Awe and wonder are among the many reactions and emotions generated in response to this extraordinary machine. It’s not a product, it’s not a piece of gear and so it’s out of place here on Gearnews.com but it is music technology in its purest form. It deserves to be seen by every person with a pulse. By all means skip straight to the video below.
But for those of you in need of more information I can tell you that The Marble Machine is the brainchild of Martin Molin from Swedish band Wintergatan. It took over a year to build from 3000 individually crafted parts and uses 2000 marbles to form this hand-cranked music box. Marble machines are usually streams of unordered sound, like a waterfall cascading onto chimes and bars but with this project Molin wanted to created something programmable, that would ultimately produce a song.
It is gloriously steampunk in every respect – the hand crank turns gears connected to larger gears rotating huge wheels that both trigger the release of marbles and return them to the top. The marbles fall from a row of channels and drop onto a vibraphone, a classic Violin Bass, a cymbal and some drum trigger pads and are then gathered back up to the top to continue the music. He’s managed to somehow build some tremolo into the vibes and all sorts of jiggery-pokery to bring the whole thing together. The sequencing belt that triggers the marbles in order to play the tune looks like it’s made from lego parts. It creates a 32-bar loop in a very similar way to a carillon bell machine which is the ancient ancestor of the digital sequencer.
They could have perhaps used a bit more colour, some steampunk brass or more interesting wood but that somehow misses the point – there’s something very real about the lack of finish, the scribbles, cable ties and rough edges, something more rock and roll than craftsmanship. But when that bass first kicks in and you realise he’s playing it becomes more than a machine, it becomes a mechanical musical work of art and simply has to be enjoyed.
More information and videos covering the creation of The Marble Machine: http://www.wintergatan.net/#/m.m.machine
And here’s Martin Molin performing with the device, filmed by Hannes Knutsson.