Naomi Waltham-Smith

Assistant Professor
Music Building, Room 332

Naomi Waltham-Smith’s work lies at the threshold between recent European philosophy and music 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 French deconstruction, recent Italian thought on biopolitics and immaterial labor, eighteenth-century instrumental music, Italian neorealist cinema, 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. This is a speculative study for a political philosophy series that explains why sound and listening have been appropriated in post-Heideggerian thought as a way to (re)think the common. 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 working on a book that narrates the collapse of neoliberalism as a crisis of listening and is 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. 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 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, 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. A recent graduate seminar on “Cities & Sound,” co-taught with Francesca Ammon, Assistant Professor in City Planning and Historic Preservation, and sponsored by the Mellon H+U+D Initiative, brought together students from a wide range of disciplines from across PennDesign as well as the arts, humanities, and social sciences. She will also be co-teaching a seminar with Ian Fleishman on “Aurality and Deconstruction.”

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.