In Bovey Tracey, Devon, there is a fantastic place called the House of Marbles. You can go there. There is a museum of marbles. There are millions of marbles to buy. There are many marble runs. There are marble jokes. There’s glass blowing. It is heaven. And its free.
I popped in this weekend, on my meandering drive from North Wales to Cape Cornwall. I didn’t just go to the House of Marbles because I’ve always loved marbles. I went because I’ve recently been focused on making massive outdoor marble runs, in collaboration with the wonderful artist, Lisa Hudson. Lisa lives over the mountain, in the next valley (Dyffryn Ogwen), in Bethesda, and our first run was put on as part of Gwyl Afon Ogwen River Festival.
We made about 15m of marble run, entitled ‘Cwrs Carlam mewn Constructal Law’ (A Crash Course in Constructal Law). We set it up in two parts (Experiment A and Experiment B). Some bits worked more reliably than others, and, like good physicists, we recorded what worked, what didn’t the result of any attempted mends or improvements. What was really interesting was just how different the outcomes of the runs were from different people. Some were brilliant at ‘successfully’ running marbles. Other (much) less so. Irrespective of age, gender, socio-economic status, nationality, race, profession …
We also made some cards to hand out to explain Constructal Law, a new, controversial law of physics proposed by Adrian Bejan and set out in his book “Design in Nature – How the Constructal Law Governs Evolution in Biology, Physics, Technology, and Social Organisation”.
The law purports to explain and predict all design in nature on the basis of maximizing flow over time: from trees to river basins to the shape of lungs and cities to information flows. Bejan says it ‘brings science in line with poetry and art’. And so it does. Some of the visitors to our runs engaged with the them scientifically, some artistically, some engineeringly, some sociably. And all, playfully. There was joy in the woods!
But I digress. The reason I went to the House of Marbles is I wanted to see what serious marble run makers make their runs from, and how they work.
The runs are amazing, all constructed, as proper serious runs are, out of metal rails. Perhaps because they are a bit removed from the ‘viewer’, it turned out that what I liked best was the sound. I’ve made a clip of the sound for you to sample.
I also really like the sound of our marble runs. So I’ve made a couple of clips of those too. We could do more with the sound! Lisa and I hope to collaborate with Rhys Trimble and the Marmaladies to develop the sound aspects of our runs, adding the flow of syllables, words and music to the flow of the marble on and in different materials. Here they are in action at Gwyl Afon Ogwen (to the sound of marble anarchy in the background):
The House of Marble runs are brilliant. But I also like ours – they are rather beautiful, unpredictable, responsive, interactive. Others seemed to like them too, and there will be a return of the marble run over the weekend of 5th December, as part of Theatr Dan-Y-Coed’s production in the woods by the river at Betws y Coed. We’ll be in the guise of Drs Bethperis, providing you with quack remedies and predictions (our Marbleous Medicines) based on how your marble, runs.
We are looking for opportunities to take our runs elsewhere, so if you know of anywhere that might like one (indoors or out), please let us know!
PS Apologies for the quality of some of the pictures. I'm on a 2 week residency in Cape Cornwall, and haven't got the original marble run pictures with me, so I've just downloaded these from the Constructal section of my website. Hope they are at least vaguely visible...