Markus Guentner
In Moll






This is Markus Guentner‘s debut album, released on every Ambient lover‘s favorite label that fulfills the need for melodious, synth-wadded, genre defining Pop Ambient: Kompakt from Cologne. It was released shortly after the first entry of the Pop Ambient series and was Kompakt‘s first real Ambient album created by one artist. As such, it can be considered a milestone release, because the formula of the style presented here has since then become a typical trademark of Kompakt: multilayered, thick, incredibly warm Ambient music with occassional beats – Guentner releases dancefloor tracks as well –, oscillating between blissful contentment and slightly darker, moody territories. Although the album title In Moll suggests more of the latter, Guentner actually balances the major and minor (meaning Moll in German) moods, with 3 out of 7 tracks being bright tracks, another 3 being melancholic tracks and the remaining track shuttling between the moods. Every track is fantastically composed, there is no bland entr'acte to be found. This album was never officially considered a benchmark for other Ambient musicians on Kompakt, nor was it an orientation marker, and yet I get the highly subjective feeling that a few musicians could have been used the album for doing just that. All of In Moll‘s tracks are untitled, another habit that has been ingested and put into a traditional practice in other Kompakt releases. On an interesting side note: this is another 100% electronic album. The occasional piano notes could be of real origin, I‘m not skilled enough to know for sure, but everything else is beautifully artificial and unreal. 


The 8:30 minutes long Track #1 starts things brightly and gorgeously mellow, with the formulaic fade-in of bright synth strings, tripping sprinkles of glistening notes and a repeated synth burst that functions as a rhythmic device. Shortly thereafter, gentle hints of a quiet percussion are audible, and it is after about 3 and a half minutes that a dubby bass drum is entering and electronic cymbals grow louder. Guentner is capable of producing an attractive hybrid of an Ambient track with added dancefloor ingredients; and yet, it doesn‘t sound like a dance track and won‘t work in a high-energy DJ set. This is especially remarkable since the bass drum is later tripled to three beats per second, and yet the song remains bright, maintains its warmth and upholds the ambience. Track #2 is an arcanely melancholic track with dark droning synths, an additional layer of a one-note synth. A new layer is introduced after about 70 seconds, and it‘s a similarly bright synth burst as the one featured in Track #1, its effect being more precarious in the dark surroundings. Later, reverberated splutters are added, resembling lightning flashes that add a wideness to the track, as their high-pitched echo is contrastive to the dark synths and thus easily traceable in the whole mix. While this track is quite a bit darker, it is by no means eerie or cold, but on the contrary surprisingly warm. Track #3 is Guentner‘s darkest, eeriest, most echoey offering with entire cargos of remarkably heavy synth washes thrown in the direction of the listener. The introduced bassline is pumping deeply and remains on the forefront most of the time, while several synth pads twirl and teem in the background. A pompously effective track due to the change of the former low-profile bassdrum which is now on the forefront while the synths clang in the back. A further interesting observation consists of the bassdrum being dry and plain while the synth elements are echoey and distant. These anticlimaxes work flawlessly, making Track #3 an awe-inspiring Ambient Dub track. Highly recommended for the change in formula alone.


Track #4 evokes the feeling of loneliness and peace; a quiet, melancholic melody is played, with lots of spaces in-between that are later filled by additional, similarly matutinal synth strings and drone sounds. Slight crackles integrate the organic feeling of vinyl into the mix. Also noteworthy are the sizzling synth sounds that are pitched up and down every so often, creating a stir and a change in mood together with the darker synth strings. The formerly melancholic mood is toned down due to the darker, louder elements. Track #5 is a beautifully soothing track with flittering bells, reverberated synth pads and shimmering notes, offering thick sound sculptures with added vibrating synth flashes. This is yet another warm track. Track #6 is probably the most beautiful track on the album, coupling a wonderful piano melody with bright synth strings. The piano is the melancholic element, the strings are brighter. I can see the appeal of this track to the crowds who prefer their Ambient music more natural sounding or for listeners of contemporary classic tracks in the vein of Jóhann Jóhannsson or Sylvain Chauveau. A song for evenings. The final Track #7 is 16+ minutes long and wanders between the different moods. In genre-defining terms, this is the most Ambient track on In Moll, with slow changes over a long timeframe. It starts with quavering, monotonous synths strings that are quite muffled and drone-like. After almost 3 minutes, quiet percussive elements like drums and crackles are added, possibly a nod to the then highly popular Clicks & Cuts or Microhouse genre that rose and prospered between 2000-2004. More and more hisses and crackles are added next to a bass drum so that this comparison isn‘t too far off. After 10 long minutes two-note synth strings are introduced, shifting the subliminally excited mood to the well-known melancholic one. Track #7 ends with the repetition of these strings and fades out for good after the album's runtime of 71 minutes.


In Moll is easily accessible Ambient music that still shines for me after dozens of dozens of listening sessions. It is recommended to every Ambient listener on this planet, even more so since Markus Guentner shifts between major scale and minor tracks and moods. However, if you detest music that is made solely of synthesizers and their various sound effects, this album is probably not for you. In this case, the piano-focused Track #6 could warm your heart. In Moll stands the test of time in the fast moving electronic and Ambient scene. Guentner cofounded the typical Kompakt Pop Ambient sound with his debut album and showed that a whole album of skillfully produced Ambient tracks does indeed work and can pave the way for future releases on an otherwise club-friendly label. Recommended for winter evenings when the melancholic strings coalesce with chilled winter landscapes, but I tend to listen to this album on several occasions, regardless of the climatic conditions. A very important Ambient album that remains as beautiful today as it was back then. 



Further reading:

You can listen to Markus Guentner's album in full at the In Moll entry.




Ambient Review 024: Markus Guentner – In Moll (2001). Originally published on Jan. 18, 2012 at