Game Music Festival 2013

TPR: A Cheerful Chat About Melancholy Melodies
By Mike Salbato, with contributions from Andrew Barker, Luna Lee, and John Tucker
Buried in the Snow: A Melancholy Tribute To Final Fantasy VII, VIII, and IX
RPGFan: Can you tell us a little bit about your background? What kind of musical training do you have, and how did you become involved writing music for video games?
TPR: I started playing the piano at the age of six — 20 years ago now. I was kind of forced into it by my parents! I only had basic lessons for a few years but have continued playing ever since. It's only been in the last few years that I've been playing video game music.

RPGFan: What inspired you to create the Melancholy albums for the Final Fantasy series? And what prompted you to start with VII, VIII, and IX?
TPR: It started a couple of years back. I was working on orchestral arrangements of Final Fantasy VII tracks when I started working on Launching a Dream into Space — itself almost a melancholy tribute to Cid's Theme. This got me thinking "what other FFVII tunes would work slowed down with different instrumentation?"

J-E-N-O-V-A is always a popular number, so I started with that. The feedback I got was overwhelmingly positive, so I thought I'd try it out on some more FFVII tunes. Mako Reactor, Cosmo Canyon, Shinra Inc... it was a great way to pay tribute to what I believe is the greatest video game soundtrack of all time, while also being able to put my own spin on things.

I covered VII, VIII and IX because those are the ones I grew up with! I got a PlayStation in 1997, so FFVII was the first big release I really got into. I also remember getting FFVIII for Christmas two years later — it was a good job, as I'd pretty much worn that demo disc out! FFIX is a strange one, and I'd kind of given up on it when it first came out — I think schoolwork may have been a priority at that point (also an unhealthy obsession with pro wrestling) — but I've played through it since and enjoyed it thoroughly.

RPGFan: For any aspiring composers reading, what tools do you use to compose/arrange?
TPR: I'm a Mac user, and I do all arranging and recording in Logic Pro. As far as sound libraries go, I really like Spectrasonics' Omnisphere. Most of the background synths and pads in the Melancholy Tribute albums are from there. My piano sounds are from Ivory II by Synthogy — I've tried several piano libraries before, but Ivory II is the best for me.

RPGFan: What common (or uncommon!) sources of inspiration do you draw from when composing?
TPR: Aside from Nobuo, of course, I really love this band called Hellsongs — they cover heavy-metal standards but in a kind of indie folkish way. They're also not afraid to just leave the sound "hanging" for a few bars, which I really like to do (perhaps sometimes too much!).

RPGFan: Do you have a favorite instrument to play or use in your work?
TPR: Definitely the piano, although I really love the cello. I bought one to try to learn, but I just don't have the time or talent — I would absolutely love to work on a piano/cello Final Fantasy collaboration, though.

RPGFan: Are there any genres/styles of music that you have not used that you would like to try in the future?
TPR: I love progressive rock/metal, but I'm almost certain I don't have anywhere near the vision required to write it. But you never know — perhaps in the future there will be a prog tribute to Final Fantasy! Melodies of Life would work in an 7/8 time signature, right? Right?

RPGFan: If there were no obstacles in your way, what would be your "dream collaboration" job (working with other composers or musicians)? They could be living or dead, related to game music or not related.
TPR: I have to say Nobuo, don't I? The man's a genius. For a bit more of a left-field option I'd absolutely love to work with Arjen Lucassen, the man behind Ayreon (and countless other projects). I have no idea how I could work with him, but hey!

RPGFan: This may be a common question, but when we're a fan of someone's work, we usually like to know what they're fans of. So what are some of your favorite songs, composers, games, or — why not — food?
TPR: I'm not sure I really have a favourite song! Probably The Perfect Element by Pain of Salvation and er... John Farnham's You're The Voice! What a song! My dad had a CD that I listened to all the time. It had REO Speedwagon, Journey, Marillion's Kayleigh, St Elmo's Fire, Magnum's Start Talking Love... they don't make music like that any more, do they?

Honestly, I'm a bit of a philistine when it comes to composers — even video game ones. I'm not averse to a bit of the pop-classical pianists like Einaudi and Yiruma, though. Sorry.

Games-wise, I'm a big PSone romantic — and not just because of FFVII, VIII & IX. I've got a massive collection of PSone games, but admittedly most of them are pretty bad! Who remembers Robo Pit? Hopefully no one; it deserves to be forgotten about. But still it had some great games: Tekken, Tony Hawk's, Spyro, the Crash series... The Wrath of Cortex on PS2 taught me a valuable lesson about buying games based on its series, however.

I really like ketchup!

RPGFan: What's the most satisfying part of being a composer, for you?
TPR: My work's not exactly well known, but the incredible feedback I get from listeners is fantastic. Every time I just get a new "fan" on Facebook, it brings a massive smile to my face.

RPGFan: Have you had any particularly noteworthy experiences as a result of your musical work? Feedback, life events, etc.
TPR: I've had a couple of people want to use my FF covers when they walk down the aisle! That to me is simply incredible, and there's probably no greater compliment.

RPGFan: What's next for you? Another Melancholy Final Fantasy album, bringing the style to another series' music, or something completely different?
TPR: I wish I had a better answer to this question than "I don't know!" I love arranging the Final Fantasy pieces, but the ultimate aim is to become known for my original songs, so I'll probably work on a new original album first of all. However, I'll get frustrated with that and end up doing a Melancholy Tribute to Final Fantasy VI before too long. [Editor's Note: We are more than okay with this.] I guess that's a semi-official announcement!

RPGFan: Do you have anything you want to say to fans/potential fans, or do you have any projects or links you'd like to share?
TPR: Thank you to everyone who has listened to, watched, bought or streamed anything to do with me. It's very, very much appreciated. Please check out my Facebook page and Bandcamp page for an album of original pieces.
Buried in the Snow: A Melancholy Tribute To Final Fantasy VII, VIII, and IX
Buried in the Snow: A Melancholy Tribute To Final Fantasy VII, VIII, and IX

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Sunday, July 29
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Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep • 2:30pm PDT/5:30pm EDT
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Final Fantasy IX • 3pm PDT/6pm EDT
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel (Speedrun) • 6pm PDT/9pm EDT

Octopath Traveler • 5pm PDT/8pm EDT

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