The integrity of truth is currently under threat. We’ve landed ourselves in an unfortunate political and social landscape where the loudest voice in the room is often referenced as the truth regardless of its content. The Antlers’ Peter Silberman, however, has found real truth in tortured silence.
‘Impermanence' was written and recorded after Peter recovered from an extreme hearing impairment, which left the singer-songwriter deaf in one ear and painfully sensitive to everyday sounds. He could barely speak, let alone play music. It must be a violent state of being knowing that the essence of your livelihood is the very thing you can’t tolerate.
Whether or not it’s pertinent to this exactly, ‘Ahimsa’ explores the causality of pain. The concept of Ahimsa is universal across both major and minor belief systems and it refers to the multidimensional connectedness of all beings: to hurt anyone is to hurt everyone.
The album’s six tracks are characterised with gentle guitar strums, dampened percussion, expert use of pauses and silence and an absence of bass tones. Silberman uses the intimacy he’s fostered throughout his songwriting career to take colossally high-concepts and make them feel personable and part of a longer conversation between listener and artist.
Opening track ‘Karuna’, for example, refers to the Buddhist idea of compassion, a trait required to elevate oneself to the mind-state of Bodhicitta. ‘Karuna’ explores the fundamental and profound kindness that exists in momentary pauses and self-reflection. The subtlety can be eluding but, at nine minutes long, ‘Karuna’ forces us to confront ourselves in quiet reflection much as Peter did in his period of excruciating silence.
Silberman uprooted himself from Brooklyn to record ‘Impermanence' in a quainter setting in upstate New York. Records inspired by their geography tend to lean on an inside-looking-out analysis for inspiration whereas, employing the Bon Iver method, secluding oneself encourages honesty since there’s no lofty metaphors or references to hide behind. In ‘New York’ Peter documents the bravery of distancing oneself from the toxic cycles of metropolitan life: “When the worlds gave way, I had to flee, I had to get away”.
That sentiment, depending on your ideals, might feel empty, especially considering the minimal instrumentation but it’d be inaccurate to describe ‘Impermanence' as sparse, a word that connotes emptiness. Though it’s slow and brooding, ‘Impermanence' is bold enough to employ silence as part of the music. ‘Gone Beyond’ is almost an anomaly seeing as a lilting cymbal and dampened toms fill the bottom the mix throughout as Peter stretches his falsetto beyond even Jim James standards of croon.
The Anechoic Chamber held at Orfield Laboratories in South Minneapolis is said to be the quietest place in the world and can even induce hallucinations after 30 minutes of sitting in it. The quieter the space, the more sensitive your ears become to sound. In the Anechoic Chamber, you and your body process are the only audible sound. You become uncomfortable with the silence because it forces you to acknowledge your biology, your impermanence.
The world is noisy and distracts from the concept of the self. Peter Silberman’s record is a reminder that between the chaotic noise, we all have unique presence and, like in the Anechoic Chamber, the sooner we become accepting of ourselves, the more bearable everything will be.
Words: Will Butler
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