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Hollow Sun: The Dawn

The life and career of sample maestro Stephen Howell, who transitioned from singing for the Royal family to becoming a luminary in music sampling, is being chronicled in a six-part series on

Exclusive to, a six-part series with the life of sample maestro Stephen Howell as our tour guide. Enjoy!

Career swops aren’t that unusual – especially today. The age of staying at one job from school leaver to retirement is now increasingly rare. As markets and purchasing directions change and automation capability increases. It has and continues to sound a death-knell to careers that once essentially spanned a whole lifetime.

How does one go from singing for the Royal family at Windsor castle. To meeting Benjamin Britten to becoming a luminary of the dark art of sampling?

Youthful Industry

Like many luminaries they are the sum of their parts. They have the curious ability – through a kind of alchemical process if you will, to create something unique in the field they choose, from seemingly disconnected experiences and influences. Stephen Howell was no exception and is perhaps rather unsung in this regard!

Stephen originally trained with a school youth choir and his talent for singing earned him a scholarship to a preparatory school. Later, British composer Benjamin Britten personally selected him to sing in one of his operas

From novella to opera to movie – Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice has enjoyed a rich cultural life.

Life at the preparatory was as he put it “a fairly severe regimen” but admitted himself in a comprehensive 2013 interview with (as part of their Points of Kontakt series) it was good discipline.

In the UK, public schools are actually private! That is, a fee is paid for the year(s) of academic education. Scholarships are sometimes awarded to pupils who show particular talent or promise, and they are funded by charities, trusts or by the school itself.

Image shows a 1960s classroom occupied by schoolchildren sitting at their desks.  From the article Hollow Sun: The Dawn courtesy of
How Stephens school days might have looked. Source: School days – Wales Online

Getting out there

Building upon his innate love of music, synthesis and music technology. Stephen got to work writing music for theatre, reviewing live bands and production, whilst continuing to work full time for the Ministry of Agriculture.

… I was so busy – working with bands, mixing their live gigs, having them in to record in my little studio and ‘producing’ them, writing for TV and stuff, doing my own stuff, etc. Not enough hours in the day. I was doing session work through the night or gigging and going straight to work the next day with no sleep. It was unsustainable, so the day job – and regular income – had to go. There were some very lean times … was seriously skint a lot … well, most of the time, actually.

I was also writing for various UK music tech magazines like Electronics and Music Maker, Home and Studio Recording, Music Technology and, later, Sound on Sound and teaching a synth and recording course at Gateway Studios in London.

Stephen Howell with David Baer May 2013

As can be seen the juxtaposition of sacred music and the burgeoning late 1970’s synthesiser scene when funnelled through a keen and willing intelligence is not as stark as might first be thought. One taught discipline, obedience and commitment; the other adventure, a willingness to fail and to accept the unexpected – an ideal foundation for new frontiers and innovation.

Join in August for part two, Hollow Sun: AKAI years

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