When we were little kids, my sister and I (and countless other sensitive souls, apparently) were traumatized by The Brave Little Toaster, a movie about anthropomorphized electronics attempting to escape the landfill. Thank god our five-year-old selves weren’t exposed to this video, in which hundreds of discarded appliances “play” Bob Dylan’s classic “The Times They Are A-Changin,” or we probably would’ve ended up on A&E’s Hoarders.
The video is actually a commercial for Brother Electronics, the 60-year-old Japanese-British firm. Brother produced many of the printers, scanners, and fax machines of yore, most now gone the way of the dodo. To promote their new all-in-one device, the company asked London agency Is This Good? and director Chris Cairns to use some of the company’s older products in a commercial spot. The team responded with the Brother Printer Orchestra, a collection of old Brother appliances that chirp, whirr, and buzz in MIDI-controlled unison to Dylan’s tune. “Because the old world of printing has come to an end,” explains Brother on YouTube. “And this is their swansong.”
There are 97 appliances in the orchestra, ranging from scanners and printers to modems and fax machines. “This film came about after a month of sleepless nights,” says Brother, “through a rigorous process of soldering, reprogramming, hacking, and re-wiring. They even custom-designed their own circuit board, so as to control all of the printers from one main computer.” Composer Will Cohen was in charge of tuning each device. “Imagine having a keyboard, and every time you press the key, the hard drive over there goes brrrrrr,” he says. “It was killer.”
The video takes its cues from BD594, a digital artist who operates largely on YouTube, uploading covers of “House of the Rising Sun” and other classics, as played by “robot bands” of hacked electronics. But synchronizing nearly 100 gadgets was an entirely new type of challenge. “There’s no way you could have faked what we did and have it be as exciting,” explains team member Stefan Dzisiewski-Smith. “It had to be real.”