Et Sans seems like such a harmless name for an experimental band, particularly one with associations to other experimental heavyweights, such as Godspeed You! Black Emporer and Shalabi Effect. It is French, for “And Without”. Seems innocuous enough, yes? Yet it is only when you get into the similarities a spoken “Et Sans” shares with the French “essence”, which simultaneously means “gas” and, predictably, “essence”, that we start to see what this pseudo-supergroup is all about. It is in an amalgamation of all of these translations that we can find the essence of Et Sans—a flammable, spiritual experience that is as much about what it lacks as what it contains.
(Disclaimer: All translations are done via transcriptions of liner notes that are literally scrawled with no hints toward the spacing between words, combined with my own menial knowledge of the French language and Babelfish. I apologize for any inaccuracies in the result.)
The album is called Par Noussss Touss les Trous de Vos Crânes, which means something along the lines of “Allll of the holes in your craniums are by usssss”. Despite that particular translation’s evocation of the “All your base are belong to us” phenomenon, the imagery suggested by such a title is vivid and violent, suggestive of a corporeal attack from an alien collective. Even so, the first image that comes to my mind in reading that translation is that of the protagonist of Darren Aronofsky’s film Pi—a man who ultimately relieves himself of the pain of genius via a self-administered lobotomy by power drill. It’s a violent image that could ultimately be a life-changing release of pressure.
Now, it would be easy to approach the art of Et Sans with a jaded eye, to say that they produce noise, usually dissonant, sometimes harsh, yet often vaguely soothing, but with no artistic ideal in mind; music for the sake of music, as it were. One could dismiss Et Sans as the proverbial gaggle of monkeys who just made a pile of noises and kept the ones that happened to sound like music. Such dismissals would be short-sighted, however, as the expressive voice that Et Sans manages to employ is a rare and beautiful treasure in the world of experimental electronics. The manner in which the band wields such a treasure is not always effective and sometimes downright silly, but the end result is one of those often wonderful, uniformly interesting albums that the general listening public will (understandably) want nothing to do with.
The album begins on a spacey, sparse note with “La Chose Nue Nue Nue du L’Amoncellement Spectral du Mal”, which translates roughly to “The Naked Naked Naked Thing of the Spectral Accumulation of Evil”, a song whose execution is far gentler and more subtle than the Satan-in-a-strip-club innuendos of the title might suggest. It employs a sparse beat and distant, heavily manipulated vocals over washes of sounds and the occasional sudden shriek to set a brooding, suspenseful tone for the album. The suspense quickly dies, however, as “Une Bouche Végétale, de Créatures Soufflent des Sécrétions du Tout Foutle Camp” (something about “A Vegetable Mouth” and creatures blowing secretions) provides nearly 19 minutes of noisy catharsis with a steady bass beat. Among the instruments being abused are synths, violins, and tambourines, but mostly, it’s a wash of noise. Even so, the noise itself is so human as to be endearing in its explosive nature—this is noise that breathes, noise that seems to realize when it’s winding down, only to push whatever boundaries it is breaking even further past its preconceived horizons.
Et Sans has played shows with Wolf Eyes in the past, and it’s easy to see how the two bands could intermingle when Et Sans is in a noisy enough mood for something like this.
“Mademoiselle Ogive un Tremblement Osseux dans le Derrière” (roughly “Miss Ogive’s Osseous Tremor in the Behind”) contrasts the explicit sexuality of its title with something that sounds like the fall-down drunk cousin of Moby’s ambient work. Pulsing pianos and string work that starts lovely but eventually revels in its own oddity accompanies whispered male and female vocals, to interesting (if not particularly engaging) result. The disc ends with the ill-advised dance maneuvering of “Les Courbes Sanglantes Entendues de L’Organe Trop Vraiment Halluciné” (“The Audible Bloody Curves of the Body Too Truly Hallucinated”), complete with rhythmic vocal non-words and lots of twinkly synth noises that somehow manage to sound sinister even in their levity.
Having never heard Et Sans’ proper debut for Locust Records, I can’t say whether Par Noussss… represents an evolution in their sound. What I can say, however, is that in this album, they have carved out a slice of fascinating, noisy, downright odd music. This is the best kind of experimental music, the kind that, even while explicitly saying nothing, inspires curiosity in its listener, the kind of curiosity that rewards research and deep listening. So, you may ask, what exactly is it that Et Sans is lacks, as per its name? Et Sans does without proper words, identifiable instruments (to a large extent), and clearly defined musical progression. Et Sans also does without boundaries—and that, dans une coquille de noix, is what makes this album so rewarding.