Drum Corps International
Phantom Regiment's percussion goes to the birds

Phantom Regiment's percussion goes to the birds

by Michael Boo


Paul Rennick
A fascinating musical effect to hit the field this summer was the astounding echo-like sounds that waft over the field during the introduction of Phantom Regiment's "On Air" production. Many who hear the ethereal effect for the first time are startled by its haunting eeriness. After the corps' performance in Allentown, Pa., corps percussion arranger Paul Rennick agreed to explain how it works. Rennick teaches at the University of North Texas in Denton, along with composer Christopher Deane, who wrote the corps' opening piece, "Vespertine Formations." Originally, the work was composed as a quartet for marimbas, inspired by the spectacular formations of birds that are known for covering the campus trees as if in a Hitchcock movie. According to Rennick, "There are no tricks being done with amplification at that point. It's a pure acoustic effect and sounds exactly like that with no amplification at all. It's a harmonic compositional effect that creates the sound. I'm glad people like it and I'm glad we were able to make it work. I think it's one of the more unique things I've heard on the field."
For those who want more about how the effect is accomplished, Rennick said, "The compositional technique is that when the chords change, they overlap each other to give a strange sonic effect. It's really demanding for the players, probably one of the more difficult things we've done. We've got people cross-fading dynamics and rhythms at the same time. The rhythms that overlap and cross-fade do so at the same time. "It's probably the exact opposite of people playing one mallet line at the same dynamic level. Every mallet player is playing a different dynamic level with a different shaping with an interesting chord progression. It's difficult to get together and I'm proud of them."

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