Richard Upchurch wanted to buy his nephew a tape recorder, but couldn’t find one for cheap, so he decided to build his own. He lived in New York at the time and walked up and down Canal Street looking for a man who had the parts he needed. The man, whom he only knew as Wong, repaired TVs and VCRs out of the back of a luggage shop in Chinatown.
Eventually, he found Wong working behind mountains of suitcases and purchased the circuit board, buttons and switches he needed. He talked to the expert about how to build what he wanted. Soon his nephew had the coolest show-and-tell in his class.
When his nephew brought the machine to school, his teachers wanted one too. He built five more, then 10 for an online store; he is still building them today.
In the parking lot behind Lower Greenville’s The Dubliner, a sign on a nondescript building attached to the back of The Grape restaurant reads “Stop Wondering Come Inside.” Inside, you’ll find Upchurch’s shop.
The space is meticulously organized, with mason jars full of colorful electronic pieces and glue sticks, tools hanging in neat rows and clean work tables Upchurch built himself.
The eye is drawn to the stacked columns of the rectangular sound machines, which look like miniature wooden droids that were created by a hybrid of George Lucas and Wes Anderson.
The gadgets allow users to make a short recording and manipulate the sound in different ways, depending on the unit. Each piece has its own face, ranging from a mustachioed Mr. Purple that alters the pitch of the recording, to the smiling Zoots, a thumb piano.
He credits his stepdaughter Reagan for the design success. Upchurch asked her what she wanted on her sound machine, and she requested a purple mustache. Today, he can’t keep them on the shelf.
“She deserves all the credit,” he says.
Upchurch was a professional guitarist, but went to graduate school at NYU for audio engineering when he grew tired of having his antique amplifier repaired. Brandnewnoise is a creative combination of Upchurch’s electronics knowledge, audio engineering skill and desire to make something with his hands.
“I was interested in building things more than I was in engineering,” he says.
He crafts the wood pieces in a shop near Peavy in East Dallas, then assembles them in his shop on Goodwin. His newest model is the Player One, which includes colorful arcade buttons and allows users to loop a recorded sound. The arcade buttons give it a retro feel, and special needs customers find it easier to operate.
“I built them to be a universal experience,” Upchurch says. “Everyone should be able to have and find their own voice.”
The Wes Anderson aesthetic is more than just homage. Mark Mothersbaugh, who is the front man of Devo, used Upchurch’s contraptions in some of the work he did on Wes Anderson movies, as well as “The Lego Movie.” They have also been used in projects with Pat Carney of the Black Keys, Wayne Coin of the Flaming Lips and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver.
In an increasingly digital world, Upchurch sees a desire for a simpler device that can be understood by the average user. A person can’t tinker with an iPhone, but Upchurch encourages customers to take his machines apart, and even sells a kit where people can build their own.
“What if I make what I call an exploration gadget?” he asks.
This February, he will host his first class at the workshop, where he will teach the basics of electronics and allow folks to build their gadget.
The Brandnewnoise machines can be found in Good Pagoda in East Dallas, as well as online and in the Dallas Museum of Arts, the MOMA in Manhattan, and other museums and boutique shops across the country.
Upchurch sees Brandnewnoise as a way to open sound manipulation and innovation to the young and old. “What if you gave a 4-year-old access to a guitar pedal? What could you learn from that?”
5706 Goodwin Ave.
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