Ben Oyler


Sixth Year Graduate Student in Theory

103, Music Building

I am a critical theorist, musician, writer, and teacher.

My research explores sound production and social reproduction under the contemporary regime of capital. I focus in particular on virtuosity as a historical and theoretical prism through which to consider entanglements of art and politics vis-à-vis capitalist social relations. Rejecting intellectual Taylorism and the methodological silos it produces, my work cuts a transdisciplinary path of inquiry across sound and music studies, social theory, and philosophy.

My dissertation project diagrams a set of everyday “economies of virtuosity” through a broadly Marxian lens. With reference to the category of labor power, I examine three obliquely related domains: the practice of woodshedding in modern and contemporary jazz; the biopolitics of cognitive development tools and baby monitoring; and ludic dislocations in new sound and media environments. I understand these economies to condition the social registers of virtuosic performance as an encounter between (corporeal) event and (political economic) abstraction.

Before coming to Penn, I earned a MM in musicology with a certificate in social theory from the University of Tennessee, where I wrote a thesis on the Norwegian free improvisation ensemble SPUNK.