Amazing music machine with marbles

This stunning machine was invented and produced by Martin Molin, a Swedish vibraphone player. It’s fricking stupendous: a tour de force of imagination, technology, and mesmerizing sound.

Makery describes its inception (excerpts from the article are indented):

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.

Watch this thing!

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 [JAC: see one of his machines here]. “He plays with gravity, marbles fall with a chaotic and magnificent 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.”

And here are two videos explaining how Molin’s machine works. It’s extremely complicated, and I have nothing but admiration for this guy’s skills—and ambition.

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.

h/t: Taskin


  1. YF
    Posted February 7, 2017 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    Cool. A physical rendition of Animusic:

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted February 7, 2017 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

      Very clever animation.

      Now – build one! 😉

      (Couldn’t be done without substantial modification to the design. But I’d love to see an attempt)


      • Gordon Davisson
        Posted February 8, 2017 at 10:29 am | Permalink

        Intel did it, to show off their industrial control systems:

        . It’s impressive, but I’m pretty sure the actual notes are synthesized rather than played by the struck pieces. And in person, the ball launchers are a bit loud:


        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted February 8, 2017 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

          Veeeery interesting!

          According to the text on Youtube, the notes are generated by a synthesizer but it’s triggered by the balls hitting the targets (which presumably have microswitches under them). So I’d count it as genuine.

          Unlike Wintergatan, which uses solid steel balls which have plenty of ‘power’ to generate musical notes (though even they used direct mikes under the ‘keys), I suspect the Intel balls are plastic or similar which makes it much easier to propel them through the air. Note sure how they’re ‘fired’, whether some solenoid or pneumatic, though the plastic pipes would seem to suggest air power.

          The trickiest thing, I think, would be to shoot the balls with sufficient accuracy to hit their targets.


  2. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted February 7, 2017 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Don’t you know I’m trying to work here?

  3. allison
    Posted February 7, 2017 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    The machine reminds me of Theo Jansen’s spectacular “strandbeest” kinematic sculptures:

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted February 7, 2017 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

      How extraordinary! How are they powered? I can see some of them might be wind-powered, and a couple are pulled by hand.

      But the mechanism AND ensuring that the legs are always in a position where it’s stable i.e. doesn’t fall over – the guy’s a very competent mechanical engineer, too.

      • allison
        Posted February 7, 2017 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

        I think the “finished” ones are entirely wind-powered. There’s a great longer video entitled ‘Theo Jansen The Great Pretender’ at youtube.

  4. Greg Geisler
    Posted February 7, 2017 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    It’s one thing to conceive of something like this but quite another to actually construct it. Thanks for making my life seem completely worthless! ;^)

  5. Posted February 7, 2017 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing this.
    I love how he explains some design mistakes – a genius gentleman.

  6. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 7, 2017 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    Now that’s Cool with a capital C.

    Coolest vibes playin’ since the last time Lionel Hampton passed through on tour.

  7. Derek Freyberg
    Posted February 7, 2017 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    On a slightly different note, there’s the huge wooden xylophone that NTT (the Japanese phone company) made for one of their ads:

  8. Taskin
    Posted February 7, 2017 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    Mesmerizing is the word I’d choose for this too. The combination of human and machine to create something so ingenious is really delightful. I especially like that he leaves the machine to slow down and stop on its own at the end of the performance. 🙂

  9. Merilee
    Posted February 7, 2017 at 4:20 pm | Permalink


  10. Posted February 7, 2017 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    What if you are left handed?

  11. rickflick
    Posted February 7, 2017 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    It looks like digital logic. AND and OR gates in series and parallel. Cool.

    • Mark R.
      Posted February 7, 2017 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

      A brilliant combination of analog and digital. Though the analog supplies the engineering and the drama.

  12. Andrea Kenner
    Posted February 7, 2017 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    This guy is amazing. Thanks for sharing it!

  13. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted February 7, 2017 at 7:29 pm | Permalink


    Since the quote mentioned this:

    The Wintergatan tour dates – apparently there’s a lot more of this and musicians to go with it – we’re only listed through 2016. It’s now 2017 as we know, so, in case anyone’s going to Sweden – and I strongly think there will be a lot of expats these next four years – you might keep your calendar clear…

    FYI 2 : my first comment above was humor – as in, I dropped what I was doing and watched this musical instrument instead of getting work done.

  14. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted February 7, 2017 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    I just noticed

    During the “breakdown”, he’s turning something with his left hand – it’s vibrato for the vibes.

  15. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted February 7, 2017 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

    Amazing all right.

    If I ever thought of doing something like this I’d reflect on the problem of releasing the ball accurately enough to hit its target below – it obviously has to be released with precise aim and any little variation in the shape of the trough it falls out of or the way the release arm is angled will throw it off – and I’d give up before I started.

    (It’s the old bomb-release problem – how do you drop a weight with precise timing and without imparting any unwanted motion to it)


  16. Mark R.
    Posted February 7, 2017 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    Sublimely Superb.

    The white masked (green screen technology?) background, the conductor’s/inventor’s clothes, and his considerable flair combined with a Dr. Seussian contraption that not only works, but creates beautiful sounds is…no worthy words. I don’t really know how to describe this beautiful musical contraption. Molin reminded me somehow of Willy Wonka.

  17. Stephen Barnard
    Posted February 7, 2017 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

    “What a piece of work is a man!” — the Bard

  18. Posted February 8, 2017 at 4:33 am | Permalink

    A clever bit of engineering to produce a truly anti-musical device.

    I could handle listening to one piece without being bored to tears, mostly driven by curiosity. But I feel anybody going back for repeat helpings must have little affinity with music as an art form.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted February 8, 2017 at 6:24 am | Permalink

      DoI have it right that you mean anyone who likes the music produced by that instrument has no taste in music?

      And can you elaborate on how is the instrument is against music?

  19. somer
    Posted February 8, 2017 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    Loved it!

  20. Mike
    Posted February 8, 2017 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    I’m completely awestruck.

  21. Kosmos
    Posted February 8, 2017 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    I can recommend his earlier band, Detektivbyrån, as well:

  22. Posted February 8, 2017 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    The american jazz guitar virtuoso Pat Metheny invented and went on tour with his ‘Orchestrion’ music machine a few years ago – and it plays jazz!


    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted February 8, 2017 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      The recording is called “Orchestrion” and sounds like the Pat Metheney Group. It’s good!

  23. Tim W. Lonctot
    Posted March 18, 2017 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    What a beautiful sound, Truly amazing.

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