Sweet sonic annihilation 

Oliver Ackermann faced many challenges while attending Rhode Island School of Design — mastering multiple manufacturing processes and ergonomic theories, even constructing complicated exercise equipment for NASA.

But his toughest test was a big block of metal, he says, “which we had to file down to 1/10,000th of an inch of the exact specification. And filing it by hand over an entire semester teaches you some really precise patience. It was great inspiration for getting really involved in a project and not quitting until everything was just right.”

It’s a lesson he currently applies to two separate endeavors, simultaneously: the effects pedals he designs for his company, Death By Audio, and The Jesus and Mary Chain-ish music he sculpts with his wall-of-noise combo, A Place to Bury Strangers, who buzzsaw into The City on Wednesday.

Once he launched his firm — which includes a nightclub, rehearsal space, record label and, soon, a publishing house — Ackermann’s first contraption was a forced-feedback pedal called Total Sonic Annihilation that quickly caught on.

“It’s a loop that you use with your other guitar effects, and it transforms them into all sorts of crazy noisemakers,” he says. “It can make the sound of explosions or even aliens landing.”Ackermann soon had another big seller, The Robot, which employed a voice chip from children’s toys.

His latest work in progress — still to be named and something that might interest past customers such as U2, Wilco and Nine Inch Nails — is a device that phase-shifts sound through solid objects.

Being self-taught in soldering and electronics, the CEO says, “I started looking at things unconventionally and making things really simple, which kept my ideas really pure. And I think that’s the best way to manipulate sound.” 

Ironically, Ackermann had almost given up on making noise himself.

His last Goth-metal outfit, Skywave, had struggled so hard, the singer says, “that I just figured nobody wanted to hear this kind of music. So A Place to Bury Strangers was just about having fun and making records that we wanted to listen to. I didn’t even want our first album to come out, really.”

The group — dubbed “the loudest band in New York” — recently issued its speaker-melting sophomore set, “Exploding Head,” with funereal feedback/melodic hybrids like “Dead Beat” and “Keep Slipping Away.”

Ackermann’s grim lyrics reflect his belief that “life is incredibly depressing — that’s just the way things go.”

But will this inventor devise a pedal to make the band even louder? Ackermann laughs. “We’re always working on that! So who knows?”

A Place to Bury Strangers
Opening for The Big Pink

Where: Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Tickets: $17
Contact: (415) 885-0750, www.gamhtickets.com

About The Author

Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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