Posted by: Blue Lou Logan | August 30, 2014

The Second Circle of Louness

I am in an interesting place.  Due to circumstances beyond my control, I recently lost my job.  The same thing happened one year ago.  These were jobs only, not careers.  To quote Captain Malcolm Reynolds of Firefly:  “I do the job, then I get paid.”  There was no love of task, no mission…and a whole lot of stress.  I am in a place of rethinking, and a lot of that thinking is going back to old priorities and models.

About nine years ago one of the biggest paradigm shifts in my life occurred.  Within about a month, I finished my PhD exams in Ethnomusicology at the University of Washington, went to the UK for the first and thus far only time, divorced (amicably) my wife of thirteen years, moved out on my own, and left the Ivory Tower to enter the “real” workplace.  When I left Ethno, my focus was on globalization and underground dance music, specifically Jungle/Drum’n’Bass.  I did it because I loved the music, and I was part of a young movement in my discipline that declared that your specialization is not determined by theory or academic fashion but by passion.  Trouble was, as time went on and I went further and further from academe, I lost that passion.  On one hand, the drudgery of working life left me spent and mired, finding even the concept of returning to the university hard to contemplate.  On the other hand, I gained a new and much stronger passion:  water, boats, shanties, maritime history, and pirates.  If I was going to get back into Ethno, I would be completely altering course, probably backing up, and that was and is daunting.  Yet my current wife–now of seven years, and supportive in a way my previous wife never was–my family, my friends, and my brain kept nudging me to get back to where I belong:  studying, researching, writing, and teaching.

Then I got kicked out of that work reality…twice.  The cumulative shock had put me in a position where that reality was less attractive than ever and where getting back to academia suddenly seemed worthy and possible.  And then I remembered something.

A whopping sixteen years ago, in one of my ubiquitous self-reflexive moments, I did an exercise.  It started as an inventory of interests that was then boiled and distilled down to a model I called either the “Lou Universe” or the “Circle of Louness.”  The making of this model plays into two character traits of mine.  One is that I love to analyze and theorize, including and especially about myself.  The other is that perhaps my biggest internal dialectic is between eclecticism bordering on “Ooo–shiny!” distraction and a belief in balance drawn spiritually from Native American and Buddhist inspirations.  The Circle of Louness gave me not only a chart of my own priorities but also a potential map to keep them all on even terms.

When the second job loss put me in a contemplative space, I remembered the Circle of Louness and how helpful it had been in various ways at various times.  Trouble was…I couldn’t find it.  The hard copy was somewhere in a heap of boxes in the garage.  There was no graphic file on any hard drive or flash drive.  I dove into the Journals, but the resurrection of the Louness system I remembered from my brief bachelor period didn’t give me the chart itself.  Finally, by simply going backwards, I found the original exercise, November 6, 1998.  But…while the four points of my personal Sacred Hoop were found and still applied to my current existence, the theoretical connections between each point were gone.  I rebuilt it.  So, here in the Round Kingdom, under the influence of rum and ganja, between the late night and the early morn, I present the Second Circle of Louness, newly reimagined…and electronically saved.


The Four Points of Louness are my interests, consolidated into general areas meant to be kept in balance.  Within each Point there are two overlapping concerns, the heart of Ethnomusicology:  words and music.

  • Creative:  The acts of original writing and original music.  In words, this can be anything from story to essay to the daily Journal.  Original music, given my approach to it, can be composition in the traditional sense or mix on audio file or live air.  The word and the music unite in at least two ways.  One is contribution to Ethnomusicological literature.  The other is when poem becomes lyric.  By recollection, this was NOT at the top of the circle before–see the next point–but I have come to realize that the acts of writing and musicking (to use Christopher Small’s term), and writing about musicking, are what I DO.  I should also hasten to point out that I consider teaching to be a creative act, and another way that word and music come together.
  • Academic:  This was the top but is now the bottom or, really, the foundation. Although as an area its definition is rather obvious, its contribution to the Circle comes down to two factors: analysis and theory.  The Creative act is driven by inspiration, by the muse.  The Academic act is driven by considered thought and by precedent.  Analysis and theory in music parlance are well-defined: the use and consideration of the building blocks such as melody, harmony, rhythm, and timbre.  As a mixologist, I would also add terms such as segue and flow to these building blocks.  Analysis and theory in words are the models I create or draw from to think about the acts and contexts of musicking.  Anthropology, Cultural Studies, Sociology, Musicology, History, and other disciplines all contribute, via individual scholarship, analytical and theoretical approaches.  These approaches, in words and music, come together to form Ethnomusicology.
  • Real:  On the left of the Circle is the world as I know it.  Existence.  The planet, my friends and family, strangers, the daily routine, relationships, news, clouds, toothpaste, rum, cats, commuting, working, living.  This is the one area perhaps apart from music and words.  I have it as a Point because I have to be grounded, because I cannot always be in the head spaces of the Creative and the Academic.  I am a human on Earth with loved ones.  Yet the Real enriches and is enriched by the music and the word.  For instance, the road needs decent tunes on the radio and may also inspire a good song.  The Real is also not limited to the present.  History and ancestry are the Real before now.
  • Imaginary:  In case you didn’t know, I’m a geek.  I revel in alternative realities and their minutia.  Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean, Outlander, The Big Lebowski.  The word can be book or screenplay; in other words, reading or watching, or perhaps both, like The Lord of the Rings.  Music, by a bit of a stretch, is the imaginary worlds created by musicians:  Miles Davis, Erik Satie, Flaco Jimenez, Brian Eno, Bob Dylan, Grooverider.  Music and word do come together in the Imaginary and in a way explain the core of my musical tastes.  On one hand, traditional music is driven (at least for me) by balladry, by telling story in song.  On the other hand, soundtracks and scores are quite literally the music of imaginary realms.  The Imaginary, in essence, is the place where I can get lost in the works of great creators.

To define how each of these Points relate to each other, I will yet again go back to the idea of the dialectic.  In extreme brief:  The idea of the dialectic is that binary opposing forces are not static but create an ongoing process that create new things in new ways by their opposition.  Good and evil, for instance, can be viewed as polar opposites but can also be viewed as creating the vast spectrum of belief, ethics, and morality.  In another old moment of contemplation, I created the symbol <-v-> to represent the dialectic by combining “versus” with the logic sign of “if and only if.”  Each Point on the Circle of Louness is connected by a dialectical pair, six in all.  My analytical mind saw that these pairs can be put into two groups:  Feeding and Grounding.  The Feeding pairs are all at the top and all connect to the Creative, ‘feeding’ it.

  • Creative <-v-> Academic:  The central, vertical axis connects my two main activities.  As I already described, the Creative act is one of inspiration, while the Academic act is one of analysis.  What the Academic gives to the Creative is Structure.  Analysis in word makes the original piece make sense, gives it form and organization.  Analysis in music gives the original piece vocabulary and syntax.  At the same time, the Creative feeds back to the Academic new ideas, giving the analysis the spark of originality.
  • Creative <-v-> Real:  The Real is the realm of living, of the senses.  The Real feeds Experience to the Creative.  Creativity comes from the mind, but it has no body without actual events.  It has no characters, no locations, no narrative without Real Experience.  The Creative feeds back a sort of worldview in which the Real is viewed as a source.  I’m the kind of guy that goes nowhere without a notebook, a camera, and possibly an audio recorder.  I am an observer.  In the previous iteration of the Circle, I remember that the relationship between Creative and Real was labeled as Capture, the idea that the Real was like a lode to be mined.  This is true to an extent, but I have come to realize that Capture is too unidirectional.  Experience is both facts and action.  The Real and the Creative truly can’t exist without the other and create, for me, a unified way of being.
  • Creative <-v-> Imaginary:  Inspiration.  Reading, watching movies, and listening to music can very glibly be called consumptive, not creative.  Yet these sources make me the artist that I am.  I would not write the way that I do without the Inspiration of authors such as Ray Bradbury.  I would not, for instance, play 12-string guitar without the Inspiration of Leadbelly, Gordon Lightfoot, Leo Kottke, and Gordon Bok.  The Creative feeds back an appreciation for fellow creators and praises the truly original–Danny Elfman, Gene Roddenberry.

At the bottom of the Circle is the ground to match the air of the creative hemisphere.  These dialectical pairs are, like the Academic at the foundation, more theoretical, yet quite Real in their manifestations.

  • Real <-v-> Imaginary:  Mind.  The equator of the Circle is the brain itself.  The mind tries to keep the Real and the Imaginary at odds, tho’, of course, I view this boundary to be permeable at the least. Like the Inspiration that unites the Imaginary to the Creative, original worlds would not exist without Real sources–no Replicants without robots, no Bond without real spies.  At the same time, my love of the Imaginary gives me, honestly, a certain disparaging attitude towards the Real.  Closing a book or coming out of a movie theater, the crowded daylight is just sort of…disappointing.
  • Real <-v-> Academic:  Space.  This began as a truly a practical division.  When I was a practicing academic, there was real distance between home and campus.  I, of course, wrote at home (or the café, or the pub) and kept my library at home, but family was in the house and scholarly friends and mentors were in the Music Building.  In this New Circle, however, I have made the opposition into a dialectic, and the process is Travel.  Travel makes the thing of distance into the action of movement.  From the Academic side, there are the endless dialogues about what defines “the field.”  From the other side, travel is the ultimate in Experience, the best of the Real and an important priority.
  • Academic <-v-> Imaginary:  Time.  On one level, this is another practical division:  Time spent in the Imaginary is separate from Time spent in the Academic.  On another level, they are united in their activities–Reading the word and Listening to the music.  I can enjoy a good album or a good book, or I can analyze them.  Like the Experience that binds the Real and the Creative, this dialectic creates a certain attitude.  I often find that analytical thinking is hard to keep down.  Analysis is part of the enjoyment.  I think that’s what makes me an academic.

The Circle of Louness is only a model (like Camelot).  To use the model’s own terminology, the Circle is an analytical construct—an Academic exercise—that nevertheless draws from and exalts the originality of the Creative.  The Circle is grounded in the Real world yet acknowledges that reality is fuzzy and that the Real is only tolerable when you can regularly escape into the Imaginary.  But I must also use the old Marxist dialectic:  praxis <-v-> practice.  In other words, the model is only good if it is useful.  The real goal of the Circle is to keep me cognizant of ALL my priorities, to make sure they all receive fairly equal time.  Balance.  For a long time, I used the Circle as a device in the Daily Journal, dividing the events of the day not by chronology but by Point.  This allowed me to check whether all Four Points were getting their share.  I am not going to do that right now, partly because getting the Academic back on my personal map is not yet…Real.  Putting the Circle of Louness back into practice is, at the moment, a sort of goal.

But the Circle is back.  And improved!  There has been far too much of the Real, just enough Imaginary to hold me together, only the occasional Creative moment, and a long, long drought of the Academic.  I have gone back in personal time and pulled the Universe out of the past.  I have redrawn the Circle.  Now:  Let’s get this wheel rolling.

Ah, and I highly recommend you try to do this exercise yourself.


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