This Machine Makes Music With Marbles

The absurd-looking device is a marble-powered, one-man band

Marble Machine
Martin Molin via YouTube

When Swedish musician Martin Molin set out to make a musical instrument that runs on marbles, he figured it would only take a couple of months. The process turned out to be a little more complicated than he initially anticipated. Now, more than a year later, Molin has finally unveiled his finished piece: an enormous hand-made music box, powered by a manual crank, which makes music by using about 2,000 metal marbles.

The Wintergartan Marble Machine works by sending thousands of steel marbles around a circuit, albeit an enormously complex one. As Molin turns a crank, the marbles begin to roll down chutes leading them to different keys on a vibraphone. That’s not the only instrument built into the machine, though. By flipping different switches, Molin can open new channels to a kick drum, a cymbal and even an electric bass, depending on what elements he wants to add into the mix, Christopher Jobson writes for Colossal.

"It's all about the grid," Molin tells Michael Rundle writes for Wired UK. "I grew up making music on Midi [a computer language for writing music], 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."

The Wintergartan Marble Machine, itself, is a work of art. After designing a blueprint for it using 3D software, Molin meticulously crafted almost every piece of the Rube Goldberg-type instrument by hand, Rundle writes.

Molin came up with the idea of making a music box marble machine after he discovered a community of people who have been designing and building marble machines for years on the Internet. Molin was drawn to the idea of playing with gears and making machinery. While many of these devices are intricately designed and remarkable all on their own, they typically perform the same tasks over and over again. Molin, on the other hand, wanted to make one that he could program to sound however he wanted, Rundle writes.

"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 tells Rundle.

Don’t expect Molin to tour with the machine any time soon, though. While he has published a video of himself playing a song on the Wintergartan Marble Machine, right now the machine has to be disassembled before it can move anywhere, making traveling and performing with it a challenge, to say the least. But for those curious to hear the esoteric instrument live, Molin tells Rundle that his next goal is to build machines that can be taken on stage more easily.