Incredible Marble Music Machine

We tried to figure out how to describe the band [Wintergatan]. It took a lot of googling, and we decided to let their really incredible music machine do it for them. The best part? Unlike some projects like this that come our way, [Wintergatan] documented the whole build process in an eight part video series.

The core of the machine is a large drum with two tracks of alternating grey and black Lego Technic beams and pins. The musician sequences out the music using these. The pins activate levers which in turn drop ball bearings on the various sound producing devices in the machine. The melody is produced by a vibraphone. At first we thought the drum kit was electronic, but it turns out the wires going to it were to amplify the sound they made when hit. At the end of their travel the bearings are brought up to the hopper again by a bucket conveyor.

The final part count for the machine sits at 3,000 not including the 2,000 ball bearings rolling around inside of it. If you’ve ever tried to make a marble machine, then you’ll be just as impressed as we were that the machine only appeared to lose a few marbles in the course of a three minute song. Aside from the smoothness of the machine, which is impressive, we also enjoyed the pure, well, hackiness of it. We can spy regular wood screws, rubber bands, plywood, bits of wire, and all sorts of on-the-spot solutions. Just to add bonus cool, the whole project appears to have been built with  just a bandsaw, a drill press, and a few hand power tools.

The machine is great, but we also really appreciate the hacker spirit behind it. When a commenter on a YouTube video told him he was a genius, he replied, “Thank you for that! But I do think, though, that it is mostly about being able to put in the time! I mean the talent of being stubborn and able to see things through are more important than the abilities you have to start with. If you work hard on anything, you will learn what you need and success! Its my idea anyway! So happy people like the machine!”. Which we think is just as cool as the machine itself. Video of the machine in action and part one of the build series after the break!

41 thoughts on “Incredible Marble Music Machine

  1. Just phenomenal. I saw this linked from somewhere else yesterday and I must have watched the performance 5 or 6 times now. It never gets old. Great work, Really inspirational.

  2. OMG, I liked that a lot.
    Fairly sure the music was at least in part sequenced; or snare drums are a lot fluffier than I remember.
    Those Buildogs just took over my weekend…

    1. If you look at it closer, you’ll see that the snare drum is actually a trigger pad, triggering a synthesizer snaredrum. It does move when a marble hits it, but I think that’s only to make sure that the marbles don’t jump all over the place. I.e. dampening.

      1. If you actually look at it closer (i.e. the video where he shows how that one works), you’ll see that it uses a contact microphone with a bit of post/processing. No triggers anywhere.

      1. @Edgar Vice

        Is that a serious response? It doesn’t sound like one but I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt because the HAD forums are typically where adults go and not the script kiddies and other immature teens who are unable to comment in a mature manner.

          1. @[Benchoff]

            I can just see you lifting the chair back upright and pushing it aside leaving tracks of coffee from the wheels. Looks like you need another keyboard to! … now where’s that mop?

        1. “script kiddies and other immature teens”
          Yeah, they forgot to spray this month so we’re seeing more of them lately. The exterminator says they’ll be here next week.

    1. According to the latest ‘making of’ videos, there are screws in the back of the release mechanism that micro-adjust the moment each of the 22 ball dispensers, so I’d say yes.

  3. They released two new videos earlier today, describing the machine in closer detail:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uog48viZUbM (part 1; instruments, gearing, programming)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0Guq7vZb_E (part 2; marble systems, design oopses etc)

    Apparently, the drums are not synthesised/simple triggers; they are contact miked for clean sound, and then post processed/effect filtered. Part two also shows the system they use to tweak the timing, there’s a screw for each ‘note’ that delays the trigger point slightly.

    Interesting build.

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