caption Heads, per se. Comments from several of the judges who are now Judge Liaisons for Music, and the views of the Task Force advisors were taken into account in writing the original response to the original questions posed.

Perhaps we need to examine the view that DCI judging "ignores" the musical contributions of the instruments recently allowed in current competition. It has not been nor will it ever be a "free-for-all"(where corps are rewarded for merely having copious amounts of electronic gadgetry). The Corps Directors and the DCI Executive Director would not permit that to be the case. It is noteworthy, however, that those amplified and electronic contributions have not been added as a single entity (A&E) in a vacuum. They are used in context of the musical production as additional voices, textures, and timbres to broaden the musical palette, and are evaluated in context within the appropriate captions.

[Additional Content Provided Below]

Edited by Roundtable Editor
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Addition to Original Response:

The contributions of the amplified instruments, as well as the musical contributions of electronic sounds and textures, are evaluated within the realm of the music captions. They are not separated out and treated independently from the musical presentations of the corps. There is no "A&E."

If there is a concern regarding the balance or alignment, it is mentioned in Music Ensemble adjudication, using the current sheets and guidelines. Credit is only given based upon the achievement of the performers. There are no points for simply owning the equipment. If the amplified or electronic musical contribution enhances the effect and impact of the corps' musical production, credit will be given for the achievement in Music General Effect using the current criteria. There is no removal of points, or ticks, for errors since all of the scoring at DCI is based on a "build-up" system.

Thanks for the elaboration. However, the question that immediately comes to mind is - so, Carolina Crown's synth player, who in their 2nd piece (Danzon No. 2) played the only melodic part in the introduction as well as the exit to the song (as a piano, then as a guitar)... where does that fit into the hierarchy? Percussion, because the synth sounds like a percussive instrument? Or because the synthesizer itself resembles a piano, which is a percussion instrument? Or do they get a pass on the execution caption and go straight to effect?

I get the explanation of effect, though, and I'm okay with that. Makes sense. I'm not trying to be nitpicky here, but electronic instruments - not sound effects, but actual instruments - can be any and all types of sound profiles. They're also being played by very talented players. Is there a clear definition of what caption actually rewards their technical talents?

Mike

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. . .thanks for the update, Roundtable. Very interested if you can speak further to Mike's questions as well. :smile:

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The effect part makes perfect sense. the ensemble part tho still seems very fuzzy...yes it's not a tick system anymore, but if balance is an issue, how much can it impact a score? Show long over balance would seem, IMO to affect achievement quite a bit, especially on ensemble, and possibly even effect.

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There was a post recently in the litany of DCP rants that the Roundtable responses seemed dry, scripted, categorical, and not the kind of "beer talk" conversations that DCP'ers are accustomed to having. Many DCP regulars were left cold, and the Roundtable project has been slow to gain acceptance as a result. This thread and, specifically, the follow-up comments, are a fresh exception to that rule.

I, for one, certainly appreciate the engagement and continuation by DCI's leaders to address the comments brought out here.

Thank you, DCI and Michael, and I hope this two-way "conversation" is the beginning of real engagement by DCI with, arguably, the activity's most passionate fans.

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Additional Response Provided for Further Clarification

Regarding Synthesizers – Seldom are a synth players exclusively on synth for the entire performance...

General Effect Caption

That said, with synth, which is so versatile, adjudication is a function of how the instrument is used as a component within the musical ensemble. For example, if what we're hearing are atmospheric sounds, say, waves at the shore, we might feel it is more about GE. Formerly, we might have used a cymbal and gong, or thundersheet for that effect, and would have rewarded it in the same caption.

Ensemble Caption

Even then, if the synth ran over the top of some delicate celeste playing, or a backfield trumpet solo, the ensemble judges are going to take note. If the synth players are adding a part or voicing to the piece being performed, they will be evaluated similarly to any front ensemble instrumentalists. Some of the questions asked by the adjudicator would be along the lines of, "Are they part of ensemble cohesiveness, is their tone quality appropriate, are they aware of balance and blend?"

Performance Caption

The percussion judges may pay the most attention in performance, but if the synth affects the horn sound, for good or ill, you will hear from the horn judges as well. In some ways, it may actually be considered double-jeopardy, if anything. The performers are evaluated regarding elements like how they strike the keyboard, or the performance techniques they display within the context of Drum Corps. Most of our judges have some piano keyboard training, and are familiar with the evaluation of that type of contribution from their concert and winter competitive seasons.

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