Denken nach Illich
Letzte Aktualisierung: 26 Oktober, 2006 (c) Bremen, Deutschland  
Zum Tod von Ivan Illich
@ Nachrufe
@ Symposien

@ Altes Neues
@ E-Mail Nachricht bei Änderungen auf diesen Seiten?

Wer sind wir?
@ Beteiligte
@ Kontakt

Weitere Links

Hilfe zu pdf-Dateien
@ Rechtliche Hinweise
Matthias Rieger (*1965)

Kontakt/Vorträge und Lehrveranstaltungen

My research focuses on the history of perception, especially the sense of proportion, and the social and cultural consequences of its demise during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The history of the sense of proportion serves me as a lens through which I can study a fundamental rupture in the way people heard and the way they thought about what they heard.

From the time of Pythagoras to the time of Bach, music was understood as the audible manifestation of harmony, which in turn was based on proportions. A musical consonance was defined as a harmonious relation of two tones based on the proportion between them. For example, a single string divided by a ratio of 2:1 produced a difference of an octave. A proportion of 3:2 sounded a fifth. A tone did not exist by itself but could only be thought of in relation to another. This understanding also extended to the relation between a hearer and something heard. The sense of hearing and its object were understood as proportionate. Then, during the eighteenth century, the Pythagorean paradigm of a harmonious world, defined by the proportionate relationship of its parts, became questionable. The sense of proportion lost its universal validity, and its status as common sense.

With the rise of modern acoustics in the nineteenth century proportionality was replaced by a new paradigm: objective scientific research using technical instruments and standardized measurements. In the laboratory, the tone became an acoustical object, and the ear a registering device of questionable reliability. And this shift from musical consonance to isolated tonal values was one facet of a general loss of the ability to sense the proper proportions between things.

Intellectual Biography and musical training

Born as the son of a musician, I grew into a world steeped in daily musical practice. My parents started my musical education when I was four and, after the age of eleven, fascinated by the sound of kettle drums and the marimba, I began training as a percussionist. Between 1986 and 1993, I studied Musicology, German Literature and Art History at the University of Bremen, where I graduated with a thesis on Alban Berg's opera "Lulu." From 1993 until his death in 2002, I attended the lectures of the historian and philosopher Ivan Illich at the University of Bremen.

Illich introduced me to an international group of researchers with different disciplinary affiliations. This group met regularly in Mexico, Italy, USA and Germany. Over these years, we studied the history of proportionality as it applied to music, architecture, medicine and spatial orientation. We started with the assumption that proportionality in music theory or architecture had been used as a purely technical term within each discipline, but we later began to study its historical function as an underlying cosmic principle.

Conversations with several colleagues in this circle drew my attention to analogous developments in quite heterogeneous fields. Barbara Duden pointed out that the scientific construction of the "tone" in nineteenth-century musical acoustics was mirrored in her own studies of the embryo, which became a separable object by way of a-perspectival drawing methods in anatomy around 1800. Samar Farage, who studies the Galenic tradition in Arabic medicine, made me aware that for a Hakim, "being healthy" means the harmonious mixture of the four humors. The accountant Sajay Samuel introduced me to the radical difference between the modern notion of the separation of powers and the Aristotelian principle of mixed government, understood as the proper balance between diverse kinds of humors in the polis. This collaboration resulted in a series of lectures that allowed me to present my studies on the loss of proportionality in music not only to musicians and musicologists but also to philosophers, political scientists, architects, biologists and criminologists.

On the invitation of Carl Mitcham, then director of the Science Technology and Society Program at the Pennsylvania State University, and Ivan Illich, a guest Professor at PSU, I spent each fall between 1993 and 1996 at Penn State. This gave me the opportunity to review the North American literature on the historical roots and scientific foundations of modern music. I frequently made public presentations of my work, as well as discussing my ideas with colleagues in private seminars. Mitcham and Illich challenged me to enrich my theoretical investigations with the practical knowledge I had gained as a musician. They also encouraged me to look beyond the horizons of the history of science and technology and place my investigation of the perception of music in the wider context of the history of sense perception generally.

In 1996, with musicologist Eva Rieger and historian Barbara Duden as my advisors, I started my PhD on the "Lehre von den Tonempfindungen" (1863) of Hermann von Helmholtz, the most influential study of musical acoustics in the nineteenth century. This treatise not only attracted the interest of acousticians, but also of musicians, composers and inventors such as Edison (phonograph) and Bell (telephone). In the "Tonempfindungen" Helmholtz rebuilt the foundations of both musicology and the practice of music. He was driven by his desire to found both the making and the appreciation of music on the objective results of scientific experiments. In my thesis I investigated Helmholtz's laboratory experiments in order to show how he persuaded his readers that their ear for music was no different than the phonautograph in his lab and that musical instruments were no more than sound producing devices identical to his synthesizing machine.

In the history of science the turn to the production of "objective" facts has been well analyzed, but so far the loss of proportion as the flip side of this process has been mostly overlooked. Because proportionality was a key concept in music and its demise caused lively disputes among scholars and musicians, music is a privileged site from which to begin a reinterpretation of the history of objectivity. As I show in my thesis, Helmholtz's scientific examination of musical proportions illuminates how the emergence of objectivity was grounded in the loss of proportionality. Study of the reception of the "Tonempfindungen" also reveals how new scientific constructs like the objective tone and the isolated ear were absorbed by musicologists and then historians of science and eventually came to permeate everyday experience.

By now, more than a hundred years of sound production by phonographs, telephones and CD players have adjusted our ears to the registration of sound waves and made it nearly impossible to grasp how people practiced and perceived music before Helmholtz. Examination of "objectivity" in the light of the loss of the sensual ability to grasp proportions distances the researcher from his own cultural certainties and opens up a new heuristic access to the thinking, perceptions and experiences of our ancestors.

In January 2002 I defended my thesis on Helmholtz's "Lehre von den Tonempfindungen" at the University of Bremen and was awarded my degree summa cum laude. Presently I am revising the thesis for publication at the Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt (Helmholtz musicus. Eine Studie zur Objektivierung der Grundlagen der Musik im 19. Jahrhundert).

Further research project

There is a large amount of secondary literature treating proportion as a concept within specific disciplines. There is also a vast literature on the meaning and demise of proportionality in the history of music theory. Historians of architecture and mathematics have edited primary sources and produced commentaries on them. In the history of philosophy proportionality has been examined as an ethical and an aesthetical concept, which provides the foundation for our sense of what is beautiful and therefore good. But nowhere have these different studies been brought together in a way that would highlight proportionality as a cosmological axiom, a way of being in the world.

In order to prepare this new field of research I would like to put together an annotated bibliography on proportionality, including primary sources as well as secondary literature from antiquity to today. Despite the abundance of primary literature, proportion is still a blind spot in areas such as the history of sense perception, economics and politics. On the basis of this collection I intend to show that the sense for proportions not only guided the learned reflections of scholars but also tuned the senses and shaped the practice of musicians, physicians, market women, astrologers and politicians. A major article on the fundamental relevance of proportionality as a basic principle in Western history will summarize this work and set the frame for further research.

Organization activities

In 2000, I organized and conducted an international lecture series at the University of Bremen on the historicity of "decision-making." The talks of various guest speakers focused on the way in which the services of professional counselors have transformed citizens into self-managers.

In September 2000 and May 2001, together with Ivan Illich, Silja Samerski, Samar Farage and Sajay Samuel, I organized and conducted "The Oakland Table" on the invitation of the Mayor of Oakland, Jerry Brown. This involved six weeks of lectures and meetings with scholars from various countries discussing topics such as the "History of city planning" and "The loss of hospitality." On both occasions, I gave public lectures and workshops.

Since the summer 2003, I have taught courses at the University of Hannover in the field of the history of media/communication and history of science.

I counterbalance my intellectual endeavors in the history of music and auditory perception by working as a professional percussionist in classical, jazz and belly dance music.



^nach oben^

  • Rieger, Matthias (2006): Helmholtz Musicus. Die Objektivierung der Musik im 19. Jahrhundert durch Helmholtz’ Lehre von den Tonempfindungen. WBG:Darmstadt; 174 Seiten.
  • Rieger, Matthias (2004): "The disembodiment of the utterance. Speech, Music and the loss of the sense for proportionality." Talk given at the SHOT (Society for the History of Technology) 2004 annual meeting, Amsterdam, the Netherlands , October 7-10, 2004 Reanaissance Amsterdam hotel.
  • Rieger, Matthias: ”Music”. In: The Encyclopedia of Science, Technology and Ethics. New York (forthcoming).
  • Rieger, Matthias (2003): Von der Musik zum Sound: Wie Helmholtz eine neue Ära in der Geschichte der Musik begründete. In: Thomas Phleps, Ralf von Appen (ed.) Pop Sounds. Klangtexturen in der Pop- und Rockmusik. Bielefeld.
  • Rieger, Matthias (2003): "The historicity of sound and hearing." Book Review of Patrice Bailhache: Une histoire de l'acoustique musicale. Paris: CNRS editions, 2001
  • Rieger, Matthias (2003): "Musik im Zeitalter von Sound. Wie Hermann von Helmholtz die Ära von Sound begründete."
  • Rieger, Matthias (2003): "Listen to Music through the Ears of Music. Why Harmony had to wither in the Age of Equality." Speech delivered at the meeting for the inauguration of the Ivan Illich Center for Intercultural Documentation, at Lucca, Italy: June, 13th-15th 2003.
  • Rieger, Matthias (2002): "L'Olympe quand même." (French)
  • Rieger, Matthias (2002): "L'Olympe quand même." (English)
  • Rieger, Matthias (1998): Some remarks on speed from a belly dance drummer point of view. In: Millar, Jeremy and Michiel Schwarz (eds.): Speed. Visions of an Accelerated Age, MINT, London.
  • Rieger, Matthias (1997): "Tischgespräch mit Hermann von Helmholtz." Vortrag in der Vorlesung von Ivan Illich in Bremen, 1.2.1997.
  • Rieger, Matthias (1997): "Dem Frieden Gehör verschaffen." Vortrag zum Auftakt der European Peace University in Schlaining, 6. Juli 1997

    auch in: European University Center for Peace Studies (Hg.): Schlaininger Schriften zur Friedens- und Konfliktforschung. Band 1: Is small beautiful? Die Leopold Kohr Vorlesungen. Wien: Pomedia 1998, S.11-19

    und in: Österreichisches Studienzentrum für Frieden und Konfliktlösung (Hg.): Über die Schönheit und Mächtigkeit des Kleinen. Die Leopold Kohr Vorlesungen. Münster: agenda-Verlag 1998, S.147-155
  • Rieger, Matthias (1996): Music before and after Solesmes. In: STS Working-Papers. Penn State University.
  • Rieger, Matthias (1996): "Persönlicher Brief an Katrin Urban."
    Rieger, Matthias (1996): "Music before and after Solesmes."
  • Rieger, Matthias; Trapp, Sebastian (1996): "Was haben Pflanzen mit Musik zu tun?" Vortrag gehalten am 4.7. 1996 in Tübingen.
  • Rieger, Matthias (1995): "Über die Entstehung der Möglichkeit zu fragen: Was ist c?."
  • Rieger, Matthias (1995): "Über die Bürokratisierung akademischer Ohrmuscheln." Anmerkungen zur Geschichte des Hörens aus körpergeschichtlicher Sicht unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der akustischen Untersuchungen Hermann von Helmholtz´." Vortrag gehalten am 8. Dezember 1995 in der Kreftingstraße."
  • Illich, Ivan; Rieger, Matthias; Trapp, Sebastian (1996): "Speed? What Speed?" New versions of the speeches given at the ´Speed´-Conference of the Netherlands-Design-Institute, Amsterdam, 8. Nov. 1996."
  • Illich, Ivan; Rieger, Matthias (1996): Von der verborgenen Seite des Teilens. In: Giel, K./Breuninger, R. (ed.): Teilen. Humboldt-Studienzentrum, Universität Ulm.
  • Illich, Ivan; Rieger, Matthias (1995): "VON DER VERBORGENEN SEITE DES TEILENS."
  • Illich, Ivan, Rieger, Matthias (1996): The wisdom of Leopold Kohr. Fourteenth Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures. E. F. Schumacher Society, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut.
  • Vorträge und Lehrveranstaltungen

    ^nach oben^


  • Summer 2003 teaching a seminar on the historicity of the concept of communication and its technological roots, using the example of the telephone at the University of Hannover (Germany).
  • Winter 2003/4: Seminar on the history of "scientific objectivity" at the University of Hannover.
  • Vorträge (Auswahl)

  • "The musician as a global player. The idea of intercultural music and its roots in the concept of 'sound' Paper given at the meeting of the "Fachgruppe für Musiksoziologie" at Düsseldorf, March 2003.
  • "Listening to the ears of Illich: Why Harmony has to wither in the age of equality". Speech delivered at the meeting for the inauguration of the Ivan Illich Center for Intercultural Documentation, Lucca, Italy: June 13th-15th 2003.
  • "Proportion and the search for the good". Speech delivered at the Institute for Criminology, University of Oslo (Norway), April 25th , 2002.
  • "The objectivation of Music: Helmholtz and the scientific foundations of musical practice". Speech delivered at the Department of Music and Theatre, Oslo, February 15th 2002.
  • "L'Olympe quand même. Dieux du développement et certitudes économiques". Speech delivered at Re-making the world - undoing development, UNESCO, Paris, 2002.
  • "Dem Frieden Gehör verschaffen": Opening speech delivered at the European University Center for Peace Studies, Schlaining (Austria), July 6th, 1997.
  • "Listening and Hearing. Sense perception and its foundation in proportionality". Speech delivered at "Which senses for ecological conversion and for our common future". Fair of Practical Utopias1997.Citta' di Castello 16 - 19 Ottobre 1997.
  • "Some remarks about speed from a belly dance drummers point of view". Speech delivered at the "Speed" Conference of the Netherlands-Design Institute, Amsterdam, November 8th 1996.
  • "Music before and after Solesmes". Paper delivered at the annual meeting of The American Catholic Philosophical Association, Los Angeles, California, March 23, 1996.
  • ^nach oben^