Swedish musician and maker Martin Molin has recently redesigned a 4 year-old manual music box used by his band Wintergatan live on stage. The creative force behind the crazy Musical Marble Machine we covered in March wanted to improve the sound and make it more robust. Programming paper is wrapped around a large collapsible wooden wheel and pulled through a tinkle-tinkle music box mechanism by a motorized Lego paper feeder.
"The idea is to be able to leave the music Box playing on its own and then all four of us can play whatever on top of that," said Molin ahead of the build.
UPGRADE TO NEW ATLAS PLUS
More than 1,500 New Atlas Plus subscribers directly support our journalism, and get access to our premium ad-free site and email newsletter. Join them for just US$19 a year.UPGRADE
A DC motor connected to rollers replaces the hand crank on the original build and pulls the punched paper feed through the music box mechanism at a constant tempo set by Molin via a speed control unit. The music box mechanism can be removed and replaced with another unit in a different key (the band takes three on tour). The pulling machine is made of Lego Technics components and connected to the motor by metal cogs and chain. A laptop power brick plugged into the mains powers the motor.
The melody to be played is punched into programming paper by hand and then rolled into a 32 cm (12.6 in) birch plywood wheel. Since there's not much space in the gig van, the mechanical music box had to fit into a specific flight case. So the paper roll is stowed away inside the box between performances and the wheel can be collapsed down by loosening the wing nuts and folding the structure in on itself.
The device features contact microphones to pick up the vibrations from the music box, while dampening throughout helps reduce the chances of mechanical noise from the motor or paper pulling system being picked up.
You can see the mechanical music box in action in the video below, together with Molin's mad Modulin creation (a monophonic analog synthesizer played using a single ribbon to sound the notes).