Lost for Words

It seems to me that every time I just about have a grasp on the terminology in our industry, some bright spark comes up with a new concept. This inevitably brings much confusion until we either settle on new terminology, or worse yet, accept new meanings for existing terms.
Author:
Publish date:

It seems to me that every time I just about have a grasp on the terminology in our industry, some bright spark comes up with a new concept. This inevitably brings much confusion until we either settle on new terminology, or worse yet, accept new meanings for existing terms. The problem has never been more desperate than the present, when rapid technological innovation is accompanied by a broadening in the source of our tools, as we assimilate devices and techniques from many other areas of lighting.

The term luminaire for instance, is one that I (like many others) have struggled with for years. I started out working on musicals at high school. At our school, luminaires were called lights, and lamps were called light-globes (and despite being required to take French, we also pronounced the "S" in Fresnel). I was later to learn, during high-school drama festivals, that every school in our city used different terms for just about everything. Even when I started working in television, different words were being used for these simple terms (in this instance: lamp and bubble). At the same time, my brother, who was at college studying production management under tutors with an English stage management tradition, referred to them as instruments and lamps.

LISTEN CLOSELY

It was a relief, if somewhat of a mouthful, to find that the industry eventually adopted the international (CIE) terms of luminaire and lamp. Although that terminology had been around for some time, the move appears to have been led by the equipment manufacturers, who were trying to sell their wares to international markets. Three decades later, I still occasionally cause confusion when I slip-up and refer to a luminaire as a lamp. However, I never ever pronounce the "S" in Fresnel.

Luminaire currently appears to be slipping from favor in a number of areas of lighting. Listen closely and you will notice that the moving-light subculture has adopted the term fixture, a word previously associated with architectural lighting and the construction business. In a recent conversation with a console designer I pleaded with him to reconsider the use of the abbreviation Fx for fixture in the moving-light controller section of a new desk. There was no possibility of changing the word fixture, which is firmly entrenched in that part of the business.

I have also noticed that the term "head" seems to be undergoing a change in usage to mean moving-head (moving yoke) luminaire. Indeed, head is also being used generically for luminaire by some people I speak to, from concert touring and industrial theater. This of course raises the issue of what to call "luminaires with elements that move by remote control." I have always had problems with an appropriate name for these devices. Descriptions such as automated, intelligent or moving lights seem unsuitable, as they are not automated, possess no intelligence and many of them have neither visible moving parts nor a movable beam.

CONVENTIONAL TERMS?

I have long preferred the word robotic for this class of luminaire, but I'm becoming less certain about the idea every day. I am increasingly hearing them referred to as moving lights or "movers"; even Studio Due's beefy CityColor floodlights that only change their color. What exactly is the defining difference between a Griven Kolorado color-changing floodlight and a molefay fitted with a color scroller? According to many, the first would be classified as a moving light and the second a "conventional."

That term conventional is now quite widely used to identify either dimmers or luminaires without remote control functions. It is usually used in the context "the moving lights were running on a Whole Hog, while the conventionals were controlled on an Obsession."

There is some terminology that will be changing for all of us with the forthcoming DMX512-A standard. The word "universe," currently in general use to describe a complete stream of DMX512 data, appears set to become the official term. Previously we referred to a DMX512 datastream as containing 512 channels of data, originally for dimmers, but more recently for the likes of smoke machines, strobes, projectors, scrollers, disco effects, moving lights and even Doug Fleenor's coffeepot. Drafts of the new standard have defined the word "slot" as the new term to be used for each of the 8-bit values contained in a DMX512 packet.

And this is only the beginning of the next round of changes to the words we use. The number of values, parameters or attributes that we wish to control on robotic luminaires continues to increase as we add framing shutters, morphing and many other features. There are as yet no widely used terms to refer to groupings of functions or collections of parameters. My console designer friend currently doesn't have all the words he needs for the manual to describe how his desk works. But the console will be available at the forthcoming round of tradeshows, where you can check out its unique features. Me, I'm just dying to read the manual.