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Friday 24 October 2014

Etymology of a microphone

As I was reading about the technicalities of sound recording, I wondered where the lavalier micro­phone got its name​—​(a lava­lier is the little microphone you sometimes see clipped to peoples’ shirts when they are interviewed on TV). I did some digging and here’s what I found.

President Vladimir Putin wearing two lavalier mics. [eng.kremlin.ru]

The word lavalier comes from the name of a mis­tress of King Louis XIV of France, Louise de La Vallière (1644-1710). She is remembered for her style and her piety​—​after having four chil­dren with the king she left the court in 1674 and spent the rest of her life as a Carmelite nun.

Portrait painting

Portrait of Louise de La Baume Le Blanc, duchesse de La Vallière et de Vaujours, painted by Jean-Pierre Franque (1774-1860) and now in the collection of the Palace of Versailles. I like to think that this portrait shows the duchess in her boudoir for an inter­view, fitted with a lavalier microphone concealed under her bodice with the invisiLav mounting system.

Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870), who knew a thing or two about mistresses, fictionalised the duchess in Louise de la Val­lière, the second part of his 1847 three-part novel The Vicomte de Bra­ge­lon­ne​—​a story of action, intrigue, romance and skul­dug­gery in the court of Louis XIV. Perhaps, through the popularity of this sequel to The Three Musketeers, the name Lavallière came to signify high-class style with a dash of danger.

Untitled portrait of the Duchesse de La Vallière (front and back of a carte-de-visite published in Paris around 1865, a photographic copy of a lithograph or other print). Publication of this carte suggests that the duchess had place in the lineup of historical celebrities that made her a popular inclusion in the parlour photo albums of the French bour­geoi­sie.

The name La Vallière crossed over into English in the late nine­teenth century. The Oxford English Dictionary records these moments of adoption and transformation:

1873​—​in an English women’s magazine, about a hat​—​White chip Lavalliere Hat. The crown is mod­er­ately high, with a rather broad brim, turned up in front and down at the back.

1916​—​in a Canadian newspaper, about a necklace​—​Our stock of mod­er­ately priced Necklets, Pendants and La Valieres is most attractive.

1942​—​in an English literary journal, about a man’s neck tie​—​His collar and ready-made tie (a lavallière).

1972​—​in an American book about word origins​—​Today the small television microphone that hangs on a cord from the neck is also called a ‘lavaliere’, taking its name from the pendant necklace.

Portrait engraving

Alexandre Dumas, 1872 etching by Paul Rayon. Here is the author in his old age, reminiscing about writing Louise de la Valliere. The stories are rolling out for the camera, and I have clipped a Sennheiser MKE2-60 lavalier mi­cro­phone to his waistcoat to catch every word. [Wikimedia Commons]

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Tuesday 21 October 2014

Gough 1916-2014

I met him just once, and heard him speak several times, and feel the expected sadness at his passing. Many of his ac­com­plish­ments made a direct difference to me, to say nothing of their effect on so many other people.

I bought a copy of the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the National Estate when it came out in 1974, and was impressed. Gough Whitlam commissioned Justice Hope and a terrific committee (Judith Brine, Milo Dunphy, Keith Vallance, Reg Walker, Lenard Webb, Judith Wright, David Yencken) to conduct this inquiry, and their report is still impressive forty years later. This report led to the establishment of the Australian Heri­tage Commission, the Register of the National Estate, the development of schemes for protecting important places by legislation and funding support. I think it also encouraged more rigour and professsionalism in the field.

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Friday 17 October 2014

James Semple Kerr 1932-2014

Dr James Semple Kerr died on Wednesday. Today I have spent a little time with the biography he wrote of Joan, his wife and part­ner. It was a pleasure to read it again​—​sad, but still a plea­sure because it is so imbued with Jim’s wry ob­ser­va­tion and clarity of thought. I can hear his voice as I read it.

A group of ICOMOS members chatting as they look over the Burra mining landscape, during the meeting when the charter was adopted in 1979. Jim Kerr is the tall bearded man, centre left. [photo by Richard Allom]

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Saturday 13 September 2014

What’s in a ballet shoe

Dancers and makers talk about pointe shoes, in this fascinating documentary.

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Wednesday 13 August 2014

Railway sleepers

In the course of some work I have been doing lately, I have been seeing a lot of railway sleepers. I can’t look at them without thinking about the work of cutting, carting and installing them.

stacks of new sleepers in the Aurizon depot at Emerald, Queensland. They look like they have been sawn from fairly small trees, and the coloured stripes across the ends suggest that some of them have been mechanically stress-graded.

I have a sleeper-cutter’s broad axe. Picking it up is a good way to remind myself how sedentary my life is, and how soft the skin on my hands.

A compilation of documentary films made in the 1920s and 1930s about timber getting in Western Australia. A piece entitled The sleeper cutter, about hand hewing of railway sleepers, starts at 9:15.

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Monday 7 July 2014

The putter

In Sheffield (once the great centre of cutlery manufacture) the person who assembles and adjusts scissors is called a putter-together, sometimes putter-togetherer, often shortened to putter. It takes years to develop the skill and judgment to do this job really well.

In this video we see Cliff Denton at work. He is a putter at Ernest Wright & Sons Ltd, one of the few Sheffield businesses that still makes high quality scissors in the traditional way.

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On this page
Etymology of a microphone
Gough 1916-2014
James Semple Kerr 1932-2014
What’s in a ballet shoe
Railway sleepers
The putter

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