Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Jairo Moreno


This dissertation offers ecological disorientation as an analytic for making sense of affective experiences of the climate crisis and the epistemological shifts that attend it. It focuses this analytic on a range of thinkers and makers whose reckonings with the climate crisis appeal to sonic creativity. It contributes to the difficult labor of reorienting music studies, the humanities, and higher education institutions to better contend with the climate crisis, for which there is no panacea. Chapter one analyzes the discourse of theorists, critics, scientists, and public officials who deploy sonic figures to make sense of ecological disorientation. The chapter opens this project’s overriding concern—namely, that sonic figures and practices of embodied sense-making can spur action and mobilize affects. Chapter two constellates and analyzes music studies practitioners’ reckonings with ecological disorientation to argue that such reckonings may perpetuate anthropocentric, identitarian epistemologies. Chapter three theorizes parahuman sonic creativity and compiles an archive of practitioners whose creative work in sound contends with, figures, or otherwise relates with the climate crisis and its disorienting effects; it argues that such works aestheticize the climatic, ecological conditions of possibility for their own existence. Chapter four offers a suite of the author’s creative and pedagogical models for reorientation: a breath-controlled instrument linking users’ breath to the real-time air quality of three user-defined cities around the world; a short film demonstrating the instrument; a film about the afterlives of industrial asbestos waste and environmental racism in Ambler, Pennsylvania; a video experiment in “pneumatography”; and two syllabi, available as supplementary files.

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Additional Files

Niess_Appendix-A_Syllabus-01.pdf (119 kB)
Niess_Appendix-B_Syllabus-02.pdf (283 kB)
Niess_Pneumatography_2022.mp4 (192103 kB)
Niess_ParticulateMatters_2022.mp4 (829503 kB)