Behold the Ingenious Musical Marble Machine

Could the return of marble-based madness be a reaction to our digital age? That we must construct real fantastical machines that perform humble amusements in the face of CGI-filled blockbusters? Do we need to know that if society collapses we can look to members of the Swedish folktronic band Wintergatan to help rebuild it? After watching the above video, friends, I say yes to all those (rhetorical) questions.

The Marble Conveyer Belt does what its name implies in a loving series of cranks, gears, “fish stairs,” ratchets, pistons, curved tracks, and springs, and no real amount of florid description will do justice to the visual poetry of watching Wintergatan’s Martin Molin operate/play what they have dubbed Marble Machine X.

This is not Molin or the band’s first machine. According to Wikipedia, between December 2014 and March 2016, Molin built the first Marble Machine, that played instruments like a vibraphone, bass guitar, cymbals, and a contact-microphone’d mini drum kit following a programmed wheel that triggered marble release armatures.

In fact, we told you all about it in a previous post in 2016, just in case this is all sounding familiar.

When that was a success, they disassembled the machine and set about working on Machine X.
Each step of the process was documented on YouTube, which is perfect for this sort of thing. The 79 videos can be watched over at this massive playlist. (Watch it below.) This time, Molin worked with a team of designers and engineers, along with fan input, to build something bigger and better.

Molin provided some specs over at the finished video’s YouTube page:

The Marble Conveyer Belt is Completed and it delivers Perfectly.
– lifts 8 marbles per crank turn.
– thanks to it being driven by ratchets and pistons, it makes a short halt to load and unload the marbles, on exactly the same spot every time.
– The pistons are connected to the crank shaft with a 2:1 gear reduction which means that the conveyer belt go in time with the music, and in half time. I can even use the mechanical sounds from the ratchets and the marbles climbing the fish stair to create parts of the beats.
– I only had one kick drum channel up and running so the kick drum plays on 2-4 like a snare normally would. Sounds a little strange but I just made this piece of music to demonstrate the concepts are working. (no music you hear in the videos are going to be used for the album, its quick and dirty functional pieces for the videos only)
– Its been a journey but we are now on our way. Again.
– the throw of the pistons s 40mm, the pitch of the chain is 15,875×2 mm, an imperial value, and it happens to be exactly twice the marble diameter. All this makes it possible to lift exactly one row of marbles per crank turn. The ratchets move 40 mm but only grabs onto the chain to move it exactly 31,75mm per crank turn.
The carriers are flame polished cnc:ed acrylic
– The chain was custom made in Japan and I waited 5 months for it to be delivered. haha. Of all the time consuming darlings on the MMX I love the conveyer belt /fish stair combo the most.
the marbles looks like they are stuck over the demagnetiser wheel, this is by design, as soon new marbles come into the pipes from below, the marbles are slowly pushed over the demag wheel which ensures perfect demagnetisation.

Molin has some kind of madness, the good kind. Where he goes after this achievement is anybody’s guess.


Related Content:

Metropolis II: Discover the Amazing, Fritz Lang-Inspired Kinetic Sculpture by Chris Burden

See the First “Drum Machine,” the Rhythmicon from 1931, and the Modern Drum Machines That Followed Decades Later

200-Year-Old Robots That Play Music, Shoot Arrows & Even Write Poems: Watch Automatons in Action

Watch a Musician Improvise on a 500-Year-Old Music Instrument, The Carillon

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at and/or watch his films here.

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