Wintergatan - Marble Machine - nutso musical instrument

Wintergatan - Marble Machine

Martin Molin made a device that’s kind of like a player piano, in the same way that tequila is kind of like beer. 2000 marbles, a vibraphone, a Beatle bass, some percussion, an appropriately named “breakdown” lever, and a very busy guy makes for a pretty damn nice song. Even the noise of cranking the machine is in the rhythm of the song. The trigger wheel is made of Lego and appears to be re-writable, so he can play more than that one song with it.
But yeah, I fell in love with it because the bass is the lead instrument. :slight_smile:

Fascinating to watch and hear. They sure cut up a lot of high quality plywood to make that thing.

Well, the guy’s from Sweden. My brother-in-law was once employed by Nokia, who’s headquartered next door in Finland. The plywood they used for crates to send stuff stateside was obscene. Beautiful, clear, no knots. My wife uses plywood for printmaking sometimes, and I wish we had a place to store all he could have taken as refuse. With some foresight, we could have been set for life.
And really, that kind of speaks to the different levels this work of art works for me. It’s good engineering, good craftsmanship, good design, a hodgepodge of the nice materials available to someone today, nice editing, and a pretty sweet song all coming together to make art. I’ve probably spent an hour watching this video over the last two days.

I’m far too enamored of this device, but here’s two videos on how the thing works.

The first shows the layout and the basics.

The second shows the complexity of the problems addressed by the design, and how the machine has “good” engineering but not “excellent” or “great” engineering. It also covers the bass’ tuning, how the song works, and has a pretty coherent explanation of what constitutes a lead part. Though, I’d further generalize the idea of a lead part to “you guys enjoy your chords, I’m going to do what I want.”. I also enjoy how he yearns to stop working on the machine, and just play music. Our urges aren’t uniform.

It is fascinating, and I enjoy the music it makes, but I have no ability to relate to the need to make such a Rube Goldberg-ian instrument contraption.

I haven’t seen the detail videos, but would assume that “programming” it for a different piece of music would either take forever, or require a similar machine that was purpose-built for the new piece.

If the guy just “yearns to make music” he could’ve picked up a ukulele :wink:

That was really cool. Thanks for sharing. I can’t wait to look at the plans for that thing.

You’d have to move the lego pegs on the moving belt. It’s kind of like a player piano or music box in that respect.

I watched those videos several times the other day–my engineering and musical roots were both stirred. The final music video was clever in its execution: I particularly liked how they placed one black marble in the bunch of silver ones so the viewer can follow it through.

But… the guy clearly has too much time on his hands!


I mean, I resisted checking out Open Tunings on guitar because I didn’t want to have to retune a guitar on the fly or have a guitar in the correct tuning ready :wink: I finally figured out how to play Cheater’s G by detuning 1 string* - that I could live with :wink: :wink:

This guy…it’s like writing a program by moving wire connections back in 40’s.

*tune the A down to G and then mute the High and Low E’s as you play. The middle 4 strings are in Open G and you can play Stones songs in your covers band and get back to standard tuning quickly!!

Live-action Animusic!


In one of this guy’s videos he mentions that he was inspired to build the machine after watching a video by YouTuber Matthias Wandel about a wooden gear template generator that Matthias had written. I’ve been subscribed to Matthias’ channel for a while now. He builds all kinds of interesting things.

That’s “brakedown” lever. A clever pun.

Yeah, I noticed I flubbed that in the OP a minute after the edit window expired. I was hoping no one else would notice. :slight_smile:

All I can add is that the guy should so be wearing a red & white striped Dr. Seuss hat when he plays it…