Naomi Waltham-Smith is a theorist of sound, music, and listening. In her research and creative projects, she asks 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, drawing upon a combination of deconstruction, music analysis, field recording, and digital soundmapping. Her interests extend from late 18th- and early 19th-century music to contemporary urban sound ecologies, 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 Spectrum, Music Analysis, Journal 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 (forthcoming 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. Supported by grants from the Mellon Humanities+Urbanism+Design Initiative and the Price Lab for Digital Humanities, 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. Waltham-Smith has been awarded a fellowship at the Akademie Schloss Solitude in 2019–20 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, she has taught at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Cambridge, City University and Indiana University. She co-chairs the Society for Music Theory Music and Philosophy Interest Group and is a member of the organising committee for the Royal Musical Association Music and Philosophy Study Group.