Last week we brought you the Marble Machine made by Swedish band Wintergatan, an “instrument” that made beautiful music from thousands of individual marbles and moving parts.
It is our job to write and try explain ridiculously complicated concepts, but this is really a rare time where we urge you to watch a short video of the machine in motion with its creator playing it. It’s a barely controlled piece of stunning chaos that somehow manages to create art.
You probably have a statement and a question right now: “That was amazing” and “How the hell does it work?” receptively. Luckily, Wintergatan has answered our prayers with a two-part How It Works video series on their YouTube channel.
While a bit long winded and in depth, the core of the Marble Machine is a “programming” wheel which is connected to a crank that the musician turns. The wheel is embedded with hundreds of LEGO Technic lift arms (bars with holes in them) which can be fitted with split pins which acts as bumps. This plays the drums, vibraphone (what we mistakenly called a xylophone last time) and base guitar.
Keeping track of where the song is in its loop, the programming wheel has markers to indicate the 1:64 gear ration between it and the hand crank.
Looking at gear ratios, wood construction and craftsmanship, it’s easy to assume that this is an entirely acoustic machine, but it’s powered by electricity to a large degree. An example of this is the drums. Instead of being traditional drums, they’re actually coasters (yes, the ones that you put drinks on) with contact microphones below them. For some reason, a marble striking a coaster with a contact microphone underneath makes a sound just like a drum.
Maybe our favourite part of the whole endeavour is the snare drums. While it has the same wooden coaster / microphone construction as the other drums, it has another component to add the “sizzle” effect as it’s called. A bag of Basmati Rice inside a wooden box attached to the drum turn it into a snare drum. Huh.
Where to next for Wintergatan and this machine? Unfortunately, while it still needs a ton of work to make it perfect (the original music video needed many takes to skirt intolerance in the design) they won’t be happening soon. The band , after spending 14 months on this project, is itching to return to making more traditional music as well as playing live. We’re sure it will be equally bonkers.