Dr Jacob Downs

Dr Jacob Kingsbury Downs is Departmental Lecturer in Music and Chair of Faculty in the Faculty of Music, as well as Organising Tutor in Music at Lady Margaret Hall. He is also Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield. He studies listeners’ and musicians’ experiences with music and sound technologies, combining qualitative empirical methods with historical research and theoretical approaches drawn from the fields of musicology, sound studies, phenomenological philosophy, and music psychology. He is currently working on two book projects: the first about headphone listening, and the second about music and environmentalism.

Jacob is currently Co-Investigator on the UK Research and Innovation project ‘Influencing Environmental Values through Music’ (2023–24), funded via the Higher Education Innovation Funding initiative. The project serves to increase knowledge about how contemporary popular music contributes to biospheric values and environmental attitudes and behaviours, intersecting empirical research methods from psychology and sociology with theoretical and analytical approaches from arts and humanities scholarship to produce evidence-based, interdisciplinary outputs.

Jacob studied as an undergraduate at Christ Church, Oxford, where he received a first-class BA and the Clifford Smith Prize in Music in 2015. He continued his studies in receipt of full funding from the Ertegun Scholarship Programme, gaining his MSt in Music (Musicology) with distinction from St John’s College, Oxford, in 2016 under the supervision of Eric Clarke. He then gained his PhD with no corrections from the University of Sheffield in 2021, studying under Nicola Dibben and receiving full funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. His doctoral dissertation explored the phenomenology of headphone listening, with emphasis on themes of space, embodiment, and materiality.

Prior to returning to Oxford in 2023, Jacob was Research Associate at the University of Sheffield on two projects under Nicola Dibben (UKRI/Research England, 2023). Before that, he was briefly Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Cyprus (European Research Council, 2022), working on a project about music, sound, and violence; and he has provided research assistance for Carolyn Birdsall at the University of Amsterdam (Dutch Research Council, 2021), supporting her historical research into European radio with archival work.

Beyond his academic work, Jacob is also an established musician, arranger, music engraver, and musical director, working mainly at the intersection of classical, popular, and electroacoustic music. Previous clients include Jools Holland, on a collaboration with Lang Lang; Nitin Sawhney, on a range of projects including retrospective shows at the Royal Albert Hall, new commissions for the likes of Barbican Hall and the National Youth Orchestra, and the 2022 feature film What’s Love Got to Do with It?; Hannah Peel, during her work with Paul Weller for his orchestral shows at London’s Royal Festival Hall; Bill Ryder-Jones, for a bespoke show on the occasion of the opening of Liverpool’s Tung Auditorium; and Erland Cooper, on a range of projects including his 2023 album Folded Landscapes. As a singer, keyboardist, and string player, Jacob has performed at a range of prestigious venues and festivals including Barbican Hall, the Sage Gateshead, the Royal Albert Hall’s Elgar Room, Union Chapel, Milton Court Concert Hall, and WOMAD Festival.

At the University of Oxford, Jacob lectures and offers tutorials on various topics within contemporary music and sound studies. In 2023/24, his lecture courses include FHS List A Musical Thought and Scholarship (with Jason Stanyek), FHS List B Dissertation, the new FHS List C Mediating Intimacy: Space and Intersubjectivity in Recorded Music and Sound, Prelims Paper 1 Foundations in the Study of Music (with Samantha Dieckmann), and Prelims Paper 5b Extended Essay. He also runs the MSt Core Seminar course in Aesthetics (with Laura Tunbridge), as well as convening the MSt Presentation Seminar.

Downs, Jacob Kingsbury (2021). ‘Headphones, Auditory Violence and the Sonic Flooding of Corporeal Space’. Body & Society, 27(3), 58–86.

Downs Jacob Kingsbury (2021). ‘Acoustic Territories of the Body: Headphone Listening, Embodied Space, and the Phenomenology of Sonic Homeliness’. Journal of Sonic Studies, 21.

Jacob’s research interests include sound, music, and listening in the 20th and 21st centuries; critical phenomenologies of perception, embodiment, and space; popular music, music technology, and mediation; voice, affect, sociality, and intimacy; environmental humanities and psychology; and sensory studies of incarceration, violence, and torture.