Andrew Ostler: Drone Ranger

The founder of music tech company Expert Sleepers, Edinburgh’s Andrew Ostler also employs modular synths in his deeply immersive ambient/drone soundscapes

Even a casual follower of modular synths should be familiar with Expert Sleepers. Andrew Ostler’s company is symbolic of the Eurorack boom that took place in the 2010s, helping modular out of the purist analogue realm and into the hybridised format users might take for granted today.

Having formed a modular habit around the time he was coding his own Virtual Studio Technology, Ostler took the initiative to try to bridge the gap between outboard analogue equipment and in-the-box software, opening up possibilities with his lauded Silent Way programme and the Eurorack audio interfaces he was manufacturing.

Ostler’s electronic music journey began with synths at school in the mid-1980s and followed through the natural arc of home-studio tinkering in the 1990s, to the inevitable sell-off of now-valuable gear as computer-based production rose to prominence. His long-standing Darkroom partnership with Michael Bearpark followed, until around 2008 when he reconnected with the iconic Roland Juno-6 and rediscovered the joy of analogue synthesis. And it wasn’t very long before his attention turned to the possibilities that modular offered.

“It started because I was wanting to get back into that analogue synthesis area I’d abandoned when I was working in the box,” Ostler explains. “Getting some pure analogue tones going on and in a slightly more creative way than any kind of fixed architecture synth would allow. I certainly had no intention of building any of the stuff myself at the time.”

Spurred on by his ideas about joining the dots between computer-based production and modular synthesis, Ostler grew Expert Sleepers via his own creative problem-solving, and feedback from the online modular community. He might have been driving the integration of digital possibilities into decades-old music tech, but his personal tastes remained positively traditional – something evident in the more recent back-to-basics Expert Sleepers modules as well as Ostler’s own music.

“I like old-school analogue synthesis,” Ostler reveals. “If I could endlessly remake Tangerine Dream’s ‘Rubycon’, I’d be happy. Big swirly drones and driving, sequenced polyrhythms of chunky analogue sounds is my formula for anything really.”

Ostler’s solo work is true to his passion for Berlin School ambient, and it’s come to light on the Expert Sleepers in-house label through releases such as 2022’s instructive ‘Four Drones For Saxophone And Modular Synthesizer’. Drone is a more recent creative pursuit of his – hence the La Monte Young-inspired Dream Machine firmware update in his multipurpose Disting EX module. The development of Expert Sleepers and Ostler’s own music run in tandem, which can be a blessing and a curse.

“Sometimes, the last thing I want to do after developing modules all day is go and make music with them,” he admits. “And also when I’m making music with modules, I might stumble across a bug or think, ‘Well, this would be great If I only had this one little extra feature’, and I’m back into a coding mentality.”

That said, between his commitments to Expert Sleepers and the usual demands of family life, Ostler’s music has been emerging at a steady rate in the past two years, and his deep immersion in modular continues to yield inspiration. Rather than grappling with conceptual ideas, his is a pursuit of sound and the possibilities of the technology.

“I tend to just go with my gut a lot of the time,” he says. “There’ve been some things that haven’t worked out, that I’d like to revisit. The album I just finished was intended to be a work of extreme minimalism, but it turns out I find it very hard not to take off into some epic arrangement.”

As long as those epic arrangements continue to be doused in rich, undulating Klaus Schulze-like synth sequences, Ostler’s taste for maximalism is absolutely fine by us.

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