Stephen Howell – A Tribute in Memoriam
We remember Stephen Howell, the man behind Hollow Sun, who passed away at the end of May of this year. He will be dearly missed by so many of us in the Kontakt community.
by David Baer, July 2014
On the final day of May of this year, the Kontaktsphere convulsed, contracted, momentarily grew dim and a great measure of joy escaped it, likely never to return. On that day Stephen Howell, the man who was Hollow Sun, died unexpectedly. Stephen died after a brief period of hospitalization at the far too-early age of 56. We devote this issue’s Points of Kontakt column to remembering this exceptional individual.
It was no accident that the very first installment of this Points of Kontakt column featured a lengthy interview with Stephen. He and I had discussed doing one for some time, but I knew it would be very special and had every intention of saving it for an auspicious occasion, the first issue of SoundBytes Magazine. Those who missed it or would like to revisit it can find the interview here:
Those wishing to know a bit more about Stephen’s history can learn more in a lovely obituary written by Sound on Sound’s Martin Walker to be found here:
I first got to know Stephen after I had written a review of the Hollow Sun RMI Electra Piano. I sent Stephen a note about the review, and he not only responded with a delightful email, unbidden he sent me the first half dozen or so Music Lab Machines libraries as a thank you. Thus began several years of correspondence that allowed me to get to know him. I thoroughly regret that I never had the opportunity to meet him in person.
Stephen’s emails were always something I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated. I quickly began to regard him as a friend even though our relationship was never anything more than email conversation. And you know what? It turns out that many others have reported the same feelings. In the forum conversations that followed the news of his death, many others articulated the same reaction: “I never met him but I felt like he was a true friend”.
But it didn’t stop there. Other sentiments were expressed by numerous posters that mirrored my own, like (to paraphrase):
“I have never felt as sad about learning of the death of someone I never personally met”.
“He was incredibly generous with his time in communicating with me even though I was just a user”.
“Hollow Sun advertising emails were the opposite of an annoyance. I opened them eagerly and they always made my day!”.
… you get the idea.
But the most wonderful tribute that could be expected came from many sound developers, potential competitors of Hollow Sun, who without exception wrote of their gratitude for Stephen’s helpful expertise he was always willing to share and for his encouragement. If there’s a more compelling justification that he was a class act, I cannot think of what that could be.
Stephen not only established a wonderful resource for Kontakt sounds with his company Hollow Sun, in many ways, I think he established a model that has inspired others to emulate it, all to our considerable mutual benefit. Stephen conceived a way to package and market sound libraries that was well received by a grateful customer base. Other sound vendors have taken note and we, the Kontakt community, are all the richer as a result. We owe so very much to this one individual.
Stephen was far more than just an accomplished sound engineer. He seemed to excel at anything he did. He wrote with great panache. His wit was priceless. He also was an inspired visual designer – his instrument UI panels were unparalleled in originality and delightfulness. He will not easily be replaced.
But of course his greatest legacy is the rich offerings of musical, exotic, unusual and rare sound treasures he has captured for us to use in our musical endeavors. More than anyone else I can think of, he has demonstrated what wonderful results can be achieved with sampled sound, everything from historically interesting electronica to musically relevant oddity. He had a mad scientist’s acumen for the unusual that translated into treasure.
I can only fantasize that he is now embarked on a mission to capture the sounds of the mystic cosmos, so that when we all inevitably join him on the other side, we’ll have even more treasures awaiting us.
But then, perhaps that’s just exactly what he was doing all along.
A Stephen Howell Gallery
Comments from Mario Krušelj
And now, some words from Stephen’s long-time collaborator, Kontakt scripting master, Mario Krušelj:
There are some people for which one would usually say “he was a man of few words”. Well, Steve was quite the opposite! The man absolutely loved to waffle about a wide variety of subjects, from politics to language, but his favorite thing to discuss about was sound. At least that was the case between him and me. Throughout more than four years that we’ve worked together, there have been countless hours of throwing all kinds of ideas around, sometimes up to very late at night (or very early in the morning, depending on how you look at it!)… this aspect of working is something I will miss very much now that Steve’s gone.
I am eternally grateful to have known such a legend. It has been an honor working with him, and not just that – being friends with the man. The two of us weren’t all business. I genuinely considered him a great friend of mine, despite the fact that he could have been my father!
Fare thee well, Steve, wherever you are now. I’m quite sure now you can really hear for yourself how the universe actually sounds! In a way, I am a bit envious about that. 🙂
Stephen Howell, we thank thee for thy service. Rocketh on, Hollow Sun.