Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of English

Content Description

1 online resource (vi, 470 pages) : illustrations.

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Don Byrd

Committee Members

Ronald A Bosco, Pierre Joris


Music and literature, Music, Environmentalism in literature

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Ecology and Evolutionary Biology | Reading and Language


On the eve of 1945, when the Manhattan Project's machinations to split the atom were almost in place, another physicist published a little book--What Is Life? Applying physics to biology, Erwin Schrödinger described how genetic "code-script" could create aperiodic (non-repeating) new life from periodic materials, revealing the "secret" of life. This dilemma of life or death defines the post-1945 moment. Fraught with Hamlet-like uncertainty, I argue this moment is the apex of a long-fomenting, eco-historical crisis where Western thinking had severed "Man" from "Nature." Sound Environment Programming is a term I invented to detail how Charles Olson, Sun Ra, and John Cage developed responses to this eco-historical crisis. It was a new literary science with an aperiodic means to achieve the shared aim of accessing life--a synonym for the re-connection of the human to its environment. Olson, Ra, and Cage were not only "poets" and "musicians" with ethical interests in language, they were ecologists and programmers using sound in new ways. By examining the functional overlapping relations of ecology, echolocation, and programming logic, I detail how history and language were the material means to achieve an Æffective Ecological aim: life, accessed from the way back of the historical past, back in. Art always takes from life, however they sought life not only by going from life to art, and not only by analyzing it ecologically, but by creating a new sense of it, installing new potentials in others with inventive literary art forms that complete the circuit: From life to art back to life. Embedded in their art forms, indexical, algorithmically-charged language is "code-scripted" with ones and zeroes (the digital-organic) to create a passageway for others--a window or a door, and yet defying these metaphors--to get back in to the environment primed with new ethical potential. The result defies the traditional ideas of literature: A human variant of echolocation driven by a programming logic and an ecological abstraction so powerful, their sound-activated art forms could create aperiodic mutational events, leading any one to a larger environmental sense of what "one" is. This is the story of Sound Environment Programming.