The 21st Century Renaissance Man
I still remember watching the original Marble Machine music video, published by Wintergatan back in 2013.
The founder of the band, Martin Molin, built this fascinating Rube-Golberg-like creation that used 2000 marbles a hand-crank to play a complete song with a wide range of instruments. Its debut video got insanely viral, with over 174 million views at the moment of this writing.
But Martin’s creativity didn’t end there. In 2017, he decided to scrap the original machine and design a new version from scratch — the Marble Machine X. When complete, this new prototype will be capable of playing different songs and robust enough to take centre stage in the band’s upcoming world tour.
His dedication and commitment to this idea have got me thinking about how a creator like Martin could be the modern equivalent of a Renaissance artist.
The Renaissance Man
Renaissance is the French word for “rebirth”, referring to the period in Europe between the 14th and 16th Centuries, with the revival of the art and intellect of Ancient Greece and Rome following the dark Medieval times.
The Renaissance humanist theories placed Man at the center of the Universe, believing that men should try to embrace all knowledge and develop their capacities as fully as possible.
“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.” Leonardo da Vinci
Brilliant minds such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Galileo were true polymaths and personified the ‘Renaissance Man’ — fluent in a broad range of fields, from arts to science, engineering and writing. Years of studying and practice resulted in the Masterpieces that defined the period and lasted to this day.
With the invention of the internet came a time of innovation, discovery, and progress. It has brought people closer together than ever and revolutionized the knowledge exchange, in a way only comparable to the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg in 1455.
Since information about the vast fields of study and art is now readily available online, the only limitation to our capabilities is the time and attention we dedicate to the search. We are experiencing a second Renaissance, and talented creators like Martin personify this refreshed version of the ‘Renaissance Man’.
Martin Molin is a Swedish composer, producer, musician, inventor, and self-taught engineer. He embarked on the challenge of designing and building the Marble Machine X by himself while sharing the journey on weekly Youtube videos.
“When you solve a problem, the more complex it is, the more fun it is.” — Martin Molin
Each one of the MMX videos details development in a specific part of the machine, and producing it involves a combination of the following skills:
- Mechanical engineering, design, and material science
- Music playing, composing, and production
- Video recording and editing
- Script Writing
Martin committed 100% of his time during the past four years to this project, aiming for mechanical and aesthetic perfection. He obsesses over minute details such as the perfect look of the marble funnels and timing of the machine, precise to the millisecond.
I believe that once the MMX is complete, it will be the highlight of his career as a creator and a demonstration of his creativity, ingenuity and skill — his Masterpiece.
Patronage and Cooperation
Problem-solving isn’t a simple task by any means as it requires time, knowledge, new ideas and resources.
By regularly sharing the project online, Martin has established a strong online presence with a huge following and a network of volunteers from a variety of fields that help him to design and build parts.
Fans can also interact with each other and Martin himself through his Discord server. The cooperation and ideas discussed lead to breakthroughs in the design and building process, saving a lot of time and improving the machine’s reliability in the long run.
A similar approach was taken back in the Renaissance, where the larger-scale works of art were produced in busy workshops run by an experienced master artist and his team of assistants and apprentices.
Renaissance artists relied on the patronage of wealthy people to endorse their projects, who sponsored them in the hopes of gaining social status and prestige. In Italy, the Medici family funded most of the Florentine artists during their reign, including da Vinci, Botticelli, and Michelangelo.
To fund the expensive Marble Machine X project, Martin uses crowdfunding, the modern equivalent of patronage. Through a monthly subscription on Patreon, fans of the band can stay up to date with the progress and have early access to content.
What We Can Learn
I definitely recommend you following Wintergatan’s YouTube channel, but here’s the TLDR version of what I learned after watching all their videos:
- It’s fine to have multiple interests and let your curiosity wonder;
- Avoid “spreading too thin” and define priorities on the interests that truly motivate you;
- Don’t be afraid of making mistakes and learn from them (follow Martin’s mantra — “Pain is temporary, Glory is forever”);
- Track your progress and share it with the community — the feedback will help you grow!