aural flâneur


Naomi Waltham-Smith, PhD, MMus, MA (Cantab)
Assistant Professor of Music, University of Pennsylvania

Naomi Waltham-Smith is a theorist of music, sound and listening. In her research and creative projects, she is interested in how aurality is implicated in some of the most significant and urgent political issues in our world today. Her work combines philosophical and sociological approaches and draws upon a combination of music analysis, field recording, and GIS spatial soundmapping. Her interests extend from late 18th- and early 19th-century music to contemporary urban sound ecologies, and from post-Kantian European thought to Kafka and casinos.

Her first book, Music and Belonging Between Revolution and Restoration (Oxford University Press, 2017) explores how the instrumental music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven is implicated in a politics of belonging, understood in the double sense of inclusion and possession. Putting this music in dialogue with the thought of Derrida, Nancy, Agamben, and Badiou, it examines how musical aesthetics is always already unravelling in the direction of collective production. Her work on musical aesthetics is also published in Music Theory SpectrumMusic AnalysisJournal of Music Theory, and The Oxford Handbook of Critical Concepts in Music Theory.

Waltham-Smith is currently finishing a second monograph, The Sound of Biopolitics, under contract with Fordham University Press for the Commonalities series, which examines how sound is imbricated in the operation and theorisation of biopolitical governmentality. Other work on philosophies of listening is published in boundary 2, CR: The New Centennial Review, Current Musicology, Opera Quarterly, The Oxford Handbook of Western Music and Philosophy, and The Oxford Handbook of Timbre and Orchestration.

Her recent empirical work deploys a creative praxis of field recording to investigate urban sound ecologies and the conditions of aurality under neoliberal capital and with the rise of right populisms. This work includes an analysis of psychotechnologies of listening on the Vegas Strip (recently published in Sound Studies), a study of the sound of precarity in the Parisian banlieues, a collaboration with photographer Alessandro Zanoni documenting the sights and sound of China’s urban villages, and investigations into practices of sound activism. She is also building a sound archive Listening under Global Trumpsim that gathers together field recordings from cities around the globe and will be hosted by the Slought Foundation. Waltham-Smith has been awarded a fellowship at the Akademie Schloss Solitude to continue her work on urban soundscapes with a project entitled “Cart-otographies of Cities: Soundmapping Urban Political Economies.”

Future plans include a project on “ec(h)otechnics” that explores the technological modulation of listening and posthuman modes of aural attunement to the environment. An article on this subject is forthcoming for a special issue of diacritics on “The Turn.” Another on philosophy's relation to the neurobiology of listening appears in Music & Science.

A graduate of Selwyn College, Cambridge and King’s College London, since 2012 Waltham-Smith has been Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Pennsylvania, where she also participates in the Mellon Humanities + Urbanism + Design Initiative, the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities, and the Price Lab for Digital Humanities. She co-chairs the Society for Music Theory Music and Philosophy Interest Group and regularly participates at conventions of the American Comparative Literature Association and German Studies Association.