3000-piece hand cranked wooden instrument is played by 2000 marbles

Written by: Tom Austin-Morgan | Published:
Photo: Samuel Westergren

This incredibly complex music box is the brainchild of Swedish musician Martin Molin from the band Wintergaten. It contains around 3000 parts, 3000 screws, 500 Lego parts, five sheets of Baltic birch plywood and 200 marbles.

It is operated by a hand crank and replicates the sound of a full band by incorporating instruments including a vibraphone, an electric bass, a kickdrum, snare drum, hi hat and a sizzle cymbal. All the instruments are ‘played’ by the 2000 marbles with Molin turning the crank, operating levers and pressing the right frets on the bass.

Molin was inspired to create his marble machine after visiting a museum in Holland that showcases mechanical instruments.

Wintergatan had previously hand built some of their instruments, but the Marble Machine came to be the most ambitious and challenging instrument of all. For the project, Molin bought himself a bandsaw, a table saw and a drill press. He drew out a crude sketch of the machine on 3D software to find the optimum dimensions and “improvised from there”.

“When I started building in November 2014 I told my friend it would be done before Christmas,” said Molin. “I was in complete denial about time consumption during the whole process, I was just moving forwards, always thinking ‘I’m soon done’.”

The build was finally completed 14 months later in January 2016. “I couldn’t face giving up,” Molin continued. “But it was challenging sometimes. The marble gates, the little mechanism that makes sure the marbles fall one by one rather than at the same time, were the hardest part.”

The plan now is to build a smaller motorised music box that Wintergaten will take on tour as the current iteration is too bulky. But Molin will continue to refine the big marble machine so that it spills fewer marbles and is easier to transport.

A full ‘making-of’ video is available to view on the band’s YouTube channel.

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