You would be well advised to bring your most effective earplugs to a A Place to Bury Strangers show. The New York-based nu-gazer trio, led by Oliver Ackerman, is known for its ear-splitting live performances. The impressive distortion that defines the group’s gigs is what APTBS set out to capture on its fourth album, Transfixiation.
Ackerman, who has been involved in the production of all APTBS works, also heads up production on Transfixiation. The album was recorded in the group’s Williamsburg (Brooklyn) multipurpose warehouse space—which APTBS has since given up—as well as in Etne, Norway, as part of a Norwegian government incentive. To tap into the static noise his group has perfected, Ackerman employs his own effects pedal company, Death By Audio. But he also counts on unintentionally coming across feedback sounds.
For the shrill sounds on the doom-laden “Deeper” (one of the tracks recorded in Norway), the guitar is run directly into a cheap 4-channel Behringer mixer with all the knobs turned up, then straight out into headphones with a microphone in between the earpieces. Says Ackerman, “It almost sounds like speakers blowing up. It hits a different frequency range than any other amp. We use that as a layer of distortion with a contrast on top of other sounds.”
Another accidental situation occurred on “I Will Die,” where the microphones are distorting due to the sound pressure in the room. There is a cross-feed between the instruments where, when the kick drum is hitting, it cuts out the bass, or as Ackerman explains, “It does this weird speaking distortion where one thing is making the microphone distort one way—and it can’t possibly do it in another way—while another instrument is hitting some particular note. You get a rippling effect from the physical microphone bouncing back and forth and the elements shifting from a super loud bass amp or kick drum.”