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wolfgang

Late night thoughts: Amplification & Electronics from the Judging standpoint

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BRASSO    9,071

 Wolfgang here stole all my entire thinking, and put it into his own words in a most creative fashion.... lol!. He might be the twin I never knew I had, as his thinking completely mirrors mine here in just about everything he just posted..... lol!

 

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31 minutes ago, wolfgang said:

Stream of conscious thoughts about amplification, electronics, vocal music, and judging from a tired mind at 1 am:

At the heart of any competitive activity is the idea of a level playing field.  If we look at two other subjective artistic sports, figure skating and gymnastics, the US and China will tend to have more resources, funds for better coaches, etc. than for example Bulgaria or The People's Republic of Bananarama.  However, for the actual things the athletes are judged on, the balance beams, size of ice rink, etc.... those things are the same for everyone.  Those are also visual things.  It's hard to hide falling off the balance beam or missing a triple jump on the ice.  Audio can be more tricky.

In other threads, allegations of electronic augmentation of brass sounds have been made including - tuners strapped to the bells of horns, synths doubling brass, brass playing the root and fifth of a chord with a synth playing the third, only the best players being amped during full ensemble moments, etc. (Btw, if making these allegations, I would hope the accuser would actually name names of which groups he believes are doing this).  "Thunderous goo" is sadly a term that needs no explanation since it's become so common.  The thoughts below are for Music Analysis and Music GE judges in the press box.  On the field, these shouldn't be an issue.

1) Regarding brass specifically-WHAT exactly is being judged from an ensemble standpoint?  "That's easy, Wolfgang.  The quality of brass playing is being judged."  Ok.  If some or all of the allegations above are true, than is the quality of the entire brass ensemble really being judged?  IF any corps, whether Pioneer or Blue Devils or anyone else, is doing some of the things others have referenced (or perhaps other types of audio enhancements nobody is aware of), how can the true integrity of the judging system be maintained?

In a Music Analysis role if the entire soundscape is open to evaluation- if A & E is utilized, should judges be required to receive training from professional sound engineers (at DCI's expense) in proper use and best practices of amplification and electronics?  There are standards of brass pedagogy and percussion pedagogy (and singing.. . see next point).

Is there such a thing as industry-standard "proper" uses for amplification and electronics? If so, whether a corps uses A & E (and to what extent), if we're trying to determine the best in the world, and if these things are used in the audio design of the programs, shouldn't the people deciding these captions be trained in best practices of the technology?

2).  Speaking of singing, since this is part of the musical soundscape that a number of corps are utilizing, should DCI Music Analysis and Music GE judges also have training in proper vocal pedagogy and performance?  If we're picking between the best apples and best oranges, and the differences are subtle and minute, why shouldn't vocal music be subjected to the same standard scrutiny? I'm not suggesting a separate judge or subcaption for vocals..... not everyone will use them and the thought of a Vocal Analysis judge at a drum corps competition is as absurd as the thought of Brandt Crocker announcing the Best A&E award after the 6th place corps is announced.....

However, as I understand Music Analysis and Music GE, if a corps chooses to use this as part of their music package, and if these 2 captions are to evaluate the entire soundscape per their caption descriptions, then it only seems logical that the people judging this be required to have at least some formal training on proper techniques, vocal pedagogy, etc. so that those groups that choose to incorporate singing will have a trained evaluation of this aspect.... unless we're just going to say anything besides brass and percussion, while legal, will for practical purposes be ignored in the Music Analysis and Music GE captions.

3) Amplification - There are legitimate areas of disagreement among the DCI fandom.  Beating the heck out of marimba to be heard over a 70 member hornline seems (to me) to be a good argument for amplification.  Creating a jazz club or big band sound with a mic'ed and amped flugelhorn solo, I get it. 

The question is- is there a line, and what should it be?  I don't have access to music tapes, but are all (or even a few) judges nailing corps for balance issues due to bad amplification or amplification failures. ... For example, if I see 12 - 16 tubas and only hear the bass synth, the musician in me feels that is a balance problem.  If I see 12 - 16 tubas and a world class corps is playing a held fortissimo chord, then I expect to hear the tubas.

4) Integrity of the system- To me, this is where the rubber hits the road.  IF corps are using some of the tricks outlined above, then it seems to me in a competitive activity where one effect (intentional or not) is to blur the line between the acoustic sounds made by the players, and recorded samples of the corps dubbed over a FFF chord, or mic'ing the top couple players on each part, etc, this gives the judge a distorted picture of what he/she is supposed to be evaluating. 

To take this to an absurd extreme- if a hornline puts the horns to the lips and doesn't play a note but a professionally mixed recording of them is pumped through speakers, while they would get killed on the field, what would the Music Analysis judge do if they are supposed to judge what they hear, and if what they hear is the corps on the field…. Just recorded at an earlier time, edited, and professionally mixed and pumped through the highest quality system a corps could afford?

5) Limits?  - I don't believe it's realistic to put the cork back in the bottle, but that doesn't necessarily mean the audio portion of a show has to be a free-for-all.  Here are things I would like to see made illegal with a large penalty for violations. Even if these things alleged are not yet being done, be proactive and encode them in the rules.

*A ) Any type of tuning device will be illegal during the judged performance. (if a corps wants to use a tuner before the judged performance begins, ok. Once the corps is introduced, then no.)

* B) No doubling of any brass part by an electronic instrument whether by a live player or sampled recording. (Electric instruments like electric guitars, electric violins, vibraphones, etc. are ok.  This is specifically dealing with electronic keyboards doubling any brass part.  This would allow the judges in the press box to make a better evaluation of the quality of brass playing they hear without any other brass mimic sounds to interfere with the sonority. The use of the vocoder was not doubling.  The way it was used would still be a-ok).

*C). No parts of a chord played by the brass shall be performed by an electronic instrument. (This needs to be better worded I admit. If the allegation of horn lines playing root/fifth and synth playing the third are correct, this would make that practice illegal.  Note this is not technically doubling if the brass are not playing those notes in a chord, but if this is being done, it distorts the sound being judged in the press box by giving basically an aural illusion.)

*D). <<<< unsure how to word this at 1am but what follows is a description of something that imo should be prohibited >>>> The practice of amplifying only a few of the top players in a tutti section seems to be the opposite of integrity.  Stripping away rationalizations, at the end of the day it amounts to trying to fool the judges in the press box by giving an illusion of the entire horn line projecting a certain sound, when in reality it gives an Animal Farm-esque quality (all sounds from the hornline to the press box are equal…. But some are more equal than others). If this is done, it is like the DCI version of a pop singer's recording being autotuned.  It's her voice, but not her "true" voice without artificial aids. 

My beef is if there are 20 trumpets, 20 baris, etc and all are playing what is obviously a tutti passage, and the top 4-6 players are getting amped a little bit above the rest of the horns, it would give a distorted version in the press box of what the actual brass sound is.  This does not include obvious solo notes, as for example when Blue Devils play a FFF chord, and one lead trumpet goes up to double C to cap the chord. Also, this really isn’t what SCV did this year.  Their 12 person ensemble was mic’ed but I could clearly hear when they were playing compared to the rest of the hornline. 

That’s one person’s thoughts at 1 am in the morning.  There are different opinions, and that’s fine.  Personally, I have no issue with amplification and electronics per se as long as they are within well-defined boundaries.  If DCI was an exhibition-only organization, then have at it. Do whatever you want.

However, since this is a competition, then I feel there should be some boundaries to maintain credibility and integrity with the adjudication, and it’s be up to the corps designers to be as creative as possible within those boundaries. It’s natural for someone with a corps to want to give their kids every competitive advantage….. but as technology progresses, shouldn’t the rules governing that technology also progress to allow the judges to compare apples to apples as much as humanly possible?

Well let's make one thing clear right up front;  I never said they were using tuners during performance.  But they certainly have access to them during practice.

Otherwise, regarding trickery, all one has to do is watch gopro head cam vidoes and compare them to audience cams.  You can clearly hear notes (and I'm not just talking partials, but actual rhythms) out of the speakers that simply are not being played on the field.  And no, I don't mean go run and watch one single video and claim it's not true.  Listen to all that are available.  Use that musical acumen that so many on here claim to possess, and you can hear some staggering discrepancies.  Much of what the audience is hearing is not emanating from a single horn on the field.  Just watch how very little a horn is even on their faces today.  You're so dazzled by their movement and choreography, you're not even noticing it.....and that's precisely why they're doing it; because they can.

And if rules aren't put in place to penalize that crap, rather than reward it....it's simply going to get worse.

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Fred Windish    1,322

Very well done, wolfgang!

I'm not a musician by any stretch of the imagination. However, current use/misuse of available electronics is a serious concern. It has already negatively affected far too many performances for my 'General Audience' ears. This element must be better defined BEFORE next season, not sometime down the road. I truly believe it will, and electronic usage pulled back somewhat. An absolute 'monster' has been unleashed. 

 

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Tim K    1,410
7 hours ago, Bobby L. Collins said:

Well let's make one thing clear right up front;  I never said they were using tuners during performance.  But they certainly have access to them during practice.

Otherwise, regarding trickery, all one has to do is watch gopro head cam vidoes and compare them to audience cams.  You can clearly hear notes (and I'm not just talking partials, but actual rhythms) out of the speakers that simply are not being played on the field.  And no, I don't mean go run and watch one single video and claim it's not true.  Listen to all that are available.  Use that musical acumen that so many on here claim to possess, and you can hear some staggering discrepancies.  Much of what the audience is hearing is not emanating from a single horn on the field.  Just watch how very little a horn is even on their faces today.  You're so dazzled by their movement and choreography, you're not even noticing it.....and that's precisely why they're doing it; because they can.

And if rules aren't put in place to penalize that crap, rather than reward it....it's simply going to get worse.

A few years ago a Carolina Crown snare had a GoPro attached to himself and it caught his drum coming apart. People commented that the battery did not sound like drums. That's a GoPro issue. GoPros do not do a great job st picking up audio and that's not their purpose. They are action "point of view" cameras so the accuracy of capturing field sounds would be questionable. GoPros from the stands would be worthless unless you're measuring audience reaction. Camera phone video is fine for amateur use but have faults. Since reasonably good video cameras would not be allowed in most shows, and certainly not Indy where camera bags are inspected and people are told they would need to come back without their video cameras, a good DSLR videos both on the field and in the stands would be needed to make this point.

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cixelsyd    877

You ask good questions at 1 am.

6 hours ago, wolfgang said:

1) Regarding brass specifically-WHAT exactly is being judged from an ensemble standpoint?  "That's easy, Wolfgang.  The quality of brass playing is being judged."  Ok.  If some or all of the allegations above are true, than is the quality of the entire brass ensemble really being judged?  IF any corps, whether Pioneer or Blue Devils or anyone else, is doing some of the things others have referenced (or perhaps other types of audio enhancements nobody is aware of), how can the true integrity of the judging system be maintained?

In a Music Analysis role if the entire soundscape is open to evaluation- if A & E is utilized, should judges be required to receive training from professional sound engineers (at DCI's expense) in proper use and best practices of amplification and electronics?  There are standards of brass pedagogy and percussion pedagogy (and singing.. . see next point).

Is there such a thing as industry-standard "proper" uses for amplification and electronics? If so, whether a corps uses A & E (and to what extent), if we're trying to determine the best in the world, and if these things are used in the audio design of the programs, shouldn't the people deciding these captions be trained in best practices of the technology?

IMO, the proper amplification choice for 60-80 brass on a football field is "none".  The problem you get into with this is once you start using the phrase "proper use of amplification", there is an implied presumption that the artificial amplification is proper.  I disagree.  Even Les Stentors amplifying their six horns was improper.  Maybe if they had a full 9/5/5/5 battery and 14 pit to balance with, there would be more of a point to it.  But this corps only had 16 musicians total.  Is that what we want - amplification so that 16 can be as loud as 110 just by turning the dial farther clockwise?

Quote

I'm not suggesting a separate judge or subcaption for vocals..... not everyone will use them

Precisely.  There, again, is what now appears to me as a catch-22.  We complain how A&E done badly seems to have no impact on scores.  But one of the only ways DCI remains "drum corps" is because only brass and percussion count toward earning credit in their respective performance captions.  The irony of insisting singers and electronic woodwinds be judged in performance captions is that it would deconstruct the only remaining incentive for drum corps to remain a brass/percussion-centric artform.

Quote

However, as I understand Music Analysis and Music GE, if a corps chooses to use this as part of their music package, and if these 2 captions are to evaluate the entire soundscape per their caption descriptions, then it only seems logical that the people judging this be required to have at least some formal training on proper techniques, vocal pedagogy, etc. so that those groups that choose to incorporate singing will have a trained evaluation of this aspect.... unless we're just going to say anything besides brass and percussion, while legal, will for practical purposes be ignored in the Music Analysis and Music GE captions.

I agree (and also suspect that most, maybe all, DCI music judges already have this training).

Quote

Beating the heck out of marimba to be heard over a 70 member hornline seems (to me) to be a good argument for amplification.   

No.  Use 70 marimbas if you want to hear them over 70 brass.  Why was every other instrument in drum corps, regardless of cost, subject to common sense balance-by-numbers, while the marimba had this strange exemption from it all that forced us to adopt electronic amplification at even greater expense than any instrument?

Quote

The question is- is there a line, and what should it be?  I don't have access to music tapes, but are all (or even a few) judges nailing corps for balance issues due to bad amplification or amplification failures. ... For example, if I see 12 - 16 tubas and only hear the bass synth, the musician in me feels that is a balance problem.  If I see 12 - 16 tubas and a world class corps is playing a held fortissimo chord, then I expect to hear the tubas.

This problem will never be fixed unless the judges get out of the press box, sit where the rest of us sit, and experience the imbalances the rest of us suffer through.  

Plus, again, there is that catch-22 about judging the "performance" aspect of amplification - additionally complicated by the fact that the "performer" is an adult sound board operator, not a corps member.  If we are going to have sound board operators making over a hundred changes to the mix during a single performance, as they do nowadays, why not return to the DCI educational mission and make the sound board operator a member of the corps?

Quote

4) Integrity of the system- To me, this is where the rubber hits the road.  IF corps are using some of the tricks outlined above, then it seems to me in a competitive activity where one effect (intentional or not) is to blur the line between the acoustic sounds made by the players, and recorded samples of the corps dubbed over a FFF chord, or mic'ing the top couple players on each part, etc, this gives the judge a distorted picture of what he/she is supposed to be evaluating. 

To take this to an absurd extreme- if a hornline puts the horns to the lips and doesn't play a note but a professionally mixed recording of them is pumped through speakers, while they would get killed on the field, what would the Music Analysis judge do if they are supposed to judge what they hear, and if what they hear is the corps on the field…. Just recorded at an earlier time, edited, and professionally mixed and pumped through the highest quality system a corps could afford?

This is where even George Hopkins is saying we have gone too far.  Hopefully, that indicates there will be action taken to address this issue.

Quote

5) Limits?  - I don't believe it's realistic to put the cork back in the bottle, but that doesn't necessarily mean the audio portion of a show has to be a free-for-all.  Here are things I would like to see made illegal with a large penalty for violations. Even if these things alleged are not yet being done, be proactive and encode them in the rules.

*A ) Any type of tuning device will be illegal during the judged performance. (if a corps wants to use a tuner before the judged performance begins, ok. Once the corps is introduced, then no.)

* B) No doubling of any brass part by an electronic instrument whether by a live player or sampled recording. (Electric instruments like electric guitars, electric violins, vibraphones, etc. are ok.  This is specifically dealing with electronic keyboards doubling any brass part.  This would allow the judges in the press box to make a better evaluation of the quality of brass playing they hear without any other brass mimic sounds to interfere with the sonority. The use of the vocoder was not doubling.  The way it was used would still be a-ok).

*C). No parts of a chord played by the brass shall be performed by an electronic instrument. (This needs to be better worded I admit. If the allegation of horn lines playing root/fifth and synth playing the third are correct, this would make that practice illegal.  Note this is not technically doubling if the brass are not playing those notes in a chord, but if this is being done, it distorts the sound being judged in the press box by giving basically an aural illusion.)

*D). <<<< unsure how to word this at 1am but what follows is a description of something that imo should be prohibited >>>> The practice of amplifying only a few of the top players in a tutti section seems to be the opposite of integrity.  Stripping away rationalizations, at the end of the day it amounts to trying to fool the judges in the press box by giving an illusion of the entire horn line projecting a certain sound, when in reality it gives an Animal Farm-esque quality (all sounds from the hornline to the press box are equal…. But some are more equal than others). If this is done, it is like the DCI version of a pop singer's recording being autotuned.  It's her voice, but not her "true" voice without artificial aids. 

Problem is how to enforce the rules you suggest.  If, as you suggest, these violations can be made undetectable by the judges, then the only way to prevent them from occurring is to remove all electronics.

Did anyone in DCI know just how big a box Pandora would bring to this party when they invited her?

Quote

Personally, I have no issue with amplification and electronics per se as long as they are within well-defined boundaries.  If DCI was an exhibition-only organization, then have at it. Do whatever you want.

However, since this is a competition, then I feel there should be some boundaries to maintain credibility and integrity with the adjudication, and it’s be up to the corps designers to be as creative as possible within those boundaries. It’s natural for someone with a corps to want to give their kids every competitive advantage….. but as technology progresses, shouldn’t the rules governing that technology also progress to allow the judges to compare apples to apples as much as humanly possible?

You would think so.  But the companies selling this technology seem to be more persuasive than that line of logic.

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luv4corps    1,024
9 hours ago, BRASSO said:

 Wolfgang here stole all my entire thinking, and put it into his own words in a most creative fashion.... lol!. He might be the twin I never knew I had, as his thinking completely mirrors mine here in just about everything he just posted..... lol!

 

Me too.  

I have tried, in other A&E threads, to articulate some of OP's points in just a sentence or two and clearly failed.  

Bottom line:  there MUST be limits on A&E from a competitive standpoint for the integrity of the activity to be maintained.

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Jim Schehr    856

If there is any common ground many can agree on, is the use of amplification and electronics requires defined boundaries. 

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garfield    4,765
2 hours ago, cixelsyd said:

You ask good questions at 1 am.

IMO, the proper amplification choice for 60-80 brass on a football field is "none".  The problem you get into with this is once you start using the phrase "proper use of amplification", there is an implied presumption that the artificial amplification is proper.  I disagree.  Even Les Stentors amplifying their six horns was improper.  Maybe if they had a full 9/5/5/5 battery and 14 pit to balance with, there would be more of a point to it.  But this corps only had 16 musicians total.  Is that what we want - amplification so that 16 can be as loud as 110 just by turning the dial farther clockwise?

Precisely.  There, again, is what now appears to me as a catch-22.  We complain how A&E done badly seems to have no impact on scores.  But one of the only ways DCI remains "drum corps" is because only brass and percussion count toward earning credit in their respective performance captions.  The irony of insisting singers and electronic woodwinds be judged in performance captions is that it would deconstruct the only remaining incentive for drum corps to remain a brass/percussion-centric artform.

I agree (and also suspect that most, maybe all, DCI music judges already have this training).

No.  Use 70 marimbas if you want to hear them over 70 brass.  Why was every other instrument in drum corps, regardless of cost, subject to common sense balance-by-numbers, while the marimba had this strange exemption from it all that forced us to adopt electronic amplification at even greater expense than any instrument?

This problem will never be fixed unless the judges get out of the press box, sit where the rest of us sit, and experience the imbalances the rest of us suffer through.  

Plus, again, there is that catch-22 about judging the "performance" aspect of amplification - additionally complicated by the fact that the "performer" is an adult sound board operator, not a corps member.  If we are going to have sound board operators making over a hundred changes to the mix during a single performance, as they do nowadays, why not return to the DCI educational mission and make the sound board operator a member of the corps?

This is where even George Hopkins is saying we have gone too far.  Hopefully, that indicates there will be action taken to address this issue.

Problem is how to enforce the rules you suggest.  If, as you suggest, these violations can be made undetectable by the judges, then the only way to prevent them from occurring is to remove all electronics.

Did anyone in DCI know just how big a box Pandora would bring to this party when they invited her?

You would think so.  But the companies selling this technology seem to be more persuasive than that line of logic.

I can guarantee that, if there were a way to judge whether the show is presented equally across the whole stands, and points were added for performing to the whole audience instead of just the box, the entire issue of Amp balance would fix itself in one season.

 

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Ediker    245

Thank you, @wolfgang, for sharing your thoughts, and thank you everyone else for chiming in.  This is a very important conversation about our beloved activity.  I believe GH expressed in one of his live feeds that the bureaucracy surrounding rule changes would not be able to make changes, evident on the field, until the 2019 season.  Keeping the pressure on the decision makers will be important if we must tough it through another season of this electronic rubbish.  We should all have pins and T-shirts made expressing our concerns... for example "Goo" with a cross through it.  Until real change has a chance to happen, it will be good to have clarity on exactly what we want to happen.  @wolfgang's thoughts are a terrific start.  It would be a worthy task for us to keep the proposed changes organized and accessible.  Change can happen.  We just need to be clear about the changes, for two more seasons, and keep the general awareness levels high.  

Edited by Ediker
corrected an inaccuracy

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