2016 DCI World Championship Finals - 8/13/2016


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First of all, congrats to the Bluecoats on the win. Any of the top three could have won and gotten little argument from me. The following observations are just that, observations.

I sat top row 141 nearest the 50 for prelims, then upstairs in 440 for semis, and finally row 8 of 140 near the 50 for finals. Lucas is an odd place, with only a small swath of the stadium offering what I would consider decent acoustics. Bluecoats did a few things that improved the volume and fidelity for a greater part of the crowd. Most groups used 2-5 speaker stations, usually in a "stereo" setup. As is typical in the activity, the focal point and source area of the sound revolves around the 50 yard line "front and center" area, and sound is/was directed toward the judges in a central area of the stands. As we all know, the "goo" factor is high at LOS. Sitting in the 400s, you hear the attacks and everything immediately dissolves into what I refer to as a "soup" that lingers and obliterates any clarity to the music.

Bloo carted 13 separate speaker stations onto the field, along with what had to be at least two dozen mic's. These were spread almost the entire width of the front sideline, as well as over the greater part of the field. This allowed them to bring a mixed/processed sound to a very wide focal area of the stadium, and also helped add a "3D" quality to the sound. Sadly, I didn't have a chance to hear Coats' horn line absent the speakers and processing, but as usual I'm sure they are/were a top drawer quality unit. From what I could hear, the percussion was probably the best line they've ever had. So from a music standpoint, they had it all "going on".

What really struck me, sitting in the low vantage at finals, was how much boost on the overall music sound (which was very good, don't get me wrong) they received from the speakers. I'd estimate conservatively that at least 50% above and beyond the acoustic contribution of the field brass and percussion. There were two points in their show where "the curtain" came down a bit, and the ensemble was playing without the backing of mic's or backing soloists. It was sort of jarring to hear the vast difference in volume, sound quality and simple impact. Well played for sure by the kids on the field, but wow. Such a difference.

Bloo was a clear winner of the "tech" category this season. I've seen this realm develop over the past few years, and Coats have been at the forefront of this movement. They're playing in a sandbox that nobody is in yet. At first, it was nice to have amplified pit instruments, subwoofers, then soloists, synthesizers and other acoustic instruments you'd never find on the field. Coats have jumped field electronics into the "sound design" era, in which you mic and process as much of the ensemble as possible. You design and deploy speakers to achieve effects and widen the focal point to include most, if not the entire crowd. This allows greater control over the ensemble sound, at the touch of a button or turn of a dial. It also opens up possibilities via ear monitors for the pit, processed/sampled/looped music, and much more. It's really a game changer, but I have to wonder if this is 1) where the activity should be headed, and 2) whether this "arms race" is going to prove to be so technical and expensive for many corps, that it ends up being a huge financial challenge.

I really struggle with those questions. The musician side of me digs the possibilities, the judge in me has to wonder if what I hear is really what I think I'm hearing, and the operations guy in me fears that the expense and technical know-how might be a bankrupting factor for some groups. I would hope (though I'm not holding my breath) that DCI will have the speaker/tech situation at the top of the agenda in their winter meetings. Hard decisions, both musical and financial, need to be made. I see too many corps struggling to keep their heads above water, dealing with rising travel costs and the ever-increasing cost of props, costuming, huge pit arrays and now this explosion of sound equipment. Are we returning to an era where only the best-off corps will be able to keep up with the competitive "needs" financially, while others struggle or die?

My feelings? No speakers on the field itself. Limits on the number that you can use. No in-ear monitors allowed. I'm all for creativity, but those without a budget (or at least the means to do anything they want) might drive those with limited resources off a cliff trying to keep up. Love to hear drums and bugles, but we're rapidly speeding toward a situation where what you hear scantly reflects what is on the field. I fear the death of things such as ensemble control, learning to listen and balance, dynamics and the natural resonance of brass and percussion instruments. It's much easier to turn a dial than to fix it "the old fashioned way", in many cases. The era of amplification, bass reinforcement, processed sound, sampling, and "designed sound" (requiring the employment of experts in the field) is in full force. Now it's up to DCI to rein things in a bit.

Fwiw, I would be for a no speakers rule, but I think every corps should have the open of using in ear amps, and in fact if I were at DCI I would get someone to donate all the equipment for title sponsorship of the tour. Easiest sales job on planet earth.

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I'm trying to type things, but I can't. My head hurts. What an AMAZING evening. Congrats to everyone, from Bluecoats on their first championship, to Blue Devils on your amazing professionalism and

Going to my first Finals ever today with my girl! Leaving at about 11... Excited to get my first taste of Shapiro's. :D Thanks DCP for teaching me so much and feeding my enthusiasm about drum corps.

I don't have a baby so I tossed my cat across the room instead.

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