Walker Downey

Walker Downey he/him

Assistant Teaching Professor

Art Education, Art History & Media Studies



College of Visual & Performing Arts 204D


2022Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyPhD
2015Williams CollegeMA
2013Wheaton CollegeBA




Research interests

  • Sound art, intersections of art and experimental music
  • Acoustic ecology and bioacoustics
  • Emerging media (AI, AR and VR, locative media) in the arts, media theory
  • Film and video art
  • Media studies and media theory

Select publications

Walker Downey is a historian of modern and contemporary art. He received his PhD from the History, Theory, & Criticism of Architecture and Art program at MIT in 2022. While anchored in art history, Walker’s research cuts across media studies, musicology, and sound studies. His primary focus is the contemporary field of sound art and its historical and technological roots. Walker’s additional research interests include: changing discourses around noise pollution and the efforts of artists and musicians to redefine notions of noise and "natural" sound; collaborations between artists and engineers; and film and video art.

Walker’s research and criticism has appeared in Resonance: the Journal of Sound and Culture, Art Journal OPEN, Art in America, and Interdisciplinary Science Reviews. He has lectured and presented on such subjects as contemporary sound artist Christina Kubisch, musician and experimental filmmaker Tony Conrad, and the unique historiographic challenges posed by sound art. In Spring 2023, he co-curated an exhibition at the New Bedford Art Museum with NBAM Executive Director Suzanne de Vegh; titled "Sound in Space, Sound in Place," the show featured work by celebrated and emerging sound artists, audio recordings sourced from New Bedford residents, and experimental sound works by UMassD students in Walker's own sound art seminar. More information about the exhibition, which received praise from The Boston Globe and The Standard-Times, can be found at: New Bedford Art Museum: Sound in Space, Sound in Place

Walker’s dissertation follows the intertwined trajectories of musicians Pauline Oliveros (1932–2016) and David Tudor (1926–1996) to understand how sound art evolved out of experimental music in the postwar United States. Substantially expanding the scope of Oliveros and Tudor’s legacies, long understood in purely music-historical terms, Walker shows that the pair’s engagements with electronic media—including magnetic tape and do-it-yourself circuitry—dramatically shaped their approaches to composition, performance, and listening in the Sixties and Seventies, yielding spatialized and participatory relationships to sound that challenged music’s definitional limits and transported them into art-world spaces. In a second, developing research project, he intends to craft an interdisciplinary history of the “soundscape” as term and concept, narrating its emergence in the North American context of Sixties-Seventies efforts to preserve an “acoustic ecology” endangered by industrial growth. This project would focus equally on the practices of environmentally oriented sound artists and musicians, and on government and activist campaigns for noise reform.

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