One morning in 2014, the Antlers frontman Peter Silberman woke up to find his ears were so sensitive, even his own voice caused him pain. His diagnosis – a trio of chronic hearing impairments – would have ended most singers’ careers. Silberman saw it as an opportunity. He decamped to upstate New York and worked on a new vocal technique that wouldn’t aggravate his condition.
Those experiments bore fruit as the album Impermanence, which came out earlier this year. It was a surprise to the Antlers’ fans; the band’s multi-layered sound is deconstructed, with Silberman relying solely on his vocals and an acoustic guitar. The songs undulations echo Silberman’s own battles with his condition and the mental ructions of an artist suddenly stripped of his tools. “I’m listening for your silence,” he sings on ‘Gone Beyond’. “But, God, there’s so much noise.”
To accompany the record, director Derrick Belcham crafted a six-part video series, Impermanence at the Glass House, filmed in architect Philip Johnson’s eponymous masterpiece and one-time home. In the film, dancers Rebecca Margolick and Stephanie Crousillat weave in and out of shots, twisting their bodies to the sound of Silberman’s stripped-down melodies.
When did you feel was the right time to begin making music again?
I never really stopped making music, except for a brief period of a few weeks when I was unable to tolerate sound. I pushed myself to return to it after this time because the pull of music is so strong in my life that to abstain from it is itself strenuous.
What was in your head when you were writing the album?
The entire fabric of a few years went into creating Impermanence, but central to it was the realisation that change is a force of nature, that it defines the experience of being alive. Over the course of writing the album, I practiced accepting that everything was temporary. I practiced letting go of ideas I had clung to, letting go of places and people I was attached to. The result was a greater comfort with uncertainty, a slightly increased ability to ride the waves of transition in my life.
How did the connection to the Glass House come about?
I had never visited the Glass House before we filmed there last November. The film’s director, Derrick Belcham, had worked with the grounds before and suggested the spot as the environment for this series of performances to take place.
Do you prefer solo work or working with the Antlers?
My preferences between the two aren’t so binary, lately. Right now, I’m gravitating toward projects that require me stepping outside my comfort zone. At the tail-end of working with the Antlers, a solo project was an intimidating idea, so I moved toward it. My next project will likely be something else I haven’t tried yet. Something that scares me.
How do solo and collaborative work differ?
With solo material, there’s far less input in the formative stages of the songs. For most of the process, I’m carrying the ideas around with me in my head, taking notes along the way. It wasn’t until the songs were written and recording began that I asked for feedback from my collaborators.
What was the thought process behind the visuals for the clips?
Initially, the idea was fairly straightforward – to perform the album’s songs in a single take throughout different environments on the grounds of the Glass House, with dancers generating movement, interacting with the space and one another, responding to the music. But throughout the day, a narrative seemed to emerge.