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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185
comments so far
  • Rob introduced me to Steve when I was still the proud owner of a Yamaha FS1R. I remember him as a very kind man and I’m sure he will be missed by many. I’m wishing strength to all those who miss him!

  • Ramon West says:

    I worked with Steve at Akai. I always appreciated his designs and he inspired me in my own UI work. I remember him as a great innovator with a keen sense of humor. I am sure he is missed by many and I am glad to have known him however briefly!

  • As I was starting my message, I was going to say that I did not know Stephen personally, but then I realized that I knew him through his music, through his passion and dedication, through his timeless and amazing creations. It is the depth of heart and soul that he shares with all of us each time we hear and play his creations, each time we play a note inspired by his talent. He lives on through each tone, through each bit of knowledge and love he shared with us all, he lives on through each minute of the day when we think of him and a great amount of wealth he shared with the world. He gave his heart out to everyone and I know that by remembering this great man and bringing the flame of creation higher, we all continue what he has done and let this heartbeat go on…

    Reading through all of the messages, I could see and feel so much love and care, so much light and friendship. A person like Stephen united all the wonderful people around him and there is the energy of light and love, a rare understanding and a feeling of one big family. It brings the smile and lets you feel the kindness of people behind the words.

    My condolences go out to all the family members and friends. I feel shocked and I know that no words are enough and that no sentence is capable of expressing the feelings right. I am with you in my thoughts and prayers. May God give you strength and may the love keep you safe! One day we all shall unite again…

  • I never knew Steve as a person, only by his internet presence, a couple of emails and by his wonderful soundsets which somehow seem to see use in every project I record. He seems to have been a true character as well as a genius sound designer and will be sorely missed. It’s no exaggeration to say the Internet will be a smaller place without him!

    Thoughts go to his family and friends.

  • Mike McRoberts says:

    I had the pleasure of working with Steve for a number of years. He was an important part of the Akai family. I always enjoyed his warmth and humor. He will be missed. Rest in peace.

  • He released my music, he released some of my instruments and we never met personally but where friends and brothers in mind.
    For me he s still the best, i daily use his instruments!So sad,,

  • Chris Timson says:

    I am one of many who knew Steve only through one of the forums where he was such an active participant. We ended up exchanging some long PMs (private messages) – something I gather Steve was prone to do. Such slim contact was enough to leave me with a real sense of shock when I read of his death. That’s the measure of how he came across in that situation. He was a good guy and I’ll miss him.

  • Dan says:

    As a fan of Hollow Sun products, sincere condolences. Rest in peace

  • Robbie Ryan says:

    Rob, I was not a user of his libraries but an admirer of Steve, and he and I had some correspondence in regards to Akai samplers and his amazing libraries. I know you were his friend, and he (and we) are lucky to have friends like you. This is a great loss of a good man certainly before his time, and I hope that in some form or fashion the Hollow Sun library can continue to inspire musicians and producers in the years to come. Best wishes to his friends and family.

  • Paul Ward says:

    I had many dealings with Steve over the years, supplying material for his libraries and seeking new material for my work. Much of his sample library I still use almost every day. I cannot begin to express how shocking this news was and how very deeply it has pained me. RIP, mate.

  • Jim Norman says:

    Steve was a very talented and funny person. I really enjoyed working with him back at Alesis. I’m so sorry to hear of his passing. I could see his talent continued to grow with the products he was making at HollowSun and I’m disappointed he won’t be around anymore to keep us entertained with his great stories behind his products. He will be missed by the MI community.

  • Ludovic Roux says:

    When I bought my first Alesis Fusion in 2007, I’ve found the Fusion Forum by chance, Steve was the admin and I told him that I appreciated this synth because of the amazing mellotrons, classic synths and 80’s machine that it had. When he told me he was really inspired by Genesis, I unsderstood why I appreciate his sound design work so much… Actually, when I listen to all my compositions and arrangements since 2008, each one has at least one sound created by Steve !

    Now I’m playing in a Genesis tribute band, and Steve’s mellotrons and pads will be with us on every stage for years.

    I really hope that where he is at the moment, he will appreciate that his work still lives through the music he loved.

    Rest in peace, Monsieur Steve…
    Ludovic, France

  • Boele Gerkes says:

    My sincere condolences to Steve’s family and dear ones.

    I “only” knew Steve through emails and chats while testing MPCs, testing his instruments, doing a few demo’s for him, talking about synthesizers and samples. Friendly tone, humor, enthousiasm, many times giving his products away without asking something back. He will be greatly missed.

  • James says:

    Steve was always a gentleman – sincere condolences from all at Soniccouture.

  • Ian Boddy says:

    Very shocked to hear this sad news. Of course Steve was a work colleague during my days with Akai. I had kept in touch with him via Hollow Sun & indeed he helped to design the user interface for my own sample libraries. In fact we had just had several conversations about that in the least few weeks. As ever our conversations stretched on longer than we both intended. Whatever we were talking about inevitably we ended up chatting about our shared love of analogue synths & bleepy, weird noises. He’d often tease me, mimicking my Geordie phraseology & if we had to leave a message on each others answer phone we’d not bother with our names but just make the sound of a white noise sweep through a nice low pass filter.

  • Woody Aki says:

    Never met the man, but his body of work (especially his output as Hollow Sun) was loved by many, including me. A huge loss to the sound design community…RIP Steve

  • Kevin Burke says:

    I never knew Steve, but did purchase a number of his amazingly innovative sampler libraries – and I did not know he helped with the UI for AKAI products (which I also use). I was wondering why the emails stopped. Very sad to hear this news. My sympathy to family and friends. He sounds like somebody I would have liked to have met.

  • murnau says:

    inspired many of us for sure. love his stuff,his site. rip steve.

  • Ian Wadkins says:

    This morning, when I saw my inbox had an email from Dave Caulfield – my old boss at Akai – I was expecting a catchup or maybe some news about a new project. I can’t describe how shocked and saddened I was to open it and discover the terrible news about the passing of my old friend and colleague Steve Howell.

    I can honestly say that every memory I have of Steve is a good one and the vast majority of them contained a sizeable amount of laughter.

    My heartfelt condolences to Angela and Alice and I hope that you can take some comfort in the words of everyone here that describe what an impact he had on everyone he met and worked with.

    Good night and God bless mate.

  • Russ Hughes says:

    Sad news. A good guy who will be missed.

  • basix says:

    Rest in peace Steve. Your talent will be missed.

  • I’d known of Steve’s work in the industry for many years, but we only touched base on a personal level about five years ago, when I reviewed Steve’s awesome Novachord library in SOS magazine and awarded it our top 5-star rating.

    It was so obviously a labour of love that I said so in my review, and we continued to correspond via email and Skype on a regular basis, talking about sound design, life, the universe and everything.

    We often grumbled about things in the industry, and didn’t always agree, but it always Steve’s humour that shone through in these exchanges, and we had a lot of virtual laughs.

    It was a great shock to hear of his death, and I shall miss him greatly. However, one of the beauties of being a sound designer is that your creations still live on, and will no doubt be heard on many, many more tracks in the future. I’m confident that once the initial shock and sadness have been blunted, Steve’s legacy will remain for many, many years to come.

  • Al Mikula says:

    Very sad news. My condolences to all his loved ones. Such a positive, creative, and inspiring person who made an impact on anyone who has used the instruments Steven produced.

  • Michael Topic says:

    I’ve known Steve since my days at Fairlight in the 80s. I then encountered him again when friends of mine went to work for Akai. Finally, I became a customer of Hollow Sun. I am deeply saddened and shocked to hear of his unexpected passing. One of the very few genuinely top blokes in the industry. A fantastic artist and his samples were always such good instruments. Much love, sympathy and sincere condolences to his family. He will be sadly missed.

  • Glen DARCEY says:

    I am so sad to hear this. I worked with Steve at Alesis/Akai and we stayed connected via long SKYPE messages in the years since. He was a fine man who greatly loved his family. I will miss our chats regarding instrument design, sound, synth history, all things tweed and Dr. who. I am greatly saddened by this news and wish the best to his family.

  • Steve Mills says:

    A carved oak table,
    Tells a tale
    Of times when kings and queens sipped wine from goblets gold,
    And the brave would lead their ladies from out of the room
    To arbours cool.

    A time of valour, and legends born
    A time when honour meant much more to a man than life
    And the days knew only strife to tell right from wrong
    Through lance and sword.

    Why, why can we never be sure till we die
    Or have killed for an answer,
    Why, why do we suffer each race to believe
    That no race has been grander
    It seems because through time and space
    Though names may change each face retains the mask it wore.

    A dusty table
    Musty smells
    Tarnished silver lies discarded upon the floor
    Only feeble light descends through a film of grey
    That scars the panes.
    Gone the carving,
    And those who left their mark,
    Gone the kings and queens now only the rats hold sway
    And the weak must die according to natures law
    As old as they.

    Why, why can we never be sure till we die
    Or have killed for an answer,
    Why, why do we suffer each race to believe
    That no race has been grander
    It seems because through time and space
    Though names may change each face retains the mask it wore.

    Sleep softly Stephen

  • Zibethicus says:

    Like many others, I only knew Mr Howell through his work at Hollow Sun. His instruments are elegant, intelligent, highly expressive, and above all many were made very affordable for the struggling musician (who isn’t)?

    This is a painful loss to many more people than his immediate family and friends, although everyone’s thoughts must be with them at present.

  • I never had the pleasure of meeting him but I have been aware of his work and how highly he was regarded. A sad loss.

  • I’d only known Steve for a few short years through buying and using his wonderful sound libraries – had a number of communications with him, which always left the deep impression on me of a wonderful and passionate man – just such a loss, I am lost for words – condolences to all his family, I know he will be sorely missed – RIP

  • Ken Palmer says:

    As a user and fan of many Hollow Sun products, I have to extend my condolences as well. Through the music all of us create, his work will live on. I will be thinking of him – and his legacy – every time I hear his unique creations in my own tracks now. I was unaware of the Genesis connection, so my admiration of his work has only increased with this knowledge. I will say a prayer…

  • I have never met Steve in person, yet I have considered him my friend. 10 years ago, when I was just starting to peddle my sample CD-roms, Steve (and Rob) were so encouraging. He had the rare combination of talent with a sharing spirit, and I will miss him.
    He was also a tireless defender of the rights of creative people, and was one the the few who had the courage to do battle with the pirates who prey on them.
    I’ll be forever in debt to Steve. My heartfelt condolences to his family.

  • I had the absolutely pleasure of working with Steve from across the pond in Los Angeles about 6 or 7 years ago. He was incredibly good at what he did, very knowledgeable, and so passionate about our products being excellent that he took on responsibilities far beyond his official role–in his own time–to generate ideas that were really critical and became integral to the eventual product releases. Steve was always wonderful to work with–low key, friendly, hard working, and humble in a world filled to overflowing by lesser talents with oversized egos.

    Steve, I’ll miss you, as will, I’m sure, countless more of your colleagues and friends. In your time on this earth, you accomplished a lot of good.

  • John Harris says:

    I had the pleasure of working with Steve in the seventies when I was at Cardiff Uni and he was the sound engineer for my prog rock band Retreat From Moscow. He was enthusiastic, talented, and passionately interested in music technology even then. The news that Steve has passed away fills me with sadness and although in this life we only crossed paths for a couple of years I will always remember his cheery grin and good company.

  • Jonathan Redman says:

    I didn’t know Steve personally as a friend or colleague but we did cross paths way back in the tech boom days when he worked for Akai and I worked for another Pro Audio manufacturer. However, and more importantly, I remember Steve being featured in E&MM magazine as one of their Home Electro Musicians and along with Mark Shreeve, was instrumental in developing my burgeoning interest in synthesis. His honest product reviews and technical features are as useful today as they were when first published.

    My thoughts are with his family and friends.

  • David Baer (dmbaer) says:

    I must echo what some others here have written. Although I never met Stephen face to face, I regarded him as a friend from our many email correspondences … indeed for me a valued friend. The news of his passing was a great shock and I’m still coming to terms with it. I don’t ever recall being so deeply affected by the death of someone I’ve never known in person. I will miss his fabulous wit, his musical acumen and so much more.

  • John McAuliffe says:

    I just heard this awfully sad news today. We were only in touch a short while ago so I’m still in shock. and my heart goes out to Angela and Alice.

    I first met Steve in the 90s when I started work with Akai Professional. We became good friends, working and travelling together on numerous occasions to Japan and elsewhere in the World. It was always a pleasure to be in Steve’s company – such a genuinely lovely man.

    I have fond memories of the staff at the Kensington Hilton hotel clearing up around us as the sun came up because we’d sat up all night at the bar talking – mostly about music (Genesis and Peter Gabriel), the Akai products we’d like to make and no doubt many other subjects on which neither of us was an authority.

    Steve had a unique knowledge of his craft and a passion for the industry in which he worked. I’m terribly sad to know he’s no longer here but I feel privileged to have known him and to have been able to call him my friend.

    Farewell old chum.

  • Greg Haver says:

    I have know Steve since the late 1970’s when he used to do FOH for my first band. This expanded into playing live synths from the mixing desk and in giving invaluable advice in the studio. I spent many happy hours hanging out with Steve at the original Hollow Sun studios at his flat in Cardiff. My love of synthesis stemmed from this time when I was blessed to have such innovators as Steve and Tim Lewis (Thighpaulsandra) living in adjacent flats kitted out with ARP 2600’s, RSF’s, PPG’s, CS80’s and other fantastic gear. Their guidance led to my desire to have a career in music. Steve was a true gentleman and had, as all his friends know, a wonderfully curmudgeonly approach to the human race. Letters pages of various music magazines often contained diatribes from “Angry of Cardiff”. Having the chance to catch up with Steve over the years was always a joy and I was never surprised that he had such an influence in his field. I will alway treasure my time with him and the influence he had on my growth as a musician. I will miss you Steve, thank you for letting me be a part of your journey.

  • Mark Green says:

    I came across Steve when I discovered his sound libraries that shipped with the Alesis Fusion, and through them to his support forum for that same keyboard. He was always so generous with his time, helping people with their sampling problems, and his wealth of synthesis and sound design knowledge that he was always willing to share. We discovered our mutual love of 70s prog (particularly Genesis) and we had a few exchanges on the Sound on Sound forum and via private messages there. Despite the fact that we only lived a few miles apart, separated only by the Bristol Channel, we never actually met in person. Rest in Peace Steve… And my sincere condolences to his family.

  • Chris Main says:

    I thanked him once for posting some of his samples on a website and back came a very unexpected reply full of wisdom, kindness and encouragement. My thoughts are with his family and for the many who knew him better than I did. An exemplary fellow.

  • David Evans says:

    Lots of great memories of Steve at hollow sun studios back in the early 80s,Rest in Peace Steve the world needs more like you.

  • Nicky Charlton-Lewis says:

    I met Steve in late 70’s when he used to do brilliant music scores and incidental music for our school plays(he was a past pupil) We were married in 1981 for a couple of years and I have very fond memories of our 5 years together, travelling the country to gigs and studios. Hollow Sun began in our spare bedroom..where he spent every waking minute he was at home! It was truly amazing the stuff he produced at the time with only a few synths and two reel-to-reels! I remained Nicky Howell until 2003 when I re-married and my daughter still goes by the name of Jasmin Howell. I remember taking her to see Steve and Angela at Melrose Court when she was 13 days old. A few years ago we had an e-mail catch up and he sent me a photo of Alice when she was 10, a very beautiful girl who looked very like Steve. My condolences to Angela & Alice on their untimely loss…he was a very talented, driven and creative man and is fondly remembered by myself and my mother Linda.

  • Ben Dyer says:

    I had the honour of working with Steve at Akai Professional in the 90s. He was a great story teller and a man dedicated to his work. His passion was infectious and he possessed a truly encyclopedic knowledge of electronic music.

    While at Akai, he offered me a great deal of support and encouragement and it’s a testament to his talent and hard work that that he touched many peoples’ lives including many who he never met in person. Farewell my friend, you will be greatly missed.

  • djshire says:

    I heard of Steve and Hollow Sun early on in my production career, and I picked up Oscillosine. I loved it so much that I used it in my first production.

    Steve inspired me to look to the past for inspiration for now, to see the great history of both electronic instruments and music, and how even strange sounds can be wonderfully useful.

  • John W Gould (Head of Drama at The Bishop of Llandaff High School 1971-1989.) says:

    Steve Howell was a gifted student of mine at The Bishop of Llandaff High School where I was Head Of Drama.
    He was one of the first students to play the role of Christ in the School Passion Play.
    In 1978 I wrote the Passion Play entitled ‘Storm over Calvary’and Steve asked me if he could compose and record the incidental music for the play. The tape he produced was incredibly beautiful and truly professional.
    Steve went on from 1978 until 1987 to produce further tapes not only for the annual Passion Play but also for the school Christmas plays.His music for ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’made the play the great success that it was.His adaptation of the Peer Gynt Suite for ‘Peer Gynt’ was incredible.
    In 1980 he composed the music for our first Passion Play in Llandaff Cathedral.From this Steve gained recognition from HTV television and I believe that this is where has musical career really started.
    Steve will be sadly missed by the music world.
    I send my sympathy and condolences to his family.

  • Paul Wishart says:

    Steve was a wonderful human being,a class act, my condolences to the family.

  • Jed Smith says:

    Steve’s sounds were inspiring and innovative. He’s an inspiration for how to contribute to the artistic furtherance of mankind, and he’ll be missed. Thanks Steve.

  • Julio says:

    so sad to hear such news. i have been a supporter of steve howell’s work for many years now. what dedication to sound….he inspires. you will be missed…my condolences to his family.

  • Thierry Verger says:

    I’ve been a long time” Hollow Sun ” fan and really appreciate his work . Condolences to his family and friends.

    RIP.

  • Steve Blenkinsopp says:

    I am so saddened to hear of the passing of Steve. I first came across his work as the creator of the SWM series for the S1000, and whilst we never met in person, we spoke on the phone and emailed many times, often talking of a shared love of the ARP 2600 and early Genesis recordings.

    From AKsys and the early days of his free S6000 library Steve was always knowledgeable and helpful. His enthusiasm helped to generate a community feel, and I was pleased to contribute samples to such a community. His skill, enthusiasm and attention to detail showed in his subsequent Hollow Sun Libraries.

    I will always remember Steve as a genuine guy with a helpful nature and my condolences go to his family.

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