Mechanical Sympathy: Reel Tape Looks Back on its Real Life

Animator Tom McDermott has created a poignant short film that examines our relationship with technology and its obsolescence.

McDermott made “Mechanical Symathy” as a thesis project to “breathe life into an inanimate object using stop motion animation techniques.”  The project used over 6,000 still photographs and was completed in about 5 weeks.

Tape recorder in the hospital

“Mechanical Sympathy” starts with an old reel-to-reel tape recorder lying in a hospital bed, apparently dying of some terminal disease. It’s hooked up to an EKG machine that bears an uncanny resemblance to an NES and and IV of WD-40 while it plays the Electric Light Orchestra song “Steppin’ Out.”

The machine looks up at photos on the ceiling and we see a flashback to the day the tape recorder got married to a boombox that uses cassettes, their headphones intertwined. (The real-to-reel has a pair of traditional headphones, while the boombox has a lighter pair). Their child, of course, is a Walkman.

Tape recorders getting married

We see another flashback, this time with the reel-to-reel machine alone and apparently on a bender. Of course, it’s binging on rubbing alcohol that’s used to clean the tape heads. The recorder plays Hank Williams’ “Lovesick Blues” to console itself after its wife and child have deserted it. Finally, the tape starts to stick and spill out of the machine, while we hear an ambulance siren in the distance. This is presumably how it ended up in the hospital in the first place.

Tape recorder on a rubbing alcohol bender

At the same time, back in the hospital, the tape deck begins to convulse as the tape counter begins to reset. Finally, the tape runs out and the tape deck shuts down (dies?) forever.

It seems McDermott actually succeeded in making this machine feel human. Even though it’s a stop-motion film, the animation is seamless.

If you like this, you might like Nes Stop Motion Animation with Perler Beads and Retro Cassette Tape USB Hub.