Steve Howell – A Book of Condolences



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.


comments so far
  • Kurt Riemann says:

    Two months ago I took one of Stephen’s inventions and wrote a synthesizer/spoken word piece, one of the first things I’d written purely for the joy of doing in a few years. I can say without his insight into how these kind of sounds evoke entire universes within a composer’s soul, countless far more important works by far better composers would never have been written. I can only imagine how he touched those in his personal life, as his body of visible work was so insightful and human. My condolences to everyone who feels his loss.

  • Jon says:

    Didn’t know the man personally but purchased some of his fine product. It is awfully sad news indeed when hearing of the passing of someone who in their own way provided sustenance and inspiration to others in the art of music.

    My deepest sympathy to all his family and friends and appreciation for all his good works

  • Brian Brylow says:

    Steve was a gem of a human being.He was a gift to the music industry with everything he did from blazing trails with Akai to artist support and his work with the crew at HS Towers giving us more of the fine tools to create music. One of the funniest conversations we ever had was how proud he was of his daughter’s musical accomplishments and how she would not find the midi keyboards to be “proper kit” for her liking. Just the best guy. Steve I will miss you my friend!

  • Tim says:

    I’m sure many have said this, but coming across Steve’s site was like stumbling across a treasure trove and a whole new world of sound possibilities. It’s clear he wanted to make his work inspirational and accessible to many, and he achieved both those things, with a personal touch that was unique. Having placed these wonderful tools in the hands of countless musicians, his influence on the world of music has still only just begun. My sincere condolences to Steve’s family.

  • Tom Kills says:

    I’ve just found out and I’m shocked. Although I never new Stephen he was without doubt a genius. A lot of us owe him a lot for the wonderful creations he gave us that allowed us to create some weird and wonderful stuff. My condolences to the family and my greatest respect for the great man.

  • Chip Salerno says:

    I only discovered Hollow Sun and the Stephen’s amazing work about a 2 years ago and I can honestly say, as a composer, his instruments were and will continue to be incredibly inspiring. His attention to detail and his ability to capture the quirkiness of the analog era is unparalleled. Rest in Peace. Long live Hollow Sun.

  • I came across Hollow Sun in the mid-00’s when first exploring sampling. Stephen’s generous freebie libraries were great, but the education he and they provided about so many classic and/or obscure pieces of kit were truly invaluable. Then that went away, only to resurface as the wonderful Kontakt focused Hollow Sun fount of inspired creativity we’ve known lately.
    Always looked forward to the email updates, especially the ones after some missfire, as they gave the impression of real human beings at work. Hadn’t seen an update for quite awhile, but thought little of it until today reading the latest Computer Music magazine’s Ins&Outs column. Tears have continued to leak as I’ve read others remembrances.
    Again I’ll echo the sentiment that a great person and wonderful being has passed on from our realm. Blessings on Stephen and his whole family.
    Long may we continue to honor and celebrate him through an ongoing Hollow Sun and our musical creations made with his instruments.

  • Alex Buurman says:

    This is so sad! We’ve worked together for AKAI Professional very closely during the eighties en nineties. He was for a considerable part responsible for AKAI’s succes at that time. Apart from that, knowing Steve and working with him are among the greatest things I met in my life.

  • Alistair Logie says:

    I’ve been a regular customer of Hollow Sun for several years. So sorry to hear of Steve’s passing.

  • timbo says:

    Very sad to hear about Steve. I have enjoyed his unrivalled work with Kontakt instruments, his great humour and his enthusiasm for every aspect of music making and life. I will miss him even though we only corresponded over obscure aspects of the instruments and electronica in general…but his diverse and wonderful instruments live on.

  • Very sad, incredible loss for all audio community. All the best out there steve, keep designing great sounds whenever you are. RIP

  • Udi Arnon says:

    I didn’t know the man personally, but sure admire his vision and work thru the great products I purchased from the web site. The instruments I’ve bought are from the best on my computer, expressing my love to sound and space. It was a shock for me to pay my occasional visit the the site and hear he is no longer with us.
    my deepest and sincere Condolences to the family and friends. I hope his work will be continued.

  • Roberto Abis says:

    Your fab creations opened up unexplored territories during the recording of Dead Cat in A Bag’s “Late for a Song” album. Your creations proved to be instrumental in giving that record, as well as most of my recordings, the unique feel only lovingly crafted analog instruments can provide. We’ll miss you, but I know that God’s wanted you close to Him to play your sounds where they belong. Forever. Rest in peace, my friend.

  • James says:

    I’ve only just seen this news and although I didn’t know Steve personally it’s very sad to hear. I’m a big fan and customer of many purchases of Steve’s (and the other Hollowsound contributors) wonderful work.

    Steve’s friendly mailing list emails were one of the rare mailings that I actively looked forward to receiving as I always knew there’d be another great (and importantly, affordable) library or musical toy that I’d have to have!

    It was always a pleasure to browse his new products though and I’ve built up a treasured collection of unique tools to create my music with. The music production world will greatly miss his unique and highly musical instruments but we’re fortunate that he’s left a great legacy of inventive, musical and fun to play instruments. Without his work, my music would ironically be so much more hollow.

    I also had several email conversations with Steve whenever I had a question and he was always so helpful.

    My sincerest respects and condolences go to Steve’s family and friends but please know that his work is highly treasured in my collection and will continue to inspire myself and I’m sure many others (as can be seen from these comments).

    Thank you Steve.

  • Randy Lee says:

    Dear Angela, dear Alice, I only just learned of Steve’s passing, 3 months late. I am so sorry for your loss! This is very sad news for the world and for me, having worked with Steve for years at Alesis. We touched base a number of times since then. In reading the posts I see that the many, many people who worked with him are deeply affected as well.

    I always enjoyed my interactions with Steve, both professionally and personally. Our conversations covered the gamut from small audio samples to the nature of the universe, and just about everything in between! He was ever the gentleman, with razor wit and brilliance employed in equal measure during product development and conversation.

    I remember the times he visited the California office. He definitely had a fondness for sushi, and we went more than once at the end of the working day! Such laughter, such fond memories…swapping photos of snowy days at our homes, hearing tales of the ripe cheeses he loved but had to keep in a cooler in the garage because of the “aroma”…

    And Alice: “proud” is too small a word to describe what bubbled out of your Dad when his thoughts turned to you. I have a daughter the same age, and in our conversations I learned of the depth of his admiration and love for you. He shared several videos of your performances, and marveled at “how her fingers can move that fast!” Your great talent will carry you far, and his heart goes with you.

    Angela, Alice, you both will be often in my thoughts and prayers. May God surround you with His powerful, peaceful presence in the days ahead.

    Stephen, wherever you are, I shall remember you with great fondness and pride at having numbered you among my friends.

  • Paul Wooller says:

    Rest in Peace Stephen – whilst I never knew you personally, I feel that you injected your personality into everything you did at Hollow Sun.

    Pretty much every email communication of another fantastic release was quickly followed by an apology of a cock up of some sort… leaving me to smirk and take comfort that there is a modest human in control of these crazy alien technological devices being unleashed to us all!

    I really hope Hollow Sun can continue your legacy in some way.


  • I am not a native English speaker so I do not know how to describe exactly what I feel. Steve was a very kind man and we mailed several times. He gave me tips and once stood up for me at the “are friends electric” forum. I will never forget that. RIP Steve. I wish I could have learned more from your wisdom.

  • Carlos Navarro says:

    My name is Carlos Navarro. I knew from Hollowsun Looking for information about the Novachord and then purchased some plugins. Steve was so kind on answer my mails. I want to say to his family that i am feeling so sad and wishing the best for them. Steve will be forever between us.

  • Matteo Gazzolo says:

    It’s sad to know… I use his instruments, and they will always speak for him. A clear distincted taste of sound, that only his imagination could create. Again and again, I will create a lot of music from his works of art.
    Thanks for all You shared. Peace.

  • Just over four months ago, my dear friend and mentor, Steve Howell, passed away.

    I still can’t believe it.

    Steve was, for me, a great inspiration. Someone with whom I shared so much, be it our sense of humour or our love of music and, in particular, synths. Our friendship was one of mutual respect and started when I emailed him to thank him for his free sample packs. Apparently, I was one of, if not, the first people to do so. From that moment on, we emailed, MSN’d and Skype’d very regularly. But we also met physically on a few occasions and spoke a lot on the phone. Steve got me work with various people like Akai and Alesis and a large part of the equipment in my studio was down to this working relationship.

    Anyway, after his death, I vowed I would write something to commemorate him. But I’m still struggling. I set up a condolences page that has had numerous entries, all of which have brought comfort to his wife, Angela, and daughter, Alice. That helped me too, seeing how he had touched so many other lives. But a day or two after he left this mortal coil, I noticed his Skype account was still active and it just felt right to leave him a message there, as we often did in the past.

    So, here is that message. Some of it contains references to private jokes, but I think you’ll get it. I think, and hope, it says all I want to say about this great man…

    “Good afternoon, sir…

    I thought I’d drop you a line seeing as you saw fit to fuck off without letting me get the last word in. But some things never change 😉

    For once, with you, I’m lost for words. Not a common occurrence in our conversations I grant you, but you’ve pulled the ultimate trump card and so I doff my trilby to you. I can’t quite grasp the fact that you won’t be responding to this with some similar, barb ridden but wholly affectionate bollocks and that makes me sad. Sad, because it made me laugh out loud every time and we always had an unspoken understanding that we could say whatever we liked to each other, safe in the knowledge that it was always meant in jest.

    You and I never fell out, were always the best of friends and shared so much. Our music, our work, our families… all these things mattered to you and I equally. So much so that neither of us could wait to tell the other one about developments in any of those areas. Whether it was a new sample library or Alice winning yet more accolades, you blessed me with sharing that information and I loved to hear it. Equally, I did the same and you always responded, remarked and had some story to tell that would be related to it, with some moral message at the end.

    I valued your experience as well as your friendship and I won’t ever forget the day you responded to my first email to you, when I sent you thanks for making all the free samples available on Hollow Sun. I was so happy to have received a response and over the years, realised that I was also happy to have found a kindred spirit.

    There is a cheesy saying, to which you’ll probably tell me to fuck off, that says that proper friends can go weeks and months without talking, but when they do, it’s like they only spoke yesterday. That’s how it has always been with you. And judging by the comments I’ve heard and read these past 24 hours, it seems I’m not alone. You fucking internet hussy 😉

    I could talk to you for hours, and we often did, much to Jackie’s dismay, but I need to say thank you one last time.

    Thank you Steve, for everything you have ever done for me. I can’t quite find the words to express the deep gratitude I owe you. Pretty much everything I do in this industry is down to you. There is a direct lineage that can be traced back to your influence. You taught me so much. I sit here now, some 13/14 years after our first encounter, and I find myself doing stuff and saying stuff and I read it back and think, “That’s Steve”. You taught me, mentored me, listened to me, shared with me and did so much for me. I am so glad we physically met on those few occasions. It made the friendship more corporeal and I will treasure those memories dearly.

    You live on in Alice. She is such an amazing woman, but then you always knew that. She was, after all, your greatest achievement, musical or otherwise.

    I’m fighting back tears here, but your voice rings in my ears, telling me to man the fuck up 😉

    I hope to be able to say one last goodbye in person soon.

    Thank you, Steve. I am proud to know you, proud to call you a friend and honoured that you were part of my life.

    So, one last time…

    Up periscopes and all that! 😉

    TTFN x”

  • Gerry Tebbe says:

    Rob, I just heard about Steve this morning. I’ve been missing his email messages I would get from time-to-time, so today I visited his website only to read this tragic news. Then of course my first thought was to look you up as someone who knew Steve best (as an akaipro5k6kuser member) and ended up here.

    Give’s new meaning to James Taylor’s words, “…But I always thought that I would see you again.” I was even looking forward to sharing a pint or two with him in later years after all was said and done. I still have the Newtron Bomb CD Steve custom made for me complete with original packaging that I’ve use in nearly all of my recordings. I too have had the same experience as yourself when I first wrote Steve to thank him and express appreciation of his work in bringing these wonderful long lost sounds back to life.

    I will truly miss Steve Howell.

    God bless you, Rob. Our prayers go out for Steve’s family, and to you and yours.

  • Heiner Kruse says:

    I will miss those enthusiastic e-Mails about new stuff and i truly honor the positive vibes, love and energies this man had to go for fascinating sounds

  • Adriaan van Niekerk says:

    Sincerest hopes that Stephen may rest well in the knowledge that he brought sound and joy to many

  • J-P Codine says:

    I’m a simple, ordinary user of Steve’s magical, insane creations, all of them powered not only by pure sound, but by his boundless imagination.

    But more than anything else, he brought me back the sound of my lamented VP330+ at a time when no one else could, or would. For very personal reasons, it brought me immense joy -and gratitude at the time. My grief, learning far too late to tell him “thank you” once more, that Steve had left us, is at the measure of this gratitude.

    Thank you for yor many kindnesses, Mr Howell, and my sympathies to your loved ones.

  • Barry (forgotten keys) says:

    I only just learned of this. A few years ago when I was just starting my own web site, Stephen contacted me out of the blue offering praise and advice. He even offered to host some of my work on his own site when I had bandwidth problems. Later, he offered to help me with any graphics work if I needed, something he excelled at. He was a very generous man. Shocked and saddened.

  • Steve Howell was a genius making these samples and putting them out there for cheap so that everyman or woman could make music with the instruments he crafted in kontakt, his libraries were inspiration and i used to site at the hollowsun site listening to demos for hours.

  • arkmabat says:

    Though I never met him in person, Steve helped me understand sampling legality limits and encouraged me to explore the drum synths of the past. His impact on me was profound and he will always be a part of me.

  • Josep Umbria says:

    I can’t believe it!
    I was in contact often with Steve, and always he was very friendly and with a great humour. My condolences for his family and friends.

  • David Chamberlayne says:

    I just found out about his passing. To the family and all of his loved ones my heart goes out to you. I have talked with Steve a couple of times over the Alesis Fusion websites and he was always very nice and professional. I told him once that I wanted to buy the Nebulae sounds for my fusion but I was unable to at the time because I had been off from work due to illness. It was such a pleasant surprise to me that Steve had decided to send me the sounds free of charge. Steve had a giving heart. I’m grateful for his generosity to a total stranger. I wish the world had more of that today. God bless you, Steve .

  • Robert Thomas says:

    Just found out the sad news. I never met Steve in person but we had planned to meet soon when I visited family in Cardiff. We had many great email conversations about the workings of synths and fun ways of using them. He clearly loved this world so much and while its sad to lose him – its great that he lived a life full of such passion.

  • Grant Miller says:

    I am so sorry to hear of Steve’s passing. My condolences to his family and friends. Having purchased some of his wonderful sample collections and frequenting various music forums over the years, I came to know of his kindness, wit, and masterful skills in bringing sounds to life. He will be missed!

  • Jan Chlupacek says:

    HollowSun site became very dear to me and that is because of Steve’s personal approach. His blog posts were so warm and friendly I cannot help, but feeling very sad of this. RIP, Stephen.

  • Jonathan Gray says:

    i had the pleasure of meeting Steve briefly in 1979 when Retreat From Moscow played three times in one year at Traherne Hall, and I was responsible for booking the bands. It amazed me how he was able to get such incredible sound in a college hall cafeteria: This is a quote from Tony Lewis the bass player in an interview on Planet Bass in 2005.

    What’s been the most fun playing moment, and why?

    A gig at Treherne Hall in Cardiff, with “Retreat from Moscow” in about 1980. That was the band at its peak, playing our own songs and the people really loving it. They wouldn’t let us go home! (Talk about living in the past!)

    Steve was a huge reason we wouldn’t go home!

  • I recently came across a private message which Stephen sent to me in May 2012, via my Sound on Sound forum membership.

    I had asked him for advice on obtaining a keyboard controller. It was so humbling that someone I had read about for many years – one of the GIANTS in the digital music world would make the effort to respond to me, with such grace privately.

    That was probably the only direct communication I ever had with him, and I’m glad for this.

    It is sad that he is gone. His sounds were of very high quality not focussed on the Gigabyte race, which predominates todays sampling scene.

    His passing on, reminds me that now is the time to achieve as time waits not.

    Adieu mon frere

    I do feel that in some small way by this singular act, he became my friend, for however brief a moment.

    Olakunle Odebode

  • Jonathan says:

    I have only just heard about Steve’s passing, having unplugged somewhat from the Alesis Fusion community, which where I came across Steve’s work.

    I was inspired to write a great deal of music through the sound sets Steve created. Frequently I would marvel at the obvious care and attention that had gone into making them. Always musical, always great to play and ALWAYS the sounds I would go back to to just play something, anything.

    Steve, for this I can only say thank you and it is heartbreaking to think there won’t be yet more to come in future.

    He once sent me some music on CD as he had some spare. Typically generous, from reading other comments on here.

    Terrifically talented and a decent bloke. Steve will be missed but my goodness his legacy lives on.

  • John Milton says:

    As i sit in a hospital ward listing to my beautiful wife sleeping after having a horrendous reaction to her first chemotherapy session..

    I was reflecting back on Follow Sun and all the fantastic sounds that still today inspire my therapeutic compositions

    I emailed Stephen in the early days whenever i got stuck in the crazy world of virtual instruments.

    Trolling around the internet killing time i stumbled into this tribute site and was saddened to read of his passing my thoughts are with his family x

    John Milton

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