Bipolar electrodes were placed in the ascending and descending colon of 13 patients during laparotomy. The magnitude of their operations varied from exploratory laparotomy to total gastrectomy. The magnitude and length of the operations performed did not correlate positively with the duration of postoperative ileus. Signals were recorded for up to 4 hours daily for up to 8 days after operation during periods of rest and, in some patients, after administration of epidural or parenteral morphine sulfate. Power spectrum analyses of electrical control activity (ECA) showed dominant frequencies in both lower (2-9 cpm) and higher (9-14 cpm) ranges. During postoperative recovery, the mean ECA frequencies in right and left colon were relatively constant, but a variety of dominant ECA frequency relationships were observed. The modal pattern in the right colon was a shift in the dominant frequency from the higher to the lower range as recovery progressed, while the modal pattern in the left colon was persistent dominance of ECA in the higher frequency range. Electrical response activity (ERA) initially was comprised of only random, disorganized single bursts but became progressively more complex through the initial 3 postoperative days with the appearance of more organized bursts and clusters, some of which propagated very slowly (about 5 cm/min) both orad and aborad. ERA recovery culminated, typically on the third or fourth postoperative day, with the return of long bursts of continuous ERA, some of which propagated at a higher velocity (about 80 cm/min) and exclusively in the aborad direction and which were accompanied by passage of flatus or by defecation.