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Ocarina Review
hat is an Ocarina?

Sounds like a simple question, but try answering it. What is an ocarina? What makes up an ocarina?

If you guessed welded metal and perhaps plastic, you're in need of more guessing.

An ocarina is a rock. 100% pure stone. Well, okay, in the case of Clayz's Zelda ocarina it's more like 97% pure stone, 2% pure blue paint, and 1% pure glitter. (Is there such a thing as impure glitter?)

The ocarina is made from clay and then thrown into an very hot oven to harden the clay rock-solid. The mouth piece and the main part of the ocarina are polished fairly smoothly, but the wind tunnel between those two pieces has a slightly rougher finish to it.

And the thing feels like a rock. You can punch it, and it won't break. It will hurt your knuckles if you try to do that. It's not flimsy. It's not styrophome. It's rock hard, rock solid. Throw it at concrete, maybe it'll break. Drop it on the floor, and it'll still be good as new. If you throw a clarinet into a wall, and you'll need to beware of parts breaking off, or thin metal pieces bending out of shape. Throw this at a wall, and I think it's more likely to hurt the wall than the ocarina. Throw it through a window onto the front lawn, and I'd put my money on a fully working ocarina. It's basically a finely-crafted rock is what it is.

(On the minus side, if you did manage to hammer it and break it, you probably couldn't just take it down to your nearest music shop and have a piece welded back together or just replace a section of the instrament which was broken. You might try glueing it somehow but there might be a remaining crack that air could escape out of. Therefore, it is not recommended that you do many of the things listed in the above paragraph. You have been warned.)

When you blow in the Ocarina, you'll either hear a musical tone if you're blowing it right, or hissing air if you're puffing wind through it if you are purposefully blowing excessively hard. Not being able to blow too hard is actually a nice thing. The instrament sounds very clear and I believe it carries some distance away (although, unless I use a tape recorder, it's pretty hard to figure that out for sure by myself). So increased volume and distance really isn't an issue. A five year old could figure out with little difficulty exactly how hard to blow through it. Because little air is required to pass through it in order to make a very audible sound, it prevents novices from blowing harder than necessary and using up all the air in the novice's lungs.

Now if you head on over to www.clayz.com and take a look at the ocarinas, you might take one look and begin to wonder, "This looks so small!" Indeed, end to end it's not any longer than the width of my hand. For those with smaller hands, another comparison is this: From the top of the grey circle plastic piece which surrounds a standard Nintendo N64 controller, to the bottom of the middle 'handle'. That's how long it is. It doesn't stick out to the ear of an adult's head, or twice as far from a child's head. It's just not that big. If you're looking for an exact replica in every way, Clayz's "Zelda-style" ocarina just isn't made to be that.

For the absolute purist, it's button hole placement is different too. To Clayz's credit, the general shape of the ocarina is very much like the one shown in Ocarina of time. It's fatter in the middle, and longer on the left side of the person who is playing the instrament. Where the game's ocarina has holes but Clayz's ocarina doesn't, there are hole-sized circular indents.

Sound: This is where the ocarina really shines... and flops. First, it's shining. The music from this ocarina so so so sounds like the game. (Honestly, this is probably more a credit to Nintendo, either for their game or their sound hardware, for emulating an ocarina so well. Which probably isn't too hard to do, but enough rambling...) Some of the songs, like the Lon Lon Ranch and... I guess it's supposed to be Hyrule Market Square, I've been completely unable (yet) to reproduce. I think that's just because I don't have the timing down. Others, like Zelda's Lullaby and Epona's Song, are reproduced virtually if not absolutely perfectly. Yet others, like the Song of Time, I can get through the first half of it absolutely wonderfully.

And it is in such simpler songs that I've so far noticed the complete coolness. Yes, the Ocarinas are simple instraments, but when it comes to music ability, honestly, I'm fairly simple. The awesome wonder of this is as follows: I played Zelda's Lullaby.

"So what?" Well, I'll tell you what. What I played was a song from Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It was like pitch-perfect, and I did it. Myself. All by myself: Just me and this rock. No Nintendo 64 was in the room at the time. This wasn't a case of me pushing buttons and having a computer synthesized reproduction be played back for me. It was so... real. This wasn't just a "WAV file" being piped through a computer chip. I myself was moving air molecules around and I was creating the music.

And when I played the song, something in my head snapped. I recognized it. This wasn't just me playing random sounds: This was a recognizable tune. A tune which I'd played enough times on my Nintendo 64 that when I heard it on the ocarina, I knew it right away. I was really in the "I'm gonna learn this ocarina" mood and went up and down the scales a few times, and I really wasn't expecting to get anything good out of it until I practiced for maybe another half hour or so. I tried playing a few other songs and it just wasn't jiving all that well. But the very first time I tried Zelda's ocarina, it was... marvelous. I've tried the ol' harmincas with song book and to this day I can play a harmonica about as well as a two year old (except that I won't throw the harmonica into the nearest wall). The ocarina, though... worked. I've played a song on an Ocarina.

Playing a real song, competantly, which actually sounded anywhere close to how it was supposed to, without having a computer chip of any sort fake my own music skills for me. This was a really really neat experience.

Also cool was that I could string one note right into the next. This is a bit different than using an N64 to play ocarina sounds, because in Ocarina of Time Link tapers off on each note he plays. While it is a realistic idea (having the ocarina player run out of breath), Link begins to taper off on his notes very quickly (and then, at a certain point, really drops off fast). In contrast, when I played my Ocarina, I, a person not experienced with wind instraments, could continue to exhale during the entire length of Zelda's Lullaby, and have each part of each note be played at full strength. I could play a dozen notes, at the slow temple of Zelda's Lullaby, and feel no strain in my chest. Clayz's ocarina doesn't take that much lung power to use. I could also play each note for longer than what I could using the Ocarina of Time cartridge. Moving from one note to another was very smooth without even the tiniest stop (or volume drop) between notes as what I found when using my Nintendo system (unless I played each note very very quickly).

Clayz's ocarina exclusively offers a playable version of Zelda's Lullaby. I tried playing it on the N64 and thanks to Clayz's Zelda Song insert and reviewing the songbook I figured out that the notes are higher than the Up C button, and the high note in Zelda's Lullaby, I do believe, is higher than even what Link hits when you press Up on the anolog stick and hold the R button while pressing up C.

So, Clayz's ocarina can play everything Zelda Ocarina of Time can and more, right? Wrong.

Clayz's ocarina suffers a bit from being a bit... too high. I haven't completely figured out the pattern behind finger positions and notes; I just use the chart. Which hole is and is not covered can at times have a greater effect, I think, maybe, possibly, than sheerly how many holes are covered. However, there does seem to be a general trend that the more holes covered, the lower the notes are that get played. And when all notes are covered, a "Do" (as in "do re mi fa so la ti do") is played. That note corresponds to the down C button. Of the 12 special songs in Ocarina of Time, 7 of them (5 of the 6 warping songs) use the note played by the A button, which is lower than what the Clayz's Zelda Ocarina can hit. And this is how, as I mentioned earlier, Clayz's Ocarina flops at sounding exactly like the game. It can't hit all of the essential notes. Far as I could tell, it can't play a note lower than the what OOT plays using the Down-C button on the controller.

On the Zelda song sheet is the "Song of Time", which uses the A button. It doesn't quite sound the same, though. Not like the Prelude of Light, which sounds very accurate. As in, very accurate.

"So this isn't the real Ocarina of Time?"

From the color (a dark blue, rather than a light blue like in the game) to the size to the notes it can play, this is not "The Ocarina of Time" straight fresh out of the game. Personally, I think using the "classic 10-hole sweet potatoe" style of Ocarina would have served Zelda finatics better. The Clayz's are people who have been making Ocarinas for years and, like basically every other Ocarina maker out there, took a look at making an Ocarina to satisfy Zelda fans since, once the game Ocarina of Time came out, Zelda fans produced a huge Ocarina demand. Yes, it's true, our beloved video game has had a huge impact on an industry which once had little to do with video games at all: Ocarina making. The surge in demand for Zelda-like Ocarinas were phenominal. Basically, what happened is every ocarina maker out there didn't expect the huge demand which actually came and when the demand did come, it was such a phenominal jump that they all scrambled to fill the void with new products. We, Zelda-ites, took the Ocarina-manufacturing world by storm. Congratulations... We affected an industry.

So the Clayzes have been making a "four hole Western scale (English style)" Ocarina at the "world-famous" (I think it actually is) Pike Place Market for years when suddenly this Zelda craze came about. Probably the reason they didn't use the "Sweet Potatoe" style as a basis was that Sweet Potato Ocarinas weren't what they've been making year after year. They took their existing product, redesigned it, slapped on some blue paint and glitter in a Triforcey shape, and used that as a Zelda Ocarina. Honestly, that's certainly what happened. To have made a true, pure exact replica of Nintendo's Ocarina of Time would result in a larger product which, while it would probably be able to offer a bit more authentic hole placement and lower sound, it would have proven to be quite a bit more expensive I'm sure.

What we Zelda fans did manage to get from the Clayz's is a design which does have the same shape as the Ocarina from the game, a Triforce logo to replace the old Native-Tribe symbols they put on other Ocarinas, and most importantly, something which can reproduce Zelda's Lullaby better than any violin on the planet. The Ocarina may not be "exact", but it is "good". The smaller size makes it easy to tote around. (Just be careful you don't lose it.)

Packaged in with the Ocarina is a "songbook" which shows how to hold the Ocarina (although... it's kinda obvious how to hold the Ocarina) and which holes to cover up to get which notes. It also has quite a few songs in it, showing note after note although, not using the standard note scale. The notes are shown as small pictures of Ocarinas with holes either empty (open) or filled (closed). Unfortunately this format doesn't say how long to play each note. You kinda have to know the tempo of the song before you play in order to have it sound right. On the plus side, this allows the beginnger to start playing known songs without needing to worry about finger positions.

In the package I received, there was also a purple piece of paper which, for the most part, can be found on their web site. It had five songs from the game, including Zelda's Lullaby, but not including Epona's Song (which is on their web site). On the other hand, this was shipped to me many months ago, so perhaps now their papers do have all the songs that are on their web site?

There's also a green pouch which holds the ocarina, song book, and purple piece of paper. And a little square box, not much bigger at all than the ocarina, which the ocarina came in (but which isn't long enough to store the pouch and paperwork yet is too wide to fit in the pouch and paperwork, and so you need to choose one or the other and can't simply fit one inside the other).

Overall, it's a quality product. Just be careful when putting the mouth piece in your mouth that you don't bump your teeth. It's not carrot-soft you know.

Now, is it worth the moolah? That's what it always boils down to, isn't it? Moolah, moolah, moolah.

At $50, the ocarina isn't completely petty cash. Basically, it boils down to what you're interested in. If you still love Ocarina of Time and would like to replicate the music, the $50 will buy a quality piece of rock. If you're a parent interested in getting this for your young aspiring soon-to-be-a-Mozart, this is something which can play familiar music to a video gaming kid, and your kid will likely keep it off the floor so he doesn't hurt his own foot (unlike that harmonica that his heel ruined). Likewise, if you're the kid in all this, this would probably be a great present to ask for when your parents ask what you want for Christmas, or for your birthday. Great meaning, many parents would be likely to get their kid a musical intrament if they asked for it. Doesn't hurt to ask, right? Just tell your parents www.clayz.com and maybe you'll get one less pair of socks for Christmas. (Or one less lump of coal depending on how you're raised.)

For those who work fast food and make some cash and can afford to spend $50 as they live under their parents roof, it boils down to this: What would you rather spend your own hard(ly) earned money on an Ocarina, or go to your local EB and plop $50 down on the next Zelda game to come out? In other words, what are you at heart? A musician, or a gamer?

What do you want your kid to be? A musician? Or a video game junkie?

After buying the maximum limit they've preset on how many video games they'll buy their kids (which sometimes for me was zero) what would your parents likely want to get for you? Parents like ideas. Consider giving them this as an acceptable idea. Let them think they're turning your into a musician. Then when you're in the car and you can't play any video games, practice up on your ocarina music. Even if you just want to goof off instead of learning, the Ocarina makes great sparrow-like music... Perfect for convincing your parents, who are stuck in the car with you, not to bring you along any boring car rides. (Just make sure that your dad doesn't get angry and throw away the irritating "toy".)

And if you get serious, it looks like the Ocarina would be easy to learn well. If you've ever learned how to type, I think it would be the same way. Once you got it down pat, it'll quickly grow on you and become natrual. If you haven't learned how to touch-type yet... well... ignore this paragraph. I'm sure it'll be easy, really. And unlike other instraments I've tried but dismally failed at, the Ocarina can be used to play an eleven note song with basically no practice required, meaning early easy successes can help deter you from getting frustrated.

To me, Zelda's Lullaby was... an ear-opening experience. Really, very neat. And despite the fact your kid might be trying to just get another piece of video game paraphenelia, I would absolutely wish such a similar experience onto any person like myself with no musical experience whatsoever. There's a reason I talked paragraphs at length about that moment. That's when I really "fell for" the ocarina, admiring it's ability... my ability with it... when I realized that it wasn't just a 75 cent joke-instrament made in Taiwan, but a real instrament which can play a song that's actually recognizable... an instrament which can be taken seriously.

Conrad VanderWoude
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