Of all the instrumental oddities in the history of music (see: the Chapman Stick, the four-necked Pikasso guitar and the Bieber-anointed Mellotron), there’s never been anything as complex and gorgeous as the Marble Machine, created by Martin Molin of the Swedish band Wintergatan. Part human-sized music box, part street organ and part Rube Goldberg device, the instrument employs 2,000 marbles and a wooden crank. It has 3,000 parts.
Molin’s been working on this by himself for well over a year. When he couldn’t make the parts, he’d crib from local stores. The kick drum, says Molin, includes a coaster from a “well-known Swedish furniture company.”
Building it was a mammoth feat of logic, logistics, drilling, hammering and sawing. While it’s the most astonishing, this isn’t the first time the band has used strange things to make music. Wintergatan has been known for using obscure instruments in the past like a celesta from 1875, which is like a glockenspiel but more ethereal.
But it’s not nearly as heavenly-sounding as the Marble Machine. Here, Molin looks like a headphone-wearing mad scientist on the assembly line as he cranks, dances and flips levers in what is surely the one of the most ingenious one-man bands ever recorded. The marbles dance, too, tap-tap-tapping drum and bass and keyboard sounds, looking so excited that they just could burst from some kind of anthropomorphic bliss. But the marbles’ work is never done. Down the funnel they go, only to be raised to the top and slide down a chute to play something new from the mind of Molin.
In the end, it’s sheer genius. And don’t you just want to crank that thing yourself until your arm goes numb?