In the early hours of this morning, my friend Stephen Howell passed away. A wife and daughter lost a husband and a father and for the rest of us, we've lost a fabulous, inspirational and influential gentleman.
Stephen was an amazingly kind-hearted, generous and talented man whose ideas and concepts for modern products for modern musicians have been without equal in my view. He’s a real un-sung hero of modern music technology and leaves behind a wonderous and lengthy legacy within the music industry through his work with Akai and Alesis. He was highly instrumental in creating and shaping the factory sample libraries and user interface designs of many of the Akai S-series hardware samplers in a time where there didn’t exist any software equivalents and was responsible for the incredible soundsets made for the Alesis Fusion synthesizer. He was highly regarded and well respected within the industry, working with people such as Genesis, Peter Gabriel and Holly Johnson, to name but a few. If that wasn’t enough, he also taught at the Kingston School of Music Recording Technology.
Stephen was also a good friend, an inspiration and a mentor to a great many people, always happy to share his insights, experience and knowledge, but never with an ounce of ego. Under his Hollow Sun hat (a tan Fedora, you need to know that), the Kontakt-based sample libraries he created are a totally amazing collection of highly innovative, unusual and original instruments that far surpass many of the highly-priced packages you see on the market these days in terms of quality and cost. He really gave us musos an awful lot for very little in return. Stephen wasn’t motivated by money, he was more interested in getting his ideas out to the people that wanted them than he was making a fast/big buck.
Those of you who follow my blog will know that I have been working on the next Geigertek album, which will be called “Hollow Sun”. This will continue and the album will be dedicated to Stephen. The inspiration for the title came from this quirky little software house called Hollow Sun. I loved the name and I love the products it created. I was lucky enough to get to know the man behind the name.
I visited him at his HQ in the gorgeous South Wales town of Cowbridge back in November of 2012. where we talked all through the night, messed about with a couple of pending products (“Pulstar” and “Sounds of the Universe”) and took a series of photographs that Stephen used on the HS website and his various Internet haunts, based upon images created by the artist Rene Magritte, of whom Stephen was a massive fan. We had a lot of fun and a lot of laughs whilst taking the pics and he enjoyed all the posing and generally being Stephen throughout. I’ve been reading the e-mails he wrote to me after I sent him the finished images, and those words help to dampen the sadness I feel today, as he was so happy with them and used them extensively on the Hollow Sun website and his various internet haunts. You can see the full set HERE.
One of the many enduring memories I have of this man is his love for his daughter Alice. Alice is an accomplished musician in her own right and every single communication I had with Stephen always, I mean always, had a paragraph or three about Alice. You often had the feeling that if he were to get any prouder of her, he would spontaneously combust. He would also tell you that Alice was his greatest musical achievement.
So, it’s a heavy-hearted farewell to a friend who for me 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.
Wherever he is now, I hope to f*ck that they’re ready for him!!!