A hit on YouTube: since March 2016, Wintergatan’s Marble Machine has been viewed 21 million times. More than enough to boost the Swedish music group’s career and keep its creator, Martin Molin, busy. Interview with this born maker.
Berlin, special report
Wintergatan’s Marble Machine (March 2016):
The good thing about Sweden in winter is that the sun sets early—which gives you plenty of time to lock yourself in the garage and do whatever you want. This is exactly what Wintergatan band member Martin Molin did for 16 months in order to build his musical sculpture.
“At the time, I was a perfectionist about music. I had 2,000 demos on my computer, but I couldn’t finish them. I had built up resistance,” he recalls during our meeting at Music Tech Fest in Berlin. Building his machine motivated him. “When you solve a problem, the more complex it is, the more fun it is.”
The result was a programmable lead marble machine measuring 2 meters high, with a complex and well-oiled mechanism. The sound engineering was just as refined, with microphones recording each individual instrument for a super slick production. The process is based on gears that rotate a wheel, which releases marbles (a total of 2,000), which play different notes as they fall on various instruments (drum and snare with a coaster and rice, bass, vibraphone, etc). Or 22 songs that can be played using a complicated formula that he explains in a video.
How the Marble Machine works, Wintergatan (March 2016):
“If it looks professional, I learned it on YouTube”
So much for technique. As far as know-how, 33-year-old Martin Molin claims that he “learned everything on YouTube… I got hooked on the videos of Matthias Wandel, a German engineer living in Canada who has a fantastic channel. I also watch Jimmy Diresta, a carpenter. One day he said, ‘If it looks professional, I learned it on YouTube.’ This is exactly my case. I’ve been building things my whole life without any training.”
Martin Molin’s Marble Machine is not the first of its kind. On the Internet, it’s a sort of subculture, kind of like perpetual motion machines. One of the most popular inventors (after Martin Molin and his 21 million views) is Matthias Wandel, the same engineer who inspired the musician. “He plays with gravity, marbles fall with a chaotic and magificent sound,” Molin swoons. “I wanted to see if I could do it,” he says, before admitting that he was “a bit naïve… I thought it would be easier than that.”
Matthias Wandel’s Marble Machine (2010):
Molin’s other inspiration came from a visit to the Museum Speelklok of self-playing musical instruments in Utrecht, the Netherlands. “If your readers pass by there, they must visit this museum, it’s fantastic,” he insists. “There are all kinds of mechanical and programmable instruments from the 19th century, before the digital age.”
Marble Machine V2
Martin Molin has developed a taste for making—and tutorials. After shooting a dozen videos about how to make his Marble Machine, he received countless e-mails asking for tips. That was when he set about making the second version of his instrument, just as imposing, but this time modular, so that he could tour with it: “It has to fit into five boxes.”
This time as well, he will fully document his process. He plans to design it on the 3D modeling software SketchUp and make videos that are “super educational and pedagogical, like Matthias,” he laughs.
Paper-pulling mechanism of the Music Box, Wintergatan (July 2016):
“The first time, it was an improvisation. Now I know what the problems are and what didn’t work,” reflects Molin. Because behind the magic of video editing, the Marble Machine doesn’t quite work as well as its creator had hoped. “It took several takes to get that result on video… I used rubber bands. When they dry out, they stop working.” In perfect conditions, the machine “works at 95%”. But if he wants to tour with it, V2 “must work in the worst conditions… That will be more of an engineering job.”
Once the festival season is over (the group is currently on tour in Sweden and Germany until at least November), Martin Molin will present the machine’s major problems that need solving to makers on YouTube in the hopes that they will offer some help: “I hope that people will suggest a solution and I’ll have a facepalm moment.” Meanwhile, it’s an open source project made on YouTube in which everyone is invited to participate. Stay connected.