Walker Downey

Banner Image: Earle Brown, "Calder Piece," performed November 14–15, 1981, Neuberger Museum, SUNY Purchase on the occasion of SOUNDINGS, September 20–December 23, 1981.

Walker Downey is a historian of modern and contemporary art and a PhD candidate in the History, Theory and Criticism of Architecture and Art program at MIT. Before arriving at MIT, Walker earned an M.A. in Art History from Williams College, where he explored the politics of sound in American art of the Sixties, and in particular, the work of composer and pianist David Tudor. Walker's dissertation project, Auditions: Pauline Oliveros, David Tudor, and the Hybrid Genealogy of Sound Art, 1960–1980, examines two decades of radically cross-disciplinary trends in American experimental music that preceded the codification and institutionalization of Sound Art in the Eighties and after. Navigating the trajectories and expanded networks of two musicians, friends, and collaborators, Pauline Oliveros (1932–2016) and David Tudor (1926–1996), the project frames Sound Art as an outgrowth of transformative mutations in the live performance of experimental music, whose stylistic, disciplinary, and institutional boundaries were redefined in the Sixties and Seventies.

Walker is also interested in political and urbanistic responses to noise pollution, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century acoustical science, and the historical development of sound-dampening technology and anechoic chambers.


Selected Publications

"In the Free Field: Doug Wheeler’s PSAD Synthetic Desert III and Anechoic Histories," Art Journal OPEN, August 30, 2018,

ed., with Sarah Rifky, Thresholds 47 (2019).

Selected Conferences, Lectures, and Symposia

Presenter, “Sounding the Security State: Christina Kubisch’s Electrical Walks,” 45th-annual Cleveland Symposium: “Visualizing Sound & Silence in Art & Architecture,” Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Museum of Art, October 25, 2019.

Presenter, "'Always Already Confined': Tony Conrad's Politics of Roleplay and Improvisation," MIT List Visual Arts Center, November 29, 2018. In conjunction with "Introducing Tony Conrad: A Retrospective," October 18, 2018–January 6, 2018.

Presenter, "Sound and Sedimentation: Walter De Maria's Eco-Critical Resonance," UCSD 11th Annual Graduate Visual Arts Symposium: "Sensory Disruptions," UC San Diego, March 3, 2018.

Presenter and Co-organizer, with Ian Condry (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Jan St. Werner (Academy of Fine Arts, Nuremberg), Rekha Malhotra (MIT Comparative Media Studies), and Nicole L’Huillier (MIT Media Lab), “Dissolve Music,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology, March 7–9, 2018.
Keynote Speakers: Diana Deutsch, Thomas F. DeFrantz

Organizer, with Leah Aronowsky and Brad Bolman (Department of the History of Science, Harvard University), “Technical Landscapes: Aesthetics and the Environment in the History of Science and Art," Harvard University, April 6–8, 2017.
Keynote speakers: Caroline A. Jones, Peter L. Galison, Rebecca K. Uchill

Presenter, “Rebirth of White Noise: David Tudor’s Retuning of ‘9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering,’” 20th Annual Graduate Art History Symposium, Williams College and the Clark Art Institute, June 5, 2015.

Areas of Interest
American Art, Art and Technology, Climate Change, Landscape, Public Art, Theory of Art


2009 - 2013
Bachelor of Arts, Wheaton College (MA)
2013 - 2015
Master of Arts, Williams College