Varied programme of original compositions

Eight performers playing an assortment of percussion instruments

Reviewed by: William Turner

Reviewed: 10 October, 2000
Venue: Apollo Theatre, Oxford

Psychologists tell us that at an early age we learn to identify objects and give them names. At a later stage we generalise to see what objects have in common and what differentiates them. We can then categorise. The question in relation to this theatrical experience is how to categorise Stomp? More particularly, the question might be what has it to do with classical music? This review will attempt to answer both questions.

Stomp was a group of eight performers who played an assortment of instruments, all percussive, while also moving in a highly choreographed way. The ’instruments’ were one of the surprising features of the show as they were, in reality, objets trouvees, everyday objects used in non-traditional ways. This was made evident in the opening piece that featured brooms being banged or brushed to produce different sounds. The joy of that piece could be found in the disciplined way in which the troupe played together with very varied rhythms. In the pieces that followed more objects were brought into play with amazing creativity and imagination – parts of the body, plungers, matchboxes, street signs, water coolers, rubber gloves and, not forgetting the Stomp trademark, dustbin lids.

Created in Brighton just under a decade ago, and with a decidedly transatlantic feel to it, the show has now been seen by over nine million people. Should Stomp be taken seriously? Well, the show is targeted at a young audience and there are jokes aplenty. But it would be churlish to dismiss it all as light entertainment. Perhaps an example may clarify this point. In music examinations, one has to hear a rhythm and then clap it in response. As part of the show the audience is encouraged to do just that but with far more complex rhythms than a grade exam. The audience successfully undertook, and enjoyed, its ’test’.

So if it succeeds no further, this show is an enlightening demonstration for young listeners allowing them to discover, in an entertaining way, the need for discipline in music and what a team working together can produce. It would be wrong to classify the show as solely percussive in terms of just striking objects. The piano is a percussion instrument but more widely considered as a producer of melody. One piece, played with hollow rubber tubes of various shapes and sizes, produced a very gentle, dreamy Ravel-like melodious creation.

Now this is well and good, but what relevance has it to classical music? That, of course, depends on how ’purist’ you are in defining classical. Stomp’s parts have ’an orderly nature’, have ’quality of clarity and balance’, are ’not light or popular’ – certainly using today’s definition of pop – and it has ’permanent rather than ephemeral value’. Stomp is not improvised but gives the impression of being created ’live’ – perhaps due to its dynamism – but it has all been very carefully choreographed and would be an absolute disaster if played with anything less than total precision.

When comparing the musical sounds with other genres, one might consider the obscurities of musique concrete – electronically-created music because of its inaccessibility to ’average’ audiences gains high status – Stomp by being popular is more likely to endure. Another contrast is with Pierre Boulez’s piece Le Marteau sans Maitre – but Stomp’s hammers plungers and other associated ephemera do distinctly have a master as demonstrated by their precision, when they successfully make sense out of sound.

So, what is Stomp? I have given you a description of what Stomp contains but for a definition, Stomp’s co-creator Luke Cresswell’s answer is “At the end of the day Stomp is what it is”. Stomp is strongly recommended to anyone looking for a different musical experience and is also a must for any child with an interest in music.

Walking down the street, with endless ’instruments’ lying around, need never be a monotonous experience, and domestic chores will always have the potential for a truly creative, musical experience!

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