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Ar tonelico Hymmnos Orgel Collection - Kara*Cola :: Review by Charles

Ar tonelico Hymmnos Orgel Collection - Kara*Cola Album Title: Ar tonelico Hymmnos Orgel Collection - Kara*Cola
Record Label: Vagrancy
Catalog No.: AURA-0014
Release Date: August 17, 2008
Purchase: Buy at eBay


I struggle to understand Japan's obsession with the orgel, a certain type of music box. The instrument has been featured extensively in the music for RPGs — ranging from the ending themes for Chrono Trigger and Sakura Note to arranged album for the Monster Hunter and Suikoden series — yet almost universally sounds colourless and superficial to me. Recently, even the Ar tonelico series has been subjected to the orgel arranged treatment, despite being known for its colourful instrumental and vocal music. Could the combination possibly work?


Thankfully, the producer behind Ar tonelico Hymmnos Orgel Collection - Kara*Cola is Akiko Shikata, lead singer of the series and an ambitious composer in her own right. She broke the convention established by other arrangers of simplifying the original music into linear music box arrangements. Instead she decided to reflect the colour and complexity of the originals by taking a polyphonic approach, using all sorts of tuned percussion instruments in an intricate way. The result is simply fascinating.

Right from the start of the album, Shikata emphasises the clockwork nature of the album with the distinctive sounds of gears turning and bells ringing. The track subsequently moves into a straightforward interpretation of the series' main theme "Singing Hills" on the orgel, made sumptuous by resounding chords from the xylophone and a web of arpeggios from the glockenspiel. Tracks like "EXEC_CHRONICLE_KEY/." and "Hearts Aflutter ~Cloche~" inspire so much imagery during their playtimes. They make one imagine a child being transported from a dusty attic into a colourful new world; they're astonishingly original ways to portray a clichéd story featured in so many fantasy films and books.

Perhaps the culmination of the album is "EXEC_PHANTASMAGORIA/." This eight minute arrangement is a glorious demonstration of the colours and textures that tuned percussion instruments are capable of creating. It's an outstanding concept and just keeps surprising listeners during its development. Also notable is the bonus track "Pepen's Song", a peppy vocal arrangement featuring youthful female vocals, jubilant recorder solos, and silly electronic bass lines. It's hardly as deep or interesting as other tracks, but is a pleasing and fun way to round off the experience nevertheless.


The orgel is generally used in a superficial or commercialistic way by most game music composers and producers. Fortunately, Ar tonelico Hymmnos Orgel Collection - Kara*Cola manages to revert their trend and provide a true work of artistry. It's wonderful how Akiko Shikata managed to achieve this while still keeping the imagery and themes of the Ar tonelico series alive. Despite the successful approach, some may still tire of the instrumentation for an entire album. Nevertheless, those looking to be transported into a clockwork fantasy world will certainly find this a bizarre yet fulfilling experience.

Overall Score: 8/10