This is the Wintergatan Marble Machine, built by Swedish musician Martin Molin.
This impossible to comprehend ‘instrument’ is a hand-made music box that powers a kick drum, bass, vibraphone and other instruments using a hand crank and 2,000 marbles.
To conceive this is beyond dreaming. To build this is beyond engineering. To play this is beyond musicianship.
The project began around Autumn of 2014. As the contraption neared completion, Molin and his team wrote that “the closer the machine gets to be finished the harder it gets to finish it”.
“It is strange how that happens, when the finish line is in sight, everything slows down automatically except the avalanche of new unforeseen problems. We need to start making music now and spend less time picking up marbles from the floor soon soon soon. But it is happening. When it is finished, music will follow.”
What started out as a two month project ended up taking fourteen months to complete.
“I drew out the dimensions in 3D software,” Molin said, starting with an 80cm cube on which the machine was built. But after that, the machine was made using a technique philosophically similar to that of moulage, or moulding clothes directly onto a fashion doll.
Each piece was built by Molin, moulded and adjusted gradually, leading to this musical monstrosity.
“The marbles, you know, they behave like water. The nature of water is that it just breaks through everything. After 100,000 years it can make a hole in stone. The marbles act like that, it doesn’t matter what I’m doing to try to tame them. They are just flooding every wall I’m putting up. … I’ll have to fix some escaping marble issues in order to tour.”
The more one understands about the complexity of this machine, the more awe it inspires. Not only is it a functioning piece of musical art… it is programmable. Its central wheel is a 32 bar loop, and the key of the song can be adjusted while playing. In the video below, it starts in E minor and runs into C major for its second wheel.
“In theory you could go on forever,” Molin said.
“It’s all about the grid,” he continues. “I grew up making music on Midi, and everyone makes music on a grid nowadays, on computers. Even before digital they made fantastic, programmable music instruments. In bell towers and church towers that play a melody they always have a programming wheel exactly like the one that is on the marble machine.”
If this doesn’t impress the pants right off you… you have simply lost the will to live my friend. This is art of the highest caliber, where engineering collides with music resulting in something this world has never seen before… and is all the better for its sheer existence.
If you’d like a deeper look into the process that created the Wintergatan Marble Machine…