Whimsical New Instrument Creates Music Using 2,000 Marbles

March 3, 2016 | Joanne Kennell

Wintergatan Marble Machine
Photo credit: Samuel Westergren

It is a work of art!

This strange wooden musical instrument — a kind of giant music box — was built using 2,000 cascading metal marbles.  

Known as the Wintergatan Marble Machine, the contraption was invented and constructed by Swedish musician Martin Molin using pulleys, levers and gears.

Molin began working on the marble instrument in August 2014 and only planned to spend two months on the project.  However, it ended up being more complex than he imagined since all of the 3,000 internal parts had to be designed and built by hand — not an easy task!  By the time he was done, 14 months had passed.

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However, the melody it produces was definitely worth the time.

Molin told WIRED the project was inspired by the marble machine subculture: “I stumbled over the marble machine culture — it's a whole subculture — and was always interested in gears, and the future of gears.”

“Marble machines always make music, but I was thinking maybe I can make a programmable marble machine, that doesn't make chaos but is actually controllable in the sounds it makes,” Molin said.

To start the instrument, you have to turn a crank that begins to move 2,000 marbles internally around on tracks and through funnels.  As the marbles travel around, they come in contact with instruments such as a kick drum, vibraphone, bass guitar, cymbal and a marimba.  The melody it produces is determined by a score programmed into a 32 bar loop comprised of LEGO technic parts.

Unfortunately, to move the machine it has to be completely disassembled, so Molin hopes to build additional and potentially smaller devices that are more suited for transport.

However, Molin will be performing live concerts starting in the summer of this year.

So, how does it sound?  Absolutely beautiful.  Listen for yourself.


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