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Check Out the Brooklyn Oddities Invading Lower Greenville (and Meet the Wiz Who Created Them)

The sonic gadgets will soon be stamped “Made in Dallas” and make for an awesome gift.

I first spotted these funky little voice recording devices at the DMA gift shop, then again at the Neighborhood design store in Bishop Arts where I heard a rumor that the the Brooklyn-based maker, BrandNewNoise, might be moving its headquarters to Dallas.

My interest piqued, I read up on the gadgets and found that they’re a hit at the not-so-shabby MoMA shop in Manhattan, have been featured in such publications as Vogue and Architectural Digest, and not surprisingly, the dudes at Wired dig them, as well.

On his website, founder Richard Upchurch summarizes the story behind BrandNewNoise like this: “I built 1 for my nephew. I built 5 for his teachers (for show and tell). I built 10 for my first online store. I am still building them today.”

The charm, it seems, is in the gadgets’ simplicity. Press one button to record, then press another to play it on a loop. A knob speeds up or slows the pitch. And that’s that. Use them to record a voice, beats, songs on the radio, perpetual love notes to a paramour, or as the BrandNewNoise site suggests, “a good, old-fashioned fart noise on a continuous loop.” The sky’s the limit.

But why drop 76 smackers on a wooden box that does what an iPhone app can do? Well, because they’re adorable. They’re fun. They’re real things that can be wrapped and put under a Christmas tree. In fact, there’s a new book called Revenge of the Analog in which author David Sax argues that “real things”—everything from vinyl and film to Moleskins and whiteboards—are actually gaining momentum despite the digital age (hiya, mixtapes).

Richard Upchurch with the new Phone-Home xylophone, now made in Dallas.
Richard Upchurch with the new Phone-Home xylophone, now made in Dallas.

And pretty soon these real things will be made here in Dallas. It turns out the rumor was true. A couple weeks ago, Richard Upchurch signed a lease on a Lower Greenville space to use as the BrandNewNoise workshop. I tracked him down to find out more.

What gave you the idea to build the first looper for your nephew?

I was on vacation with my extended family, and I was surrounded by kids who all had plastic toys with unoriginal, unchangeable sounds. The thought occurred to me, “What if I made something where you could create your own sounds, something that kids and adults would all love?” I had a tape recorder as a kid that I was obsessed with and wanted to create something old-school that required actual input from a person, something that would last and never get boring.

What did you do before you started BrandNewNoise?

I toured with Emma Gibbs Band, a North Carolina-based outfit, for nine years before moving to New York to work on film scores. I ended up back in school at NYU for a master’s in audio technology and working at NYU.

What brought you to Dallas?

A woman and Tex-Mex. My wife, Jill Montgomery, had already created a successful music business here teaching and performing as a pianist, so I knew the arts were alive and well. I borrowed a 1980 Vespa with a top speed of 20 mph, and I rode every square inch of Dallas. Literally. Someone would say, “You should check out Jefferson Street,” so I would ride over and find a spot like Small Brewpub and just talk to people. I kept getting passed on to the next person, place, and neighborhood, so I really got a feel for how vibrant the creative culture is here.

Will you be making all your recorders in your Dallas studio?

I am currently making the Phone-Home xylophone here, and it is my first product labeled “Made in Dallas, TX.”  I will be transitioning the majority of my production to my Lower Greenville studio in the coming months, but a limited product line will continue to be made in Brooklyn where BrandNewNoise has been a proud internship provider for local organizations that provide positive working opportunities for at-risk youth. It is my hope that I can establish the same type of fun, hardworking culture and emphasis on local community here in my Dallas studio as I have in Brooklyn.

Thanks, Richard, and welcome to Dallas!

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