Naomi Waltham-Smith

Assistant Professor
Music Building, Room 332

Naomi Waltham-Smith’s work lies at the threshold between music theory, recent European philosophy, and sound studies. A theorist of listening, she is interested in how aurality is implicated in politics of community and is paradigmatic for the ways we relate to others. Her work engages with instrumental music of the long eighteenth century, French deconstruction, recent Italian thought on biopolitics and immaterial labor, Kafka, and casinos.


Her first book Music and Belonging Between Revolution and Restoration (Oxford University Press, 2017) explores how stylistic and formal aspects of the instrumental music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven enter into a politics of belonging, understood in the double sense of inclusion and possession. The book situates musical analyses alongside theories of community and relationality in recent continental thought (Agamben, Nancy, Derrida, and Badiou) in order to revolutionize our understanding of the Classical style: its stylistic and formal processes show that musical material is shared common property that none of us can ever make fully our own. Her work on the Classical style is also published in Music Theory Spectrum, Music Analysis and Journal of Music Theory.


Waltham-Smith is currently writing a second book entitled The Sound of Biopolitics under contract with Fordham University Press for the Commonalities series, edited by Timothy Campbell (Cornell). This is a speculative study in music and philosophy that explains why sound and listening have been appropriated in post-Heideggerian thought as a way to theorize thought and politics. Staging a series of overhearings between theories of biopolitics and deconstruction, it sets notions of philosophy as a form of listening alongside debates about sovereignty. She is also building a sound archive “Listening under Trumpsim” that gathers together field recordings from the US, the UK, and France and will be hosted by the Slought Foundation and some of her recent fieldwork in Paris is presented in a podcast for Sounding Out! She has been awarded a fellowship at the Schloss Akademie Solitude where she will continue her work on urban soundscapes with a project entitled “Cart-otographies of Cities: Soundmapping Urban Political Economies.”


Co-chair of the Society for Music Theory Music and Philosophy Group and actively involved in the American Musicological Society’s sister group, Waltham-Smith is also a member of the American Comparative Literature Association and the German Studies Association. At Penn, she participates in the Mellon Humanities + Urbanism + Design Colloquium and the Faculty Working Group on Environmental Humanities. She is committed to nurturing the research interests of students and has received a number of grants in recognition of her dedication to undergraduate mentoring. She teaches courses on music theory, philosophies of music and listening, and transdisciplinary approaches to urban sound. Two of her courses have been co-taught with Francesca Ammon and Daniel Barber in PennDesign sponsored by the Mellon H+U+D Initiative and she will be co-teaching a seminar on “Aurality and Deconstruction” with Ian Fleishman in fall 2019.


Waltham-Smith holds a PhD from King’s College London (2009) where she also completed her Master’s. She graduated with a double First from Selwyn College, Cambridge in 2003 before taking up the DAAD Kurt Hahn Research Scholarship at the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität in Heidelberg. Before coming to Penn she taught at the University of Cambridge and King’s College London, and held post-doctoral positions at City University and Indiana University.

Selected recent publications

Music and Belonging Between Revolution and Restoration (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017).

“The Time it Takes to Listen,” Music Theory Spectrum 38/2 (2017): 18–35.

“The Sound of the Outside,” boundary 2 43/1 (2016), 75–105.

“Rethinking Difference and Community in Parsifal,” Opera Quarterly 29/3–4 (2013): 355–360.

“Badiou contra Badiou,” Current Musicology 94 (2012): 143–164.

“Sequence,” in Oxford Handbook of Critical Concepts in Music Theory, ed. Alexander Rehding and Steven Rings (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016).

Review of Dominic Pettman, Sonic Intimacy: Voice, Species, Technics (or, How To Listen to the World), b2o, June 1, 2017.

“Untying Bodies” [review of Peter Szendy, Phantom Limbs: On Musical Bodies], Los Angeles Review of Books, September 9, 2016.