Marble Machine — A Feat of Both Music and Engineering

Marble Machine

By Jessica Roblin of Indie Band Guru

What else is there to do with marbles beyond fuel a giant wooden music box? Maybe that wasn’t the exact thought process of the Wintergatan band members, but they did it anyway.

That’s right — Swedish musician Martin Molin and the band designed and constructed a 3,000-piece marble music box powering a vibraphone, bass, kick drum, and other musical elements via hand crank. The entire process took 14 months and plenty of creativity. The central wheel is a 32 bar loop, so the box is programmable to play in any key the musician chooses.

Like a mini locomotive train slowly easing out of the station, Molin begins cranking the large wheel to set the marbles in motion. The music video, filmed by Hannes Knutsson, is so simple — Molin, a white backdrop, and the Wintergatan Marble Machine in all its glory.

Instantly, the beat picks up and I’m glued to my computer. Like something out of Sweeney Todd, the catchy vibraphone beats on the rickety Marble Machine creation start in an E minor and progress for a few minutes as you get a peek into the belly of the beast.

The marbles are funneled, dropped, scratched, and put in rhythm to the song. The movement creates a creepy, shifting, and fluid sound that takes a subtle backseat to the bass and vibraphone. Molin takes it into a C major, walking away to let the marbles slow down and the music die out.

Each detail and every marble had to be in place to execute Molin’s tune, and I can’t play it enough times. The complexities of this mystical machine are too much fully wrap my head around.

Well done, Wintergatan. You’ve got my attention.