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Piano Squall brings tempest of music

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Various have tried, many have failed. But one, Michael Gluck, has made success out of video game music performance and recently released his album GAME--Game and Animé Music Emotions--to the delight of connoisseurs and convention goers everywhere. Square Haven recently talked to Gluck, who frequently takes on the guise of "Piano Squall", to talk with him about his musical career and his most recent accomplishment.

Michael Gluck listens. With a deep excitement and a musical ear, he listens. To the overtures, to the themes, and to all the sounds which compose our cherished titles and their sweet nostalgia, he listens. And he plays. Since 2003, Gluck, also known as “Piano Squall”, has preformed a multitude of video game and animé music concerts for the benefit of organizations such as the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Maryland Food Bank. Joining the ranks of other famous video game pianists including Martin Leung, Gluck has taken a position enabling him to delight and inspire the fans his music reaches. Now, with his most recent work, GAME (Game and Anime Music Emotions), he has become the first independent artist to release a video game performance album. Further, with an EA partnership, Gluck intends to donate 20% of his $9.99 album’s proceeds to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Oh, and shipping is free. How did such an endeavor come about? Square Haven recently spoke to Michael Gluck regarding his career and the release of GAME:

“You could say I was born a nerd,” jokes Gluck, describing his experience with video games and RPGs. Beginning with Final Fantasy IV at the age of nine, he developed a love which many of us share—for story, for characters, and, most potently in his case, for music. “I started [playing] because of video games,” he recalls. After hearing Nobuo Uematsu’s composition in FFIV, groundbreaking in its use of the SNES hardware, he wished to play the music on his own. Taking it upon himself to pick at many of the melodies on his home’s piano, he finally sought professional instruction after a few years and began arranging many pieces on his own. Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana—every time he heard new music, an arrangement soon followed. Personally, I follow the same procedure with new games and howls of pain echoing from my wallet, but that’s beside the point. Where many of us simply sit and enjoy, Michael Gluck creates.

By 2003, he had built up a “huge library” of original arrangements and decided to take them to the public. It was then that he began to perform at various conventions, among these Otakon and Sakura-con, slowly gaining popularity and the attention of animé and video game enthusiasts. He soon took up the moniker of “Piano Squall” and continued his career. Why Squall? “It could’ve been anything,” says Gluck. “It was simply the easiest to play the piano in.” The logic here is sound: thoughts of Seymour’s gravity-defying hair and Ashley Riot’s embarrassing thong come to mind. The response has been very favorable, especially in the fan community, and, as Gluck notes, “it all comes down to people in the community.”

Now, four years into what Gluck describes as his side job, he has undertaken the arduous task of producing an album. He has secured the necessary rights and has sent himself on a fundraising mission. The result is GAME. But does it have what it takes to compete against professional recordings and the vast quantity of like-minded music already released? I take a closer look.

The album’s 27 tracks span the range from classic arrangements to modern themes and original compositions. The recording and performance quality is high, with a handful of comments to be made about various tracks. The opening track, Chrono Cross’s “Scars of Time”, is an extremely welcome arrangement in light of the still-pending Chrono Cross Arrange album. There is, however, a bit of rushing that occurs at the beginning of the tempo change which also manifests itself at various points in the album. This, combined with Gluck’s sometimes odd use of tempo rubato, has a tendency of detracting from the flow and solid beat of his otherwise well-preformed pieces. Cowboy Bebop’s “Tank!” also suffers various maladies: Condensing music meant for a diverse ensemble down for one instrument, especially in the case of jazz and Big Band, is already an incredibly difficult task. However, this song was an odd choice considering Gluck’s classical background—it doesn’t quite seem to groove the way it should and the syncopated eighth notes in the main figure feel very rushed as a consequence.

That said, the rest of the album is very enjoyable and notable for its significant variety. Super Mario’s “Athlete’s Rag”, and Mega Man II’s “Dr. Wily’s Castle: Stage 1” are performed artfully, giving these pieces a lovely revival and breathing new life back into these classic titles. Chrono Trigger’s “Frog’s Theme” and “Decisive Battle with Magus” also make a delightful, although lamentably short, appearance. One can also find Final Fantasy IX’s “Vamo’ alla Flamenco”,whose arrangement differs enough from that of the title’s Piano Collections to stand on its own.

But perhaps one of the most interesting tracks on the album includes the “Final Fantasy Battle Medley”. In what I have tried and failed to do by burning various tracks together onto a CD, Piano Squall has succeeded, seamlessly threading together various Final Fantasy battle tracks into a single arrangement that spans from “Battle with Gilgamesh” on through “Liberi Fatali” and “One Winged Angel”. The result is a track which carries much of the justification for purchasing GAME, though it is somewhat curious though unsurprising that “One Winged Angel” receives almost three times as much playtime as any other track when selections such as “The Man with the Machine Gun” and “Battle with the Four Fiends” were completely omitted.

Meanwhile, Gluck’s co-composition with sound editor Michael Huang, “Boss Battle”, is by far one of the best reasons to own GAME. Why? Creating battle themes is obscenely difficult. The skill required in creating a piece of music ready to withstand multiple and frequent listenings is one which rises to a level far beyond many amateur composers or musical dilettantes. One must only browse through the archives of Overclocked Remix to find that out. In any game soundtrack, the battle theme remains one of the defining factors in recalling that game’s memory. The point? Michael Gluck succeeds. Mixing shadows of Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy with his own ideas, he creates a memorable sound which makes us wonder what else he is capable of.

With 27 pieces (50 minutes’ worth) of game and anime music, original arrangements, and a medley of FF battle themes at $9.99 with free shipping and a contribution to the Multiple Sclerosis Society, GAME is a purchase which cannot go wrong. For further details and purchasing information, visit Piano Squall at www.pianosquall.com.

Michael Gluck recently preformed at Otacon and lent his talents to the role of emcee at an Eminence concert during the same event. His favorite game music score to date is Final Fantasy VI.


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I bought this soundtrack when it came out a couple weeks ago and have really enjoyed listening to it. The original boss battle track at the end of the album demonstrates that Michael has integrated the conventions of game music into his compositions and performances to an extent that can assuredly be called professional. The way he has gone about creating this album and directing proceeds to benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society are really admirable. I hope it opens the doors for other independent artists to attempt similar ventures.
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I actually met Michael back at A-Kon 17 when he performed there. He seemed a bit shy, but his appreciation for the music was very apparent; the sort of musician who closes his eyes and sways as he plays. Nice guy, I've got an autographed poster of him.
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