Martin’s Marvelous Marble Machine — The Wintergatan YouTube Channel

This is the first in what I hope will be a long series of blog posts highlighting my favorite YouTube channels. Note: you can click on the links in this blog for other related content such as Wikipedia pages and other YouTube videos, channels, and playlists that I chose not to embed in the blog itself.

Today we are going to feature a YouTube channel called Wintergatan that is one of my favorites of all time. It contains about 200 videos and I would speculate that over the past 4 years I’ve watched all of them. Click here for Wintergatan on YouTube.

Who is Wintergatan

Wintergatan is a somewhat obscure Swedish folk electronic band from Gothenburg, Sweden that has only released 1 album and 14 singles. Amazingly they have 1.69 million subscribers and a video that boasts 135 million views. Playing only instrumental music, the band’s ensemble includes vibraphone, synthesizers, theremin, base guitar, drums, and occasionally a typewriter as a rhythm instrument. They also have a homemade music box that uses punched paper tape to play music. Some of their songs are a bit ethereal or mystical sounding but most have a rather upbeat or happy beat to them that makes you want to tap your foot or perhaps clap your hands along with them. Here is a video of a live performance of their song “Starmachine 2000”.

On their channel you will find a playlist of 6 live performances as well as the audio from their entire first album on a separate playlist.

Although they’ve had a presence on YouTube for many years and a small following of fans of their videos and live performances, they would have to admit they are a fairly obscure group.

Enter the Marble Machine

All of that changed in March 2016 when they uploaded a video titled “Wintergatan – Marble Machine (machine instrument using 2000 marbles)” seen below. We suggest you watch it now.

That amazing video has been seen over 135 million times and skyrocketed them from relative obscurity into one of the most popular YouTube channels available. As mentioned before, they now have 1.69 million subscribers and boast over 4000 paid members and Patreon supporters.

For a computer geek like me this amazing Marble Machine is very reminiscent of the “Animusic” computer animations that were popular in the 1990s. In those videos, robotic machines would drop marbles onto musical instruments and play complex melodies. These videos were immensely popular in their day because they were not only interesting visually and musically, they demonstrated the state-of-the-art of computer animation long before companies like Pixar even existed. There videos were sold on VHS and DVD. By the way they do have their own YouTube channel here. It consists of just 11 videos and nothing new has been uploaded in 7 years. However if you’ve never seen one of their videos we recommend “Pipe Dreams” available here.

Back to the real Marble Machine… it was constructed by band member Martin Molin and documented in a series of a few videos between December 2014 and March 2016. Here is a playlist of 14 videos about building the Marble Machine.

The machine was built out of hand cut plywood with a few metal parts and the programming wheels were made out of Lego technics pieces. Martin later admitted that the machine barely worked at all. They struggled to get it to play the now famous “Marble Machine Song” all the way through in order to make that famous video. Although a marvel of handbuilt engineering, it just didn’t have sufficient precision to hold up to repeated performances.

Martin had always had the dream that he could take the Marble Machine on the road and perform with it live on a world tour. It was obvious the machine just wasn’t up to the task. So in January 2017 he endeavored to build a new machine called the “Marble Machine X”. This new machine would still be built mostly of plywood, augmented by some metal frame parts. Rather than hand cutting the pieces, he purchased a computer-controlled CNC router to cut the pieces. The entire machine has been meticulously modeled in Fusion 360 CAD software. It is such a complicated model that it has pushed that software to its very limits. He has even created a video where he consulted with developers from AutoCAD on how to more efficiently use Fusion 360 for such complicated designs.

From January 2017 until now he has created a series of weekly videos that chronicle the building of the new Marble Machine X. It is a weekly series called “Wintergatan Wednesdays”. These construction videos are amazing. They chronicle the daily struggle of trying to design and build and sometimes redesign and rebuild various components of the machine. We journey along with him as he slowly masters CAD design, tig welding, and other fabrication techniques. Here is a playlist of the entire 120 videos titled Building Marble Machine X.

In the past year or so he has brought on board dozens of volunteers to assist with the project. Engineers, designers, fabricators, musical instrument makers, project management specialists, and just plain fans of his work have all stepped up to contribute to the project despite the fact that some speculate the machine will never be finished. Personally I think it will be completed. I would guess he is about 90% complete at this point after over three years of construction. If his promised world tour ever comes to Indianapolis I will definitely be buying a ticket.

The videos present an interesting dichotomy between this lone maker now living in France and working out of his home workshop as well as the team effort of people around the world who have contributed materially and financially to the project.

The videos themselves are extremely entertaining. They are accompanied by his amazing musical compositions and sprinkled with lots of humor. It’s not just some boring videos of a guy assembling pieces of some weird machine. Case in point this week’s video is illustrating the entire path that the marbles take through the machine and how he had to redesign one section because it was unreliable. But the entire video is in the form of a sporting event that he narrates as the marbles race around the machine.

The weekly videos are so popular that they average over one half million views each week. There are also nearly 5000 paid members to his channel and Patreon supporters. Martin released sheet music of a piano version of the Marble Machine Song for free. Fans of the Marble Machine have honored him by making their own cover versions of the famous Marble Machine Song. He put together a video of himself watching these tribute videos and his reaction is quite heartwarming. I can’t imagine what it would mean to a person to have that much fan support and devotion as he spends countless hours alone trying to create the new machine. Here is his reaction video to all of the other Marble Machine tribute videos.

The description of that video includes a link to a playlist of all the tribute videos used in the compilation.

Music Machine Mondays

In addition to all of the videos about building the Marble Machine X, Martin also produced a series of videos called “Music Machine Mondays” in which he tours a number of museums that feature other mechanical music machines. Most of the videos were shot at the Speelklok Museum in the city of Utrecht, Netherlands. Here is a playlist of those videos. It includes someone playing a clock tower carillon version of his Marble Machine Song.

Here’s another collection of 21 fascinating videos from that museum featuring different instruments. Martin recently visited another museum of mechanical musical instruments and promises more upcoming videos in that series.

Final Thoughts

The saga of Wintergatan and Martin Molin is an inspiring story of what one person with an undying vision can accomplish. We see how his singular vision to create this fantastic musical instrument has inspired millions of followers and thousands of contributors who want to see him complete his dream. There are lessons to be learned in his journey. Spend some time watching these videos and I think you will find these videos as entertaining and inspiring as I have.

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