Various Artists: 20 Ways to Float Through Walls

Heather Snell

From the left, from the right, from the bottom up, or the top to the bottom: anything goes on this full-bodied compilation, which presents a diversity of sounds from at least 15 different countries.

Various Artists

20 Ways to Float Through Walls

Label: Crammed Discs
US Release Date: 2007-02-20
UK Release Date: 2007-03-26
What if there were, lodged within the heart of the law itself, a law of impurity or a principle of contamination? And suppose the condition for the possibility of the law were the a priori of a counter-law, an axiom of impossibility that would confound its sense, order and reason?

-- Jacques Derrida, "The Law of Genre"

If 20 Ways to Float Through Walls feels like a haunting, it’s because the music seems to come from everywhere. From the left, from the right, from the bottom up, or the top to the bottom: anything goes on this full-bodied compilation, which presents a diversity of sounds from at least fifteen different countries.

But this is no world music CD, at least according to the label. The Crammed Discs All-Stars refuse to confine their current roster to one, potentially homogeneous category. Instead, compiler Marc Hollander emphasizes the importance of multiple affiliation: The artists featured on the compilation may come from at least fifteen different countries, but they also sing in at least ten different languages. That is, their identities are fundamentally plural as a result of the increasing permeability of borders. In the age of globalization, identity formations necessarily exceed their proscribed categories.

Making good on this plurality, the compilation is at once subdued and snappy. In other words, the listener cannot help but inhabit as many moods as the CD does musical genres. Apollo Nove's "Traz Um Alivio", for example, makes one want to sit down and space out. In contrast, DJ Dolore's "De dar do" invites one to get up and dance while keeping one's finger on the "repeat" button. Indeed, along with “Usti, Usti Baba” Dolore's is probably one of the most intriguing tracks on the disc, mixing as it does traditional Brazilian instrumentation with modern dub and electronica. Like Apollo Nevo, DJ Dolores hails from Brazil where he regularly scoffs at the establishment by integrating the sounds of the streets into his music. As with many of the artists featured on the disc, including Tartit, Hugo, and Snooze among others, his ghosting is culturally and politically meaningful. There is little to no capitulation to the mainstream here: 20 Ways to Float Through Walls eschews purity in favour of contamination.

Take Flat Earth Society's "Psychoscout", which boldly defies the law of genre. Is it jazz? Or is it something else? With its alternately ascending and descending notes, not to mention the horns, the track not only takes the listener on yet another varied, emotional journey, but it also sounds like something one would hear at the beginning of an old TV show. The picture that comes to mind is that of the title credits to, say, a suspense thriller from the 1960s or the 1970s. This is counter-law at its best, an axiom of impossibility that confounds the very sense of genre. Nowhere else on the disc is the category of "world music" more gloriously befuddled.

Featured on the disc's 19th track, Konono Nº1 is just as ambiguous in terms of where the music belongs categorically and suggests, like the compilation as a whole, that any genre is always already subject to the impurities stirred up by transculturation. In "T.P. Couleur Café", the likembé, a thumb piano from the Congo, dances rhythmically with rudimentary instruments such as pots, pans and car parts to create a soundscape peculiarly African yet strangely reminiscent of populist musical traditions elsewhere. Near the end of the track one is reminded especially of the kinds of dub and electronica that circulate globally. It should come as no surprise that Konono Nº1 and the rest of the artists selected for this exciting compilation have forged an international audience for themselves with their innovative use of both traditional and unorthodox means of music-making.

So where does 20 Ways' brand of music fit as a whole? The point is precisely that it doesn't fit anywhere. The compilation suggests that, while the borders between places and genres can often be rigid, the right kind of artist can float right through them. Reflecting the title of the compilation, the artists it features exercise fluidity and flexibility in their compositions, acceding to a fine selection of tracks that overlap despite their disparate characters. In this sense the compilation also reflects the label's name: things are crammed here so tightly that one track seems to blend into another. At any rate, there are more than 20 ways to float through walls featured on this disc, which should prove an exciting listen for those who refuse to organize their CDs generically.


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