Wintergatan Martin Molin’s extraordinary musical marble machine


Once described as the "Willy Wonka of science," Nelly Ben Hayoun is a force of nature. Whether she's creating dark matter in her kitchen sink, or organizing NASA employees into an orchestra, she doesn't let anything get in her way.

To mark her We Can Do It Campaign, Nelly introduced us to a set of creatives who reflect her can-do attitude.

In November 2014, Martin Molin of the Swedish band Wintergatan (the name translates as Milky Way) embarked on a marble-based mission. He had been to the Speelklok Museum in The Netherlands where he was fascinated by the mechanical instruments on display.

He spent hours looking up marble machine makers online, and perusing the YouTube tutorials made by people like Matthias Wandels, “who among a million other things, has written a computer program to produce templates for wooden gears.”

All this came together in his head, and Martin decided he was going to make his own Marble Machine, a mechanised musical instrument that would be able to play tunes. He told friends he would be done by Christmas. When his contraption was finally finished in January this year – 14 months later – it had taken over his life.

Martin’s machine is made of birch plywood, wire and Lego technic pieces and incorporates kick and snare drums, a hi-hat, a cymbal a vibraphone and an electric bass. He had used, he estimates, “3,000 parts and 3,000 screws, 500 Lego parts, five full-size sheets of baltic birch plywood and 2,000 marbles.”

By his own admission he had started off “in complete denial” about the scale of his task and the creative and engineering challenges it would pose. Along the way there were real moments of frustration, including having to jettison six months of work and start again on the mechanism that dropped the marbles.

But the problems were part of the process. “I am an addict to the psychological state of flow, when everything ceases to exist,” he has said. “There is no time and no space. For me problem-solving puts me into a flow immediately. I think that is the deeper reason why I came up with this machine.”

And it’s fair to say Martin’s hard work paid off in some style. Within three days of releasing the video in March 2016, it had been viewed 10 million times. At the time of writing, that number has nearly doubled, the press coverage has been incredible and Wintergatan has been catapulted into the mainstream. But it all started with one man, a plan, and a resolve to see it through.