Steve Howell – A Book of Condolences

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It is with a heavy heart and with much sorrow that I have to report the passing of an incredibly dear friend of mine, and of this blog, Steve Howell. Steve was the quiet man behind Hollow Sun, a site that was initially all about sharing his incredible samples of classic synths for free and that eventually turned into a brand synonymous with quality instruments and sample libraries.

Steve was one of the industry’s good guys. From lugging around Tony Banks’ Mellotron when Genesis were but a mere sparkle in prog rock’s eye, to working with Peter Gabriel on his Passion album, from teaching at the Gateway School of Music & Recording Technology to designing sounds and user interfaces for some of Akai’s most important and influential samplers, from helping users around the world to make the most of their instruments to helping the likes of Holly Johnson make his debut solo album, Steve’s impact in the industry is not only considerable but long lasting and deeply appreciated by many.

It is because of this that I wanted to open this book of condolence so that our community could share their thoughts and sympathies and so that his dear wife and amazing daughter could see what he meant to us all and how he helped us make music, something his daughter does so well herself now. Steve was so incredibly proud of her and considered her to be his greatest musical achievement by far.

Please leave your thoughts here in the comments below. Once I have come to terms with this terrible news, I will put my thoughts and feelings into words and tell you all about a man I met quite by chance many years ago, who became a dear friend, colleague and inspired me to do many things, including this very blog.

Farewell Steve, my fellow curmudgeon…

Stephen Howell and the Subharchord from Ina Pillat on Vimeo.

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comments so far
  • EvilDragon says:

    Steve was my business partner/employer, but most of all a great, great friend. I am shocked beyond words and very sad of his departure.

    He will be very missed.

  • Andrew says:

    How many years has it been? Ten, twelve? I now sit here and go back over the old emails, the PMs and think of the banter. He even sent me an email, after hearing that a tree had fallen on my new workshop.

    He always was keen to mention his talented daughter – some apple and tree thing going on there!

    Goodbye old friend.

    Andrew.

  • I had the pleasure of knowing Steve for a couple of years, a short time compared to many others, but it was long enough to call him friend. Our lengthy e-mail conversations often put the world to rights, poured scorn on those of nefarious practices and we shared general observations about life, the Universe and sampling, and often attached was the latest Hollow Sun product, such was his generosity. I enjoyed a very memorable couple of days at his HQ in Wales where he and I talked non-stop through the night, took photos (the Magritte homage included) and tested out a couple of “work in progress” items that became the Hollow Sun Alien Devices we now know as “Pulstar” and “Sounds of the Universe”.

    To me, Steve Howell was the finest, warmest, generous, kind-hearted, intelligent, bonkers-mad, sweary, loud, funny, insightful, clever, musical and courteous example of a Welsh gentleman living in a 400 year old abode with his synthesizers, computer, pipe and Fedora hat that any man, woman or alien lifeform could ever wish to meet. He ALWAYS spoke with great fondness and animation of his daughter, of whom he was so incredibly proud, to the point of bursting I often felt. You felt that every one of her achievements were his own and his love and support for her knew no limit. He was inspirational with his words when my partner recently went through a few difficult months as she battled and defeated cancer. His e-mails would pop up in my Inbox and the first words were always about Anne, asking how she was doing, followed by a fantastic story/observation/profound thought – he brought a smile or a grin and a measure of hope with every word. A fabulous human being of immense character who will be missed muchly. I just hope that wherever he is now, they’re ready for him!!!

  • Gaz says:

    My goodness what a terrible shock. Steve was an amazing man with an incredible vision. He is truly a legend of music technology and will be greatly missed. We became great friends over the past few years and I will miss him hugely. Respect and condolences to his family and friends x

  • Marc Doty says:

    This is extremely sad news.
    I interacted with Steve only a few times, but he was a talented, interesting, and nice guy.
    I am honored that his great effort with my former Novachord brought the Novachord to the world.
    Thank you, Steve, for all of your work.

  • Micky Dodds says:

    I was introduced to Steve by Rob in 2008. He commissioned the two of us as “Page-R” to create some demo tunes for his Nebulae and Novachord sound sets. It was a privilege and an honour to chat to Steve a couple of times during that period. Rod Mitchell (Atomic Shadow) also conversed with Steve and I. It’s very sad news and Steve will be sorely missed. My sincere condolences to his wife and daughter. The world is a lot poorer now. Thanks Steve for being a top bloke!

  • Steve Cooke says:

    Very sad news. I never met Steve but I valued his work – particularly the sounds he produced for the Alesis Fusion – and very much appreciated his knowledge and helpfulness on music technology issues in various online forums.

  • Dave says:

    I barely know what to say. I’m shocked and saddened by the loss of a good friend. R.I.P. Steve, you made the world a better place.

  • BonezMcCoy says:

    Very sad news. Steve has always been an inspiration for any synth/sampler head. You will be missed, Steve.

  • Jesse Smith says:

    I am very sorry to hear this, I communicated with him a lot and considered him a good friend. I will miss him and the conversations we had, this makes me very sad.

    I wish his wife and daughter the very best, I know they will miss him very much.

  • I just read about this and it left me feeling very empty inside.

    Steve, thank you… you helped me start out with great inside info as a refill developer to another. You also were one of those telling me to widen my palette to support Kontakt.

    When we designed the Combinator interfaces for Poly Ensemble and Fairlight we also looked a lot at your eminent graphic work for inspiration.

    I am very sorry for your passing.

    An englishman with a great wit being in the “who’s who” list of the synthesizer & sound design & Reason history forever.

    My warmest condoleances.

    From Sweden,
    your friend

    Patrick (Bitley Sounds & ReFills)

  • I did not know Steve personally but have admired his work and musings on the Fusion forums for several years now. My condolences.

  • Ben Jarvis says:

    Goodbye, Steve. I never met you, but I knew your work. You left a mark on me and many others, not to mention the world of music. Thanks for all you did.

  • Matt Black says:

    I worked with Steve a number of times on ReFill products for Reason. He taught me a great deal about patch building, and his understanding of synthezisers was second to none. A kind and generous soul. He will be much missed.

  • Klaus P. Rausch says:

    Oh my lord, it makes me sad to read this. I was in contact with Steve many times since the Fusion thing, helped him for the Novatron project on his request and know him as one of the most sympathic person in the sound department of the industry. I was the one who learned him that germans have a sense of humor. And I will always remember that his meeting with Douglas Adams was a remarkable experience for him. I wished I would have met DA too, together with Steve. My thoughts are with his family and again I can only say that this is a sad news at all. This is a loss.

  • Alice Howell says:

    Thank you all for your comments, he is everything you have all described, and more. First I want to say that Dad will never be past tense to me, as he will be present throughout my entire life. Every second of every day I will think of him, and wish that he would just walk over to me and hug me. Not only is he a talented, hardworking, kind, generous, and humble man, but he is my Daddy. He is the best Dad anyone could ever wish for, and to say he is mine fills me with pride and happiness. My Mum, Angela Howell is his loving wife, supporter, and best friend and she means so so much to him. They love each other to bits – always have, always will. A part of us is missing now, there is a hole which will never be filled, we are inconsolable. He is an angel of a man, who has simply gone home to watch over us. Mum and I care so much for him, we love him more than anyone can ever know. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  • Alice, you are right to be so proud of your Dad, as he was of you.

    My heart breaks for your loss and I am proud to call your Dad my friend. In truth, he has always been a personal hero of mine. And will continue to be so…

    I hope that all the messages here only serve to reinforce what he means to a great many people.

    My deepest sympathy, love and thoughts go out to you and to Angela xxxx

  • I came rather late to the party – July of 2010 when I acquired My Fusion 8HD. I soon became aware of HollowSun and the man behind it. I am certain that the Fusion’s ailing reputation was swiftly fixed to a great extent by Steve’s input and I instantly gathered all that he had made for “The Beast”.

    I think many of us were saddened to hear that Steve had decided to “move on” from the Fusion, but the reasons given were incontrovertible and it became evident that the future prosperity of HollowSun lay in the direction of Native Instruments and I remember well, Steve’s excitement at the prospect.

    When his excellent End-of-Life Libraries were kindly offered to the Communities of the FusionClub and FusionZone for a limited time offer, I grabbed them quickly – as I’m sure many others did – and I emailed Steve – suggesting that the offer shouldn’t be limited, but, if left, could only generate more sales, quietly, in the background.

    Steve’s manner in the few email exchanges I had with him, gave me a feeling for the man he was, such that, had we ever met . . It would have been like meeting an old and familiar “friend”.

    My last composition opens and closes with “Borealis” from The excellent “Nebulae” Library, a wonderful evolving pad, full of interest and movement. It will always remind me of Steve.

    My condolences to Steve’s immediate family – AND to the wider “family” that inhabited the other-worlds that he moved in.

    You are and will be greatly missed. RIP.

    Chris

  • Gary McCormick says:

    So sorry to hear of Steve’s passing. I only knew him through his posting at kvr and his Hollow Sun products. Such a character, reflected in the instruments he built for Kontakt.
    Angela and Alice, I wish you the best.

  • Phil Miller says:

    I did not know Steve personally, only through those wonderful and inspiring Hollow Sun sample libraries through which his obvious love for what he did shone brilliantly. His witty email updates and announcements were always a welcome sight in my inbox and I am genuinely saddened to think there will be no more. My sincere condolences to his family and friends, may he rest in peace.

  • Rod Mitchell says:

    Stephen was my friend and my mentor. He was the one who suggested that I pursue a more abstract direction in electronic music. Without his input and support there would have been no Atomic Shadow. I am sad beyond words to lose this remarkable, and gifted friend. I am still numb.

  • David Hughes says:

    I knew Steve when we both worked on Sound-on-Sound in the 80’s and 90’s. His infectious enthusiasm and equally infectious laugh will be much missed.

  • desmond says:

    Deeply shocked and saddened at this tragic loss. His time may be up, but his music will live on…

  • John Tenney says:

    Stephen had become a good friend over the past couple of years. We used to write back and forth about social issues and things that two curmudgeons (I’m 68) could chew the fat about. Also how proud he was of Alice (I’m a recently retired 40+-years-in-the-trenches professional violinist, so I am very aware of how good a violinist she is!!) Plus I was and will remain a HUGE fan of Hollow Sun! In recent years I have (finally) become immersed in electronic music and sampling, and Stephen was a big part of that: always helpful, and extremely generous with his enormous expertise. My heart goes out to Angela and Alice. I’m sure he could be a difficult man–as we all can be–but he was a TRULY GOOD man. RIP, Stephen.

  • Benedict says:

    I didn’t know much about Steve but I was aware of Hollow Sun and every time I heard those sound sets it was clear that they were some of the best samples and sound designs out there. Always sad to see such contributors move on but clearly a life well used and a huge legacy of work and family so well done Steve.

  • James Bennett says:

    I had the pleasure to meet Stephen (in his trademark tweed and brogues!) and his lovely family a couple of years ago when I travelled down from ‘oop north’ to see him about some keyboards. Despite the short visit he was wonderfully welcoming, and every bit as proud of his family as he was online. Due to forum absence I haven’t spoken to Stephen for some time, but I received the news this afternoon by text and was completely stunned. My sincerest condolences go out to Alice and Angela. It’s way too soon. RIP Stephen.

  • Mital says:

    Deeply shocked and saddened when I heard this morning of Stephen’s passing.

    Stephen was always full of encouragement about my various projects and always generous with help and advice.

    I later became a Hollowsun customer myself and always looked forward to the next email announcing new products.

    My condolences to Alice and Angela. Rest in Peace Stephen

  • Dan Wilson says:

    Today has come as a terrible shock and I’m still finding it very hard to come to terms with the news.

    My heart goes out to Alice and Stephen’s family – having lost my father recently, I know how painful this feels.

    Stephen has been a very dear, wonderfully eccentric, extraordinarily articulate and extremely supportive friend always with a great story to tell. He has been a massive source of motivation and support in the last few years. He is one of few who really pushed me to pursue what I was passionate about rather than simply taking the “safe” route.

    Stephen was very talented individual with a rare and unusual blend of skills combining organic sound design with highly intuitive and efficient user interfaces wrapped in his trade mark graphic designs.

    I have felt very privileged to collaborate with Stephen and Mario for some time now on several projects.

    But that was in more recent times…

    He has left a legacy in the music industry that goes back decades and had a hand in tirelessly contributing to factory sample libraries and the intricate UI design of several famous AKAI S-series hardware samplers well before the days of soft synths/samplers and DAWs.

    He will be very sorely missed by so many of us.

  • Am very shocked by this news. I last spoke to Steve about a week ago when he very kindly called me with a link to a free download for his latest sound library. Generous to a fault he gave no indication that he might have been feeling less than on top form.

    Very sad news – he was immensely proud of his daughter and I hope she continues on to a career in music as I know Steve would have wanted.

    RIP Steve.

  • Peter D says:

    Hollow Sun helped turn on a life long obsession with vintage synths that has helped define my sound and subsequent career. He offered great sounds at extremely low cost in a clear attempt to share his craft with as many people as possible., devoid of ego. As a complete stranger from the web, it was still clear to me he was about the music and the people. Thanks so much Stephen. Im sad to see him go. Much love to the family and Stephen!

  • Per Platou says:

    Very sad news indeed! I have been working on-off with Stephen since 2011, primarily with recording the ancient DDR synth “Subharchord”, aiming to make it a playable sample library (which turned out to be pretty complicated!)

    Had the pleasure of spending a short week with Stephen in Berlin a few years back, a truly wonderful and warm experience. He’ll leave a huge black hole, and a legacy of unique software instruments. You’ll be deeply missed!

  • Jem Godfrey says:

    Just the loveliest guy ever, I’m absolutely in shock. We met over an Emulator II about a decade ago and struck up a famously grumpy old man style rapport that I treasured. I can’t quite get my head around the knowledge that I won’t hear from him again. Hollow Sun products were one of a kind, he brought an organic quality to electronic sounds that nobody could match. Steve was a true gent and the quietest of geniuses. Sleep well you wonderful old bugger, I will never forget you.

  • rapa says:

    As Alice writes, Stephen Howell is not past tense. Such men, of sturdy, idiosyncratic substance and deep hearts, always find a way to persist.

  • Scott Hamill says:

    Very sad to hear of the passing of Stephen. A true gentleman with a heart of gold. Immensely proud of his daughter Alice and her achievements and a genuine innovator in the industry. His legacy will live on and he will always be remembered with fondness.

    Thank you for the friendship, banter and the laughs all these years. So sad to see you go xx

  • Steve will be DEEPLY missed. he was a huge inspiration and many upcoming sound designers including myself owe him a debt of gratitude. I only had the chance to speak with him a few times, He was always helpful and kind.
    Best wishes to his family and loved ones.
    He was truly one of the great ones.

  • Wow. I am shocked and saddened.
    I worked closely with Steve at AKAI Professional / AKAI Digital for almost 16 years (from 1989 to early 2005, up to the completion of the InMusic buyout). We had a lot meetings (and beers) around the world, to refine the concept, design and features of new audio products. We did not always agree, we sometime argued, often laughed, but always had deep respect for each other, and in the end, in several great AKAI products came out of our collaboration.
    I enjoyed his humor (British, of course), and I will miss him, even if we had lost contact in the past few years.
    My sincere condolences to Angela and Alice.

  • Bernard Ribet says:

    I meet Steve in 1986 at the beginning of the adventure of Akai Professional, him working with Japanese and me in France; it was an impressive man.
    Bye bye Steve and see you soon.

  • Richard London says:

    I did not know Steve personally, but I still feel compelled to write this. I’m a user of his awesome Kontakt instruments, and have been a huge fan of Hollow Sun for years now. He really made some great stuff and his instruments have been a tremendous inspiration to me. I am seeing now, for the first time that he was also involved with some of my all time favorite records, and that does not surprise me.

    Over the years I have emailed with Steve over my excitement of various libraries he has made, and he always took the time to write back with a great response. It was clear that his work was a labor of love, and it makes me very sad to know that the world lost such a talented, creative spirit. My deepest condolences to the family.

  • Marco Alpert says:

    What profoundly sad news.

    I worked closely with Steve during my years consulting for Akai in the mid-90s and kept in intermittent contact over the ensuing years (he was for many years a dedicated user of Antares’ long-discontinued Infinity looping program). In addition to the voluminous fax and email correspondence during the Akai years, we met many times in person at R&D meetings in London, Messe in Frankfurt, as well as meetings in Japan and a distributors meeting in Hong Kong that included Steve and I making a particularly memorable visit to Club Bboss.

    He was a wonderful, hugely talented person. My deepest condolences to his family.

  • EvilDragon says:

    Wow, so many familiar names here. I thank you all, everyone!

    Even Jem Godfrey! Jem, I just love the things you do with Frost*!

  • I am saddened and shocked by this news. I did not know Steve, except through the wonderful sounds he made for Kontakt, sounds that were both beautiful and inspiring. In fact, one of his instruments inspired my latest album; I played just a few notes and immediately knew the direction I was going to take and what I hoped the final result would be. Without Hollow Sun, this would have been a very different project, if it even existed at all. For that and more, I am so thankful to have stumbled upon his work when I did. My condolences go out to his family. Know he will live on in the great works he did and inspired others to do.

  • Harvey Jones says:

    The Synthesizer community has lost one of the greats. Steven Howell AKA Hollow Sun has passed away. I live in New York City a fair distance from Wales but Steve and I became friends via e-mail after I purchased a Hollow Sun product, I think it was Cognosphere. I wrote to him in a genuine fit of gratitude after purchasing this instrument and he responded colorfully and wittily. Thus began a five year regular correspondence which sometimes did not touch on matters electronic at all. Steve was certainly forthright and you didn’t have to dig very deep to get his opinion on something. He was extremely funny and, like me, a little wistful about the way our culture is going……..
    We spoke at length about the death of listening, and about how sad we were that music is no longer the fabulous bonding experience it was for us as younger men and still today – Steve and I are the same age.
    But it’s his work as an instrument designer that sets him apart, and why I consider him a great. The Kontakt series “Music Laboratory Machines” especially is stellar work – each “Library” really being a virtual instrument in it’s own right – they just happen to use Kontakt as a host. Steve’s instruments were idiosyncratic and unpredictable and had great character. Every time I bought one I wondered how I ever got along without it. It was Steve’s artistry as a designer that made these wonderful synthesizers so rewarding to use.
    The master stroke though was “GUI shell”. With this tool even an intermediate level Kontakt user could create good instruments fast from any accessible sound source. With just a little patience and study creating Kontakt instruments from scratch became easy and fun – and you had a killer GUI with modulation, envelopes and filters all on the front panel where you could access them without opening the dreaded “Wrench”. My work as a programmer and Kontakt preparer for other artists became much faster overnight and I could send keyboard players who were not fluent with Kontakt out into the touring world safe in the knowledge that they could make musical edits to the instruments without purchasing a lab coat.
    I’m just going to say it: Kontakt instruments made by Steve are the best out there and will become collectors items. He raised the bar for all the designers and there are many great ones, but none approach Steve’s level of imagination.
    And we wrote thousands of words to each other about Dr. Who and Delia Derbyshire………
    Bye for now Steve,
    With great sadness………..
    Harvey Jones

  • Guy Gampell says:

    So sad to hear this news. Steve was a vital, indeed founding, member of the team that I joined in 1992, his attention to detail, his work ethic, and his inate ability to connect with the potential users of what we were developing were the foundation of the success that came in the following years. I had the pleasure not only of working with him, but getting to know him. My thoughts are with his family now, be strong.

  • Mikael Johansson says:

    It is very sad to hear this, have a lot of his fantastic kontakt librarys. Allways kind when you had a question. A lost for us involved in music.

    RIP Mr Hollow Sun and my condolences to the family.

  • Graham Noon says:

    I worked with Steve at Akai UK throughout the 90’s. That is terrible news. He was a great guy and had real passion for his work at Akai. Steve had a sharp wit too and I will always remember our meetings and training sessions with fond memories. My thoughts go out to his family.

  • […] I’m so sad to learn of Steve’s untimely passing and I extend my heartfelt sympathies and love to his friends and family especially his wonderfully talented 17 year old daughter Alice.  I would also like to thank Rob Puricelli (aka Failed Muso) for letting me know about Steve’s sudden illness and for keeping me informed.  Rob has also opened a book of condolences on his site here. […]

  • I first met Steve in the 80’s when I began using the Akai range of samplers in anger. I remember copying his his ridiculously brilliant sample collection for the S1000 (SWF?) created from his many synths – especially the Memorymoog.
    We were all pioneers back then, challenging what was possible and pushing the boundaries, but Steve always had the vision to see what could be next, and was often in the thick of developing it.
    So many of us owe a not insubstantial debt to Steve for the tools and sounds and technologies he worked on that became the industry standard.
    He was also an acerbic and brilliantly insightful wit – he did not suffer fools lightly – but also incredibly generous with his time.
    My thoughts go out to his family, whom I regret I never met, and to those many who will feel keenly his loss.
    Cheerio matey – see you after the great reboot.

  • David Caulfield says:

    I heard about Steve’s passing last night. Very sad news and quite a shock. My sympathies to his family. I’ve know him for a while and we shared a very exciting time as sampling and digital recording came of age. Here are some recollections; Steve came to see me at AKAI in early 1986 when the S900 was about to be launched. It came with only three floppy disks of sounds and we started a conversation about expanding the library. Steve accepted an S900 in exchange for 50 disks and the AKAI UK library was born (several other people also contributed). Steve was soon working for us and his contributions were always first class. His depth of knowledge of music and recording helped my learning curve immensely – he had a knack of explaining things clearly. AKAI Japan soon snapped him up to work for them and a succession of successful products followed. They were happy days and I remember them fondly. I only spoke to Steve a year ago and his quick wit was still present! I have been in touch with others from that time and everyone is in shock. Sleep well Steve.

  • I’m stunned. I only knew Steve via email and the SOS forum. He was always so helpful and generous down through the years, helping me with my endeavours.

    A legendary figure in sampling. He has made a very positive mark on the world.

    My condolences to Alice and Angela, and also to Rob Puricelli and “Evil Dragon”- I know ye were more than just business partners.

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