Ertegun Staff and Scholar Profiles

Jake Downs

MSt in Music | 2016 Graduate

I graduated as an Ertegun Scholar from St John’s College in the summer of 2016, where I received an M.St. with Distinction in Musicology. I had previously received a First-class B.A. (Hons) in Music from Christ Church. During my time as a postgraduate student at Oxford, I worked on a number of broad-ranging academic projects, including: a psychological investigation into the nature of ‘perceptual reality’ in relation to contemporary multitrack recordings, a theoretical reconceptualization of the impact of familiar music on people with dementia, a reflection upon the relationship between politics and Western popular music in the 21st century, and a phenomenological study of the embodied reality of headphone listening.

The latter of these projects formed the basis of my Ph.D. proposal to the Department of Music at the University of Sheffield, where I am now a fulltime doctoral student (2016– ). My research at Sheffield is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) via the White Rose College for the Arts and Humanities (WRoCAH), an organization which straddles the Universities of Sheffield, York, and Leeds. In my work, I explore the complex relationships that exist between humans and technologies, using empirical data-collection techniques as a foundation to wider theoretical work on the ubiquitous cultural phenomenon of headphone listening. My approach places insights and theories from across a wide range of disciplines in tension with one another, from musicology and philosophy to psychology and medical science. This methodological desire for multiplicity was certainly borne out of my time at Ertegun House, where the diverse array of perspectives present among the scholarly community influenced my thinking to an enormous degree.

I had a wonderful experience as an Ertegun Scholar, and I am so grateful to Mica and her indefatigably supportive team for the generosity I was shown. The scholarship programme encourages such a powerful sense of intellectual collectivity. This magnetism extends far beyond the walls of the House: when I return to Oxford, I often see Professor Ward-Perkins, the previous Director, riding here and there on his trusty bicycle, and it is lovely to stop and chat. Once a Scholar, always a Scholar!