Marble machines are a beloved and amusing activity for kids due to the endless number of possible creations and structures inherent in the toy's design. But you could put us in a room for a million years, and we could never come up with the Wintergatan Marble Machine. Part one-man band, part torture device as featured in The Princess Bride, part weirdest invention to ever prominently feature marbles, the Wintergatan is a hand-cranked music box that just happens to use 2,000 steel marbles to create a fascinating multi-instrument marvel. After the jump, behold the magical and magnificent musical invention of Swedish musician Martin Molin (that was made entirely by hand!) in all its glory.
As you can see above, Molin cranks the wheel, which sets in motion 2,000 marbles: they move through funnels and tubes just like the ones that our marble machines use at home, but the Wintergatan isn’t your typical marble apparatus. Molin managed to integrate instruments like a symbol, bass, and kick drum, which play a surprisingly elegant, refined, and complex programmed score once they are activated. Molin says that his instrument uses the same type of programming wheel that is used in bell towers and church towers for melodies, effectively spinning an established musical tradition into a new era with this marvelous machine. The Wintergatan is oddly beautiful even if it looks more than a little unwieldy, consisting of wooden wheels and tracks juxtaposed with metal elements such as bars, screws and, of course, marbles.
While the Wintergatan looks like a super complicated and ambitious DIY project, we do not recommend trying to make this at home. Martin Molin, a Swedish musician who has favored obscure instruments in the past (including the traktofon, which we’ve never even heard of!), is the mastermind behind the Wintergatan. While he initially intended to spend two months crafting this crazy musical marble machine, it actually took him 14 months due to the handcrafted nature of the project and some unforeseen hiccups that extended the total timeline. Using computer software in the initial planning phase, Molin moved on to trial and error, moulding and adjusting each piece until it functioned as he had imagined. Now, despite surefire interest in the oddity, Molin can’t actually take his show on the road: the Wintergatan has to be completely disassembled in order to move it.
The Wintergatan in action is a great visual to show your child a stellar feat of ingenuity.