Tech by VICE

A 2,000-Marble Instrument Sounds Like a Synth for the Apocalypse

With 3,000 moving parts, the Wintergatan Marble Machine is hand-cranked but has the complexity of a synth.

by Beckett Mufson
02 March 2016, 3:05pm

Image courtesy Wintergatan

The above video demonstrates a wonderfully complex, programmable wooden machine that uses 2,000 marbles to play a vibraphone, drums, guitar, and more, like a post-apocalyptic approximation of a synthesizer. Swedish musician and inventor Martin Molin, known as "MacGyver" among fans of his old band, Detektivbyrån (The Detective Agency), designed and composed the visionary contraption over the course of 14 months. It's called the Wintergatan Marble Machine, named for both Molin's new band ("Wintergatan," which means "winter street") and the huge subculture of marble machines that inspired his creation.

"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 WIRED UK. The inner workings of the machine are driven by gears, levers, pulleys, and LEGO Technic parts, comprising a 32-bar loop. As with any computer software, Molin composes for the Wintergatan Marble Machine on a grid, but instead of dragging and dropping samples across a computer screen, he gets to physically format the machine.

Enjoy watching the Wintergatan Marble Machine work in the video below, as it will likely be some time before you'll see anything like it on tour. Molin hopes to use what he learned from the process to make simpler, more portable machines, as this 3,000-part monster must be completely disassembled in order to travel.

See Martin Molin's exhaustive process building the Wintergatan Marble Machine on his YouTube channel, and listen to more Wintergatan here.


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Wintergatan Marble Machine
martin molin