Destructoid interview: Piano Squall

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Of all the events at this year’s Otakon, the American debut of Eminence was undoubtedly the highlight. (We had the whole thing on video, but apparently magnets and DVC tapes don’t play well together). If you didn’t know, Eminence is a new-wave contemporary orchestra who specialize in videogame and anime music, and are responsible for bringing to life the works of great composers such as Otakon’s other esteemed guest, Hitoshi Sakimoto (FFXII, FF Tactics, Odin Sphere, Princess Mononoke, the list goes on for miles). As amazing as it was, however, there was another great talent on the stage whom you might be less familiar with. The man MCing the concert was none other than pianist Michael Gluck, also known as Piano Squall. (Check out the above video to see him in action.)

Having performed at Otakon 2005 himself, Michael saw the annual convention as the perfect opportunity to bring Eminence to an american audience, and played a major role in making that happen. After spending only a few minutes with him, I can safely say that you’d be hard pressed to find anyone so passionate about videogame music. I caught up with Piano Squall after the show to ask him a few questions about himself, as well as an awesome project of his which, if you appreciate videogame music at all, you’ll want to know more about. Hit the jump to see what you’ve been missing.

Destructoid: How long have you been playing piano?

Piano Squall: I’ve been playing for twelve years.

Dtoid: What was it that inspired you to start performing and recording videogame music?

PS: It started fifteen years ago in my living room with an old crappy television set and a Super Nintendo. I was just 9 years old, and I heard the music of Final Fantasy for the first time. I so clearly remember sitting there on my ass, staring at the TV, completely enchanted by Master Uematsu’s music. There was a piano in my house, but I didn’t know how to play, so I just started hitting random notes with one finger, trying to find the melodies that I was hearing in the game. A few years later, I started formal study so that I could learn to arrange music from all of the videogames that I enjoyed playing. Fifteen years ago, I never would have imagined that the RPG I rented from Blockbuster would end up shaping the entire direction of my life.

In 2003, I attended an anime convention in NY called the Big Apple Anime Festival, and I discovered a random piano in a secluded corner of the hotel. At this point, I had been playing videogame music for most of my life, but it was always something that I just did for my own enjoyment. It really never occurred to me that other people would actually be interested in listening to videogame music on the piano, so I had never shared my hobby with anyone before. I just thought I’d sit down and play quietly for a few minutes.

Before I could finish the first piece, there were at least thirty people around the piano throwing out requests! I was like, whoa, I thought I was the only person in the world who cared about this stuff, but here’s a whole world of people that are just as nerdy as I am! I sat there and played for hours and hours until I had gone through every theme on every soundtrack I could think of. It was really an incredible feeling to finally share my lifelong passion with other people that cared about this music as much as I did.

When I got up to leave, there was a director of a different convention who had been listening, and he invited me to perform a concert at his convention. I booked my first real show right there, and that was the beginning of everything.

Dtoid: You’re often seen dressed as Squall from FFVIII. What do you love about
this character and what made you choose him?

PS: “Piano Squall” is the combination of my two loves: Piano and Final Fantasy. I wanted to create an on-stage persona that reflected both of these aspects of my personality. Any other Final Fantasy character would have been fine, but I have no craftsmanship whatsoever, and Squall is the only costume I could make!

Dtoid: You performed at Otakon in 2005, and now here you are two years later,
MCing the debut of Eminence in the United States, along with Hitoshi
Sakimoto, no less. Are you friends with the members of Eminence or

PS: Eminence and I have been friends for a long time, and their North American debut performance at Otakon 2007 was out of this world. However, the appearance of Sakimoto-san was a total surprise to me! What an incredible man. Did you know that he had composed music for more than 125 games by the time he was 25 years old? I don’t know what I’ve been doing with my life!! *laughs* Sakimoto-san is a living legend.

I had the privilege of getting to know Sakimoto-san over the course of the weekend and introducing him to his American fans on stage during the Eminence concert, where he was met with a full standing ovation that went on for several minutes. Sakimoto-san was a total rockstar, and the whole Eminence concert was just awesome. In between pieces, I couldn’t help sneaking out into the audience to watch the concert myself.

Dtoid: Was it difficult to organize this performance? What did it take to make
it happen?

PS: With the Eminence Orchestra based in Australia and Otakon based in Baltimore, the two are just about as far apart as they can possibly get. Geographical distance meant high cost, and it was financially impossible to bring over the entire orchestra, but a string quintet and Sakimoto-san was the final solution. It was a tremendous honor to be among the few thousand people to hear members of the Eminence orchestra perform live in North America for the first time.

Dtoid: Why did you choose Otakon?

PS: I had the privilege of performing for an audience of three thousand at Otakon 2005, and I knew if that many people were interested in a piano solo concert, the Eminence orchestra would bring down the house.

Dtoid: It’s always great to meet someone else who is so passionate about
videogame music. Do you have a favorite piece that you love to listen to?
Favorite piece to play when you sit down at your own piano at home?

PS: I do. It’s “Melodies of Life” from FFIX. It’s not only an incredibly beautiful composition, but if you’ve played through the whole game and pay close attention to the ending, the lyrics give you a hint of something that happened which is never clearly explained. I cry every time I hear it!! *laughs*

Dtoid: Proceeds from the sales of your CD go to the National MS society. (Which
is awesome.) Tell our readers why you chose this cause.

PS: Multiple Sclerosis is the worst disease imaginable. I watched my own grandmother waste away in a chair until she couldn’t move a single muscle or speak a single word. I can’t even think about it right now.

Dtoid: Where can we learn more about what you’re doing and how to get a copy of
your CD?

PS: GAME is available now at Visitors can find a free demo of the album and live performance videos on the website too. I also write down all of my original arrangements and give them away for free, so after you listen to the CD, you can download the sheet music and play it for yourself!

Dtoid: So what does the future hold for Piano Squall?

PS: The future of Piano Squall is original composition for videogames. I am currently writing music for an upcoming title, and I can’t wait to share it with you soon!

Michael was kind enough to hook us up with a copy of his CD when we spoke to him, and if you couldn’t tell from the video, it’s totally amazing. There are 18 tracks, including the Final Fantasy Battle Medley you heard, songs from Chrono Trigger, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Mega Man II. (Yes, that one’s just as great as you think it would be), as well as a fantastic original composition to round it all out. You can listen to the mp3 demo here.

I’d like to thank Piano Squall again for being an all-around awesome guy and taking the time to share his music with us, and for not giving me a funny look when I asked him to write “Also Cocks” on the poster he autographed for us. Oh, did I forget to mention that? Yeah, we have an autographed poster and a few copies of his GAME CD to give away. (Stay tuned for that, I smell a contest coming on.)

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Topher Cantler
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