String and Tins adds 'ab ra ca dab ra' audio magic for Brompton Bikes

String and Tins gives the iconic Brompton folding bicycle its own unique voice in 'ab ra ca dab ra' campaign with ScienceMagic and Time Based Arts. Mike and Will explored various sounds and instruments that mimic the movements of five folding actions of assembling a Brompton.

Brompton is the original folding bike. An object so loved by its owners they allow it inside the house (rather than being left outside in the shed). The original aim of Brompton’s founder Andrew Ritchie was to build a “magic carpet” that would create freedom for people and help reduce reliance on cars as the default mode of transport. With many keen cyclists at String and Tins, this was an easy job to say yes to.

Mike, Will and Laura-Leigh were delighted to join a wonderful team of creative thinkers led by Gabriela Scardaccione, Chief Magic Officer of ScienceMagic: Tony Davidson, Kim Papworth, Daniel Eatock, James Allen from Time Based Arts, and Paul Blackburn to discuss ways of giving a unique voice to this beloved bicycle.

Our first step was to reinforce the five folding actions of assembling a Brompton, with sounds that mimicked the movements. Something simple that people might hum or sing to help them remember the moves.

We started exploring various sounds and instruments with expressive timbres that would humanise the bicycle as it moved.

Photo credit: Tony Davidson and Kim Papworth

We worked through our list:

  • A brand new Brompton being folded and unfolded… Amazing to hear the precise engineering in action but a bit too clinical and clean.
  • Prepared piano… Lots of potential but maybe too quirky? This has to be a bicycle that speaks to everyone.
  • Harmonica… Really interesting but not quite enough tonal range.
  • Tuned percussion, flexatone, berimbau… Too cartoony.
  • Electronic sounds… More robotic than human.
  • Acapella vocals… Now these sounded interesting! Especially with multiple voices layered up to blur specific characters.
  • Double bass… This sounded awesome.

When looking to add more warmth to the sound, we referenced footage of childrens TV themes from the 1970s. At that time presenters were often tasked with writing and performing not just the theme tune but also incidental cues and sound effects for their shows. After basking in the vocal gymnastics of Derek Griffiths and the hand-crafted simplicity of Windy Miller’s windmill we continued to experiment.

Bass player extraordinaire Simon Little mimicked or “foley-ed” each movement of the bicycle using his upright double bass. Every spinning wingnut, lever flip or wheel bounce was soundtracked by Simon scraping strings, rubbing pegs and tapping various bits of his double bass.

The double bass, which plays the small moves of the bicycle was combined with the vocals, which highlight the 5 x big moves that fold / unfold the bicycle;

Watch Me Fold In Five


Special thanks to Gabriela, Tony, Kim and James for guiding us in our quest to add a warm and friendly voice to their magical engineering films.

Mike Bamford

Founding Partner, String and Tins


Audio Post Production: String and Tins

Sound Design: Mike Bamford, Will Cohen, Strings and Tins

Audio Producer: Laura-Leigh Smith, String and Tins

Upright Double Bass: Simon Little, String and Tins

Chief Magic Officer: Gabriela Scardaccione, ScienceMagic

Agency Producer: Danny Gilchrist, Georgina Ehmcke, Erika Cameron, ScienceMagic

Creatives: Tony Davidson, Kim Papworth

Post-Production: James Allen, Time Based Arts

Art Direction: Daniel Eatock

Production Company: Art Practice

Design: Studio Blackburn