104 Paintings | 104 Piano Pieces

A project by artist Anna Schuleit Haber and composer Yotam Haber, 2013-16

In one of their initial encounters, Yotam and Anna discovered that they shared a fascination for the Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard: the sweep and focus of his narratives, the stark voices of his characters, his mastery of seemingly effortless perspective changes within his stories, and his interest in everyday situations that often end in the absurd. Both Haber’s compositions and Schuleit’s paintings and installations deal with form and subject matter similar to Bernhard’s, and their conversations about him have led to the idea for a collaboration based on Bernhards 1978 collection of one hundred and four short stories, Der Stimmenimitator.

104 piano pieces | 104 paintings

Most of the 104 stories that comprise Der Stimmenimitator do not exceed a page each, and many are only a few sentences long: brief accounts of obsession, serendipity, and madness, these stories are unsentimental pieces of reportage; glimpses of strangers seen or imagined through Bernhard’s typically relentless lens.

In this collaboration, Anna Schuleit’s recorded readings of each story, her intonation, rhythm, meter, and cadence, inform the compositions of Haber. His miniatures for piano draw upon—are deeply tied to—the spoken word, but treat language as sound as much as semiotic meaning. Each work Haber composes is no shorter or longer than Schuleit’s readings of Bernhard’s story. Each note reflects a word, and time then becomes literal: two-sentence stories become ten-second pieces, two paragraphs become a minute, an intake of breath is reflected in a musical pause.

In turn, each story then makes its way back to the artist, and Schuleit creates a painting – this time, twice removed from the original text: a visual response to Haber’s music, based on the timbre and rhythm of speech, making its way homeward to the story itself. In the paintings Schuleit reveals little of the actual human figures that Bernhard describes in each story, except for certain details of limbs and gesture, which appear and disappear within a fragmented, deconstructed pictorial space, leaning far into abstraction. Using oil paint, acrylics, ink, pencil, and oil pastel, Schuleit’s brushwork resembles the loose fluency of hand-writing, leading the viewer from one painting into the next like a serial narrative that is, in its structure and scope, reminiscent of Bernhard’s work on the one hand, and framed by Haber’s compositions on the other. Over the course of the collaboration, both the composer and the painter also allow their work to be spontaneously influenced by each other’s, adding elements of interactivity and eventuality.

Intended as a series, the paintings will be exhibited alongside, and in dialogue with, Haber’s compositions in a gallery performance in NYC. Audiences will be invited to view the actual paintings hung in the space, encircling the pianist. Finally the project will be published in book-form, in which the handwritten score (itself a visual artifact) of each composition is printed side-by-side with each painting.