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Bluecoats Color Guard Performs At WGI World Championships With RCF

Ohio group delivers choreographed presentations of art, dance, theater, and music from platforms equipped with HDL20-A and HDL6-A arrays.

By PSW Staff May 14, 2018

The four rolling platforms and portable system used by the Bluecoats for choreographed performances.

First, dispel the notion you have of the color guard you remember accompanying the local high school band at halftime of the football game. These are fully choreographed arena presentations. A fusion of art, dance, theater and music; modern-day color guard performances are complete theatrical presentations. Fully choreographed and costumed with rifles, flags, batons, and sabers flying in the air.

More than 1000 Guard from around the world converged on Ohio in mid-April for the 2018 WGI (Winter Guard International) World Championships. Each is given 17 minutes to stage and complete a 10-minute performance.

One corps, the Bluecoats Indoor, brought a new sonic dimension this year to color guard presentations with the integration of audio into their performance set design, powered by loudspeakers from RCF.

First, the evolution of the Bluecoats audio for the drum corps.

In 2016, the Bluecoats ushered in an era of change to drum corps activity, a sister activity to WGI, shedding the militaristic sense of style and audio. The corps hit the field in an all-white with a more theatrical look integrating movable slides while they performed. Then they added multiple stacks of sound to help integrate the visual with the audio. These innovative additions led them to the Gold Medal at the DCI (Drum Corps International) World Championships in 2016. The very next year the activity followed suit in both audio and the theatrical design.

Now in 2018, the Bluecoats are once again bringing change to the format of color guard with the dynamic they have added to the color guard performance with incorporating audio into the performance program bringing a new concept to the competition.

“This is an incredibly inspiring and exciting time for the Bluecoats,” says Bluecoats tour administrator Chris Drake. “Renowned for their outdoor corps, this is the debut for the Bluecoats Indoor color guard.”

It was artistic director Jon Vanderkolff who brought the new image to the drum and bugle corps while now extending his creativity to the WGI activity. As Vanderkolff holds an Emmy Award and a Tony Award for his visual design of the Broadway show Blast!, he sought to bring a theatrical presence to the Bluecoats performances. His involvement with the Bluecoats dates back to 2013. While the drum line was one of the premier corps musically, Vanderkolff brought a new level of creativity the group had never seen. And he’s now done that with the Bluecoats Indoor.

“We wanted to do something where the sound, staging and choreography are all in sync,” says Vanderkolff. “As our performances are generally in arenas, we took the theater-in-the-round concept and looked for a way to integrate the system allowing for the ability to pan, zone and direct sound toward the audience.”

The concept stems from creative ideas injected by former drum corps member Aaron Beck. Beck, currently head of audio for Michael Jackson One at Mandalay Bay and audio designer for Bluecoats and others, has been integral in the evolution of the Bluecoats which dates back to 2015. He watched as drum corps were adding electronics to their performances, but felt those systems were very lacking from a quality standpoint. Beck led the Bluecoats to become the first corps to actually bring the professional audio sound system to the marching arts. An evolutionary step in the creation of a concept used in all of DCI today.

With their professional backgrounds of performance art in the theater environment, Vanderkolff and Beck knew there was going to be a need to take their sound reinforcement equipment to the next level.

In steps Brian Belcher. A touring veteran, Belcher was working as a sales engineer with Roland, and discussions began about upgrading their audio. First, the integration of a Roland M-5000 mixing console that enabled the ability to upgrade audio output and create opportunities for discreet audio separation while performing.

Then the loudspeakers. Belcher was familiar with the RCF HDL family of line array products from a tour he worked on with George Thorogood.

“The size, output and power of the RCF products made them a perfect solution,” says Belcher.

For the Bluecoats drum and bugle corps, he first designed a portable system stacking RCF HDL20-A line array cabinets on a custom cart with a SUB8004-AS subwoofer. “The HDL20’s provide even coverage with portability with minimal power consumption,” notes Belcher commenting on the extended reach and higher output the system offers. They’ve since added a system with HDL6-A for smaller format needs.

Now it was time to bring the Bluecoats indoor. The design for their 2018 included four rolling platforms as part of the choreographed performance. With a soundtrack embodying the music of the band Propellerhead, the program incorporated a modern twist on music, costuming and set design from the Mod era.

“We are the only corps that uses a point source front amplification setup to try and create a natural sound across for the audience,” says Beck. Most groups just take the left/right approach. We used seven matrix outputs to feed the system,” allowing for various panning and surround sound effects based on positioning of the platforms.

Integrated into each platform were three RCF HDL6-A small format line array cabinets which provided the ability to create the special effects and focus specific sound on the guard performers on each platform.

“We are really the only corps that uses field speakers for effects and amplification,” says Beck. “This allows us to have the sound match the location performer.” While having the HDL6-A’s mobile in the four moving carts, there were also three static stacks of HDL20-A’s in the rear for a total of seven discreet audio feeds.

This design for the Bluecoats Indoor created two hurdles to overcome – how to transmit the sound and how to power the loudspeaker system to four rolling platforms that were part of the performance.

“Finding the lithium batteries was definitely a big key,” says Beck. Beck found a solution in the Goal Zero Yeti 1000 lithium portable power station that was mounted on each of the movable platforms. And for sound transmission, they integrated a Shure PSM-300 personal monitor wireless system.

The system takes the Bluecoats entire organization to a more professional level. “Their performance is so unique, so entertaining,” says Beck. “The level of achievement the Bluecoats Indoor has reached in their first year is astounding, and strengthens the overall brand of the Bluecoats organization.”

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