Songwriter Mirek Coutigny released his brand new album Through Empty Landscapes and New Beginnings on February 10th via Icarus Records and Consouling Sounds. Inspired by the book Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, as well as our current realities, Coutigny approached the writing of this album with the open question of what kind of society would-be construct if the slate was wiped clean and we could design it to our liking?
Disconnect, division, and discord have almost become the bedrock of modern society, thanks to wars, pandemics, and other things of international significance. Despite these dissatisfying realities of modern society, they do provide favourable circumstances for a lot of artistic freedom to take effect.
The album is his answer or response, so to speak, to what type of society he would assemble. As you get through the record, you soon discover that his ideal world would be bound together by connection and resilience, with hope as the most essential feature. The album was a true group effort, brought together by Coutigny and his trusted and longtime bandmates, Jolien Deley, Jonathan Bonny, and Klaas Tomme.
Joining us today for a special track-by-track rundown of Through Empty Landscapes And New Beginnings is Coutigny himself, who runs down the origins and motivations behind all eleven songs. Find more info at: http://mirekcoutigny.com.
1. “Day 0”
Mirek Coutigny: “I wanted this record to start off very visual, very cinematic. The opening track throws you right away in a post-apocalyptic, dystopia wasteland. I’ve painstakingly created soundscapes with radio sounds to simulate the frenzy, right before it all falls away and deep synths and drums take over. A huge inspiration for the framework of this album was Tomorrow’s Harvest by Boards of Canada. That album really is a movie in sound, in the best possible way.”
2. “The Road”
“This track goes back the longest, and is the original idea that inspired the whole album. I’d written these chords already in 2016, and kept looking for the best structure and arrangement to get them in. This track also shows the huge importance of the other band members in creating this album. The beautiful cello and synth melodies you hear are based on an idea of our percussionist Jonathan Bonny, and are the result of a real group effort in the studio perfecting them.”
3. “No More”
“This track actually started off from the atmosphere in the middle part of the track. Through a fortunate series of events, a synth arpeggio that was in the background in that middle part got sent through heaps of distortion. Right away, it was clear that this had to be the opening hook for this song. I love the boldness in here. All musicians added a lot of improvisation, from flutes, to guitars, to drums. In the end, it was just a matter of organizing their efforts, and making the track feel exciting.”
4. “Abandoned Houses”
“In the process of making this album, I actually made a lot of small interludes like this one. A lot of them didn’t make the cut, but this one always remained. It acts as a little refresher for the ears, before all that comes next. It doesn’t have a lot of musical information, just the one arpeggio, and a lot of small percussive sounds. You hear ping pong balls being thrown into a piano and on steel drums, brushes on the strings of the piano… In the background, there’s the very small sound of a grandfather clock ticking, suggesting a non-ransacked house in this post-apocalyptic world.”
5. “We Want To Be Remembered”
“This song was inspired by a line in Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven, talking about how at first, we just want to be seen, but later that’s not enough. We want to be remembered. It’s a very personal song, about how I would feel as a composer, a creative person, in this dystopia. It’s about leaving something behind in this world. My producer, Klaas Tomme, suggested keeping the song mostly acoustic, as a lighter touch to the album. I worked really hard on the string quartet arrangement for this song, trying to capture some of the craftsmanship feel of composing in this album.”
6. “What Was Lost”
“I always knew I wanted to include vocals on this album and had been working together with my girlfriend Ella Vermeir on crafting them. The delicate thing was how to introduce them after four years of releasing instrumental music. That’s why I wrote this track. It doesn’t really have a traditional song structure, instead just emerging from a repetitive loop into a climax. The vocals get blended in bit by bit, merging with vocals by the other band members. It takes inspiration from certain M83 songs, with its very simple vocal lines, spacey synths, and big-sounding drums.”
7. “Snow Continued To Fall”
“Side B of the vinyl. I wanted this to feel a little bit as a reintroduction, a more gentle but also sadder version of ‘Day 0.’ It features the same cello melody, the same radio sounds, but now it gets surrounded by piano’s and string quartet. There’s small sounds of snow and rain falling, as I wanted to create this image of a ghost town in snow. The glockenspiel, vibraphone, and music boxes all blend to create a very fragile melody at the end.”
8. “Survival Is Insufficient”
“This track is a big one, bursting with energy. What I love about it is that it’s unapologetically big, not ashamed to have the over-the-top guitar solo, screaming vocals, and stomping feet. It got that feeling in the first studio sessions I had with my musicians after the lockdown. There was an insane amount of happiness and energy in these sessions that really reflect on this song.
“There are videos of the whole band stomping like mad people in the studio, a take that is in this song. In that way, it’s also a reflection of the track’s title, again taking from the wonderful Station Eleven novel. ‘Survival is Insufficient,’ and the COVID pandemic showed us how much we need art and music in our lives.”
9. “We Were Never Meant For This”
“A darker, more introspective track to finish the story of this album. It felt like the end of a movie, and I really love this song. It features the same chords as ‘The Road,’ the same chords that started this whole journey for me. All musicians and even all synthesizers went out of their way to give me really emotional performances here. The main synth sound is a modular synth patch that since then I’ve never been able to recreate. It feels like it got a life of its own on that particular day.”
10. “New World”
“I’m a big sucker for the end credit songs for movies of my childhood. These over-the-top, epic, closing songs to movies like Gladiator or Oblivion, that used the themes of the soundtracks in a pop way, always were my guilty pleasure. That’s the philosophy behind this track: the album actually finished with the previous track, this is the end credits song that sends you home smiling. There’s a stellar vocal performance from Ella Vermeir on this track, that also beautifully intertwines with a cello melody from the second half of the song on. It feels a bit like a duet between the title character of my instrumental world, and this new title character from the vocal part of this album.”
“The last part of this song was always there, a sort of coda to the epic song, going a little more intimate again. But we felt that there was something missing from this second half of the album, something more pure and instrumental. We decided to improvise with the band in the studio, around the themes of the album we just recorded. We did just two takes, and what you’re hearing is take two in its entirety. It felt perfect from the moment we recorded it, and it shows what a wonderful journey the making of this album has been.”