agosto 28, 2007

Morph is a PDF I recently authored which contains eight transformations for the close-up performer. These transformations were created and refined over the last few years, and I’ve used all at one time or another in my close-up work – I still use half or better on a regular basis. The effects were developed with practicality foremost in mind – in other words they’re easy to do and look great. These aren’t difficult pipe dream effects. They’re fairly easy, audience tested workers that you can use.

I’ve long believed that quick magical changes like these possess a power all out of proportion to their working. When your lighter won’t fire and you change it into a box of matches, people can relate to that on a deep level. We’ve all experienced the desire to change one thing into another in the course of our day to day lives, and these effects address that desire and vicariously fulfill it for the audience. It’s effects like these that an audience is likely to remember long after a performance is over.

You can get the full details of the effects here. Hope you’ll give this one a try as I sincerely believe it’s quite a bargain for the price.

Artist At Work

agosto 28, 2007

I’ve read a couple of essays recently which postulate that magic is not an art. Now for my money such essays are little more than transparent exercises in self-aggrandizement, much the same as those that rail that what Blaine and his imitators do is not street magic – and never mind that Blaine and his imitators are doing their magic on the street. Such minute, anal distinctions serve no purpose that I can discern other than demonstrating what oh-so-enlightened-thinkers their authors are. They’re pointless intellectual exercises at best, and self serving bullshit at worst. Whether or not magic is, by exact definition, art and whether or not what Blaine and company do is, according to self-styled experts, street magic doesn’t matter much to me either way. After all, I’ve got grass that needs watering and carpets that need vacuuming, if you get my not too subtle drift.

I bring this up because to me the highest compliment one magician can pay another is to say he’s an artist. Being an artist implies, to my maybe primitive way of thinking, that the practitioner has transcended the technique of his/her particular medium so that the technique itself has become invisible and we see only that being created. In the context of magic, we see just that, magic. No bumps, no hesitations, but only a seamless and straight forward whole without explanation.

I want to show you an artist at work. Click the YouTube clip at the end of this post. It’s a clip of Morgan Strebler bending forks. Why do I call him an artist? Because he’s completely transcended the technique of what he’s doing. I know every single move he’s making, and those of you familiar with metal bending, and his DVD Liquid Metal, probably do as well. However, I am unable to detect the moves, even knowing them. There’s simply nothing to see.

Even more amazing, I was talking to Morgan about this clip some time ago and he said he can’t detect the moves himself. That’s right – the guy making the moves just can’t see them. Now if that’s not transcending the technique I don’t know what is.

How did he acquire this level of expertise? By performing the routine thousands of times. Read that again, performing the routine. You don’t attain that level by doing it in the mirror or in front of the video camera. It’s only through taking a routine out into the world and working it time and again before audiences that you’re able to refine what you’re doing to such a state.

I think you also have to remember that Morgan honed this routine before audiences that would make the average magician cringe. I’m talking about audiences composed of the super rich and famous, people who’ve seen it all, done it all, and who are having a few drinks to boot. This routine was mainly polished to its current state by being done in some of Vegas’ most exclusive night spots, including the Caramel bar at The Bellagio. Now, if you think an audience is an audience, I would invite you to perform an act for a group at a family restaurant and the same act for a group at a bachelor party. Tough audiences make for exceptional performers.

Again, the guy’s an artist, what more can be said? It’s a lesson in what can be attained through hard work and repeated performance. I’ll be doing a review of Morgan’s Taste Conditions sometime in the near future. Stay tuned.

What Moves Do I Need To Learn To Be A Magician?

agosto 28, 2007

In the previous post I observed that what someone needs to learn to be a magician is the ability to interact with others. Now, because I have strong feelings about the subject, I may have inadvertently given the impression that moves are of no importance at all. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s just that it sticks in my proverbial craw that whenever the question of what’s most important to learn comes up, interpersonal communication is usually not even mentioned, let alone seriously considered.

Look, I love sleight of hand – nothing gets me going like a really clever and deceptive move. It’s just that in the overall scheme of being a magician, I would argue that the moves are subordinate to other less tangible attributes. Think about it for a second: Who do you think would fare better before an audience, the person who’s naturally charismatic and gets along well with others, armed with a couple of self working tricks, or the guy who’s withdrawn and socially inept, yet imbued with astonishing manipulative skill? I know who I’d put my money on. It’s a hard fact, and one that drives certain enthusiasts crazy, but manipulative ability takes a back seat to communication ability.

When you see magicians bashing someone like Blaine, this is what they fail to comprehend. His double lift sucks, he mumbles, he has no presentation. What they’re missing is that Blaine has the ability to connect with an audience, and he does it exceedingly well. The audience isn’t scoring his double lift or ability to speak clearly or denuded presentation. They’re responding to him, they’re connected to him. And that ability is worth all the moves in the world.

On to the moves, which is what I wanted to focus on this time around. Because if you want to be a magician, especially of the close-up variety, you’re going to need an arsenal of moves to make your wonders possible. Some might say you don’t need any moves, with the wide range of self working effects available, but I would disagree. I’m no sleight of hand purist, but merely a pragmatist who believes in the best tool for the job, and many times the best tool is a sleight. More, if you rely solely on gimmicks, there will come a time when something goes wrong and a sleight can bail you out. When taking piano you learn and practice scales; in close-up magic you learn and practice sleights. But probably the greatest argument for mastering some sleights is the ability it affords you to do magic anywhere, anytime, with just about anything. That, my friends, is about as close to real magic as you can get.

Where to begin? When you venture into the land of close-up sleight of hand you discover right away that there’s an overwhelming assortment of choices – moves which can accomplish nearly any secret action you can imagine with cards or coins or other small objects. The other thing you better discover quickly, or risk a lifetime of mediocre magic, is that there’s no way you could ever come close to mastering everything, or even learning everything. There’s way way too much information available. Discernment is key.

There are certain criteria you can apply to prospective moves to gauge their potential value. The first thing you should ask yourself — and it might seem obvious, but judging by the bad magic out there ostensibly it’s not – is, can I use this? Do you have a specific purpose for the move, or are you simply taken with its cleverness? How exactly can the move be used?
Assuming it is something you can use, you should next determine the extent of its usefulness. If it’s a move which can only be used for a single effect, is that effect worth the investment of time required? A move with sundry applications is usually far more valuable than a move with minimal uses.

How practical is the move? Can it only be employed with the audience directly in front of you looking down at your hands? To go into it do you need to have the deck balanced on your left heel? To get out of it do you have to flip the deck so it lands on your head? Okay, I’m employing a bit of hyperbole…but not much!

How difficult is it? You have to balance that response against the previous responses to decide if it’s worth the time. Are you willing to spend ten years practicing something with only a couple of uses, or something with angles so restrictive you’ll only be able to use it one time out of ten?

As you can see, there’s no secret formula at work here, only common sense. And yet magicians devote years to monstrosities with limited use that are so difficult as to be nearly impossible. Hey, if you’re the type who enjoys practicing in front of the bedroom mirror, maybe that’s for you. God knows there’s a legion of move junkies out there, so enamored with developing their digital dexterity they’ll never see the forest for the trees. If you want to do magic, however, you have to keep things in perspective and remember that the moves are but a means to an end.
What moves, specifically, would I recommend to the beginning magician as being worth his or her while?

I remember in Paul Gertener’s book Steel And Silver he talks about meeting his mentor in magic. He showed the guy some goofly and unimpressive little tricks using the glide, after which the mentor patiently asked, Can you palm a coin?

I’ve always liked that story as it pretty much sums up everything I’ve been talking about here. How many magicians are out there, do you suppose, who could show you any number of obscure sleights but would be unable to do something as seemingly basic as palm a coin? In David Ben’s Vernon biography he talks about how Vernon was reluctant to release some of his moves because magicians on average didn’t go to the trouble of mastering even basic moves. The more things change the more they stay the same.

If there’s a fundamental starting sleight in close-up magic, I would say it’s the palm. It has more uses than just about any other move I can imagine. Think about it – it’s the ability to secretly conceal an object in the palm of your hand. If you’re a magician without a use for that ability… Well, maybe you should take up the guitar or juggling or something.

Here’s the amazing thing. It’s the most basic sleight in close up magic and yet there are people out there who say they can’t palm a coin! Even worse, the so called experts come along and say, Well so and so couldn’t palm a coin either so you’re not alone, and it took me twenty years to palm a coin correctly.

Listen to me: If it takes you twenty freaking years to learn to palm a coin or do just about anything else you are in the wrong game.

My take on this is that the people claiming they can’t palm a coin are under the mistaken impression that the hand must be held perfectly flat when an object is palmed. Wrong. Take a look at your own hands. Unless they’re flat on your desk, or you’re just a very strange person, you’re not holding them flat. Holding your hand perfectly flat would be weird. A hand relaxed is slightly curled with the thumb about parallel with the index finger, not sticking out. If you can’t palm a coin you’re just not doing it right. It’s not that you’re genetically unable, etc. You just need to go back and learn how – or even better get someone to show you how.

So that’s where I would advise any would be magician to start. Learn to palm, and by no means limit yourself to coins. Try to palm any small object you can, and once palmed try to keep it palmed while doing other things. Any time I’m in a store I’ll be walking around with coins palmed in one or both hands. After a time you don’t even think about it. That means that in performance it’s a natural thing, second nature. You don’t think about it and neither will anyone else.

Beyond the classic palm, I would learn the Thumb Palm and Downs Palm, both moves with many potential uses. Learn a couple of vanishes, at least one of the Retention of Vision variety, if for no other reason than to understand this very important concept. Moving to cards, the palm is again something that can’t be over rated. Vernon’s Topping The Deck is a very good, invisible way to palm a card. Learn a control, and it doesn’t have to be the pass. There are lots of good alternatives, which is why people like Daryl and Ammar don’t use the pass themselves. A double lift that looks like a single card being turned over – and not being thrown all about in the process. Hell, learn to do a neat in the hands shuffle. There are kids who have multiple packets of cards flying around who can’t do a neat shuffle.

Learn the basics, get them down. They’re basics because they have so many uses and have proven themselves time and time again. From there the choice is yours, but by having a firm grasp of the basics you’ll be building on a solid foundation and that’ll make you a much better magician.

What Do I Need To Learn To Be A Magician?

agosto 28, 2007

What do I need to learn to be a magician?

It’s a question that’s been put to me more than once over the years and one that often pops up on the magic message boards — often posed by beginners who are then summarily derided and ridiculed for daring to ask a question…but I don’t want to get started on that. It’s the kind of question that, when asked, tends to draw a lot of stock responses which are generally superficial and fail to get at the bone of the query. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with advising a young magician to study the classics or read Erdnase, but are those kinds of activities, in and of themselves, truly going to produce a better magician?

I think a large part of the problem is that when presented with the question many immediately start running through mental lists of moves that would be most helpful to the beginner. Mastery of moves won’t make you a magician. I don’t care if you have the best pass in the world or a double lift that can’t be detected with a microscope — those moves alone won’t do it. As a matter of fact, devoid of solid routines those moves would rate as minor curiosities at best.

To address the question we first must have a clear idea of what a magician is or, at any rate, what kind of magician the questioner wishes to be. First the questioner needs to ask himself if he wants to be one of the lost many who view mastery of sleights and the ability to impress like minded peers with said sleights as the end all of being a magician. If that’s what he’s after there’s really no problem. Study the classics, read Erdnase, etc. etc. Put in the work, make some videos of yourself demonstrating your pass, sit back and garner praise. It’s that easy.

On the other hand, if he wishes to be one who entertainingly pretends to do the impossible, the work has only begun. Actually he can throw out a lot of those hard won moves because they won’t be needed. I’m sure there will be those who will vehemently disagree, but that’s only because they haven’t taken their brand of magic beyond the bedroom mirror. The truth is in real life performing situations a double undercut will get you as far as the best pass in the world. It’s not about the moves.

So what is it about? Relating to people. Interacting with people. The ability — yes, it is an ability — to relax in front of others and offer them yourself and your magic. The truth is Tony Robbins and Dale Carnegie can teach you more about being a magician than a thousand magic books. Because until you develop the ability to relax and have fun with an audience you’re just going to be butting your head against the wall.

I believe the best exercise you can do is to attempt to entertain without magic. Learn to tell a story, a joke, engage the interest of others without the tricks. That’s the ability you need to cultivate. All the rest is in a very real sense only window dressing. You’re the main attraction. Al Goshman said, “I’m in the business of selling me.” Any working magician worth his salt will agree whole heartily with that sentiment.

Now, maybe you’re sitting there thinking, Great, I’m screwed. Maybe you’re shy, introverted, unable to loosen up around others. It would seem many magicians share just those characteristics. It doesn’t matter. Remember, when you’re doing magic you’re playing a part, a bigger, better version of yourself. Some of the world’s most legendary performers have been shy and reclusive people. That kind of thing’s only going to stop you if you let it. But you will have to learn to get around other people and let yourself go, to relax and have fun. I guarantee you that if you will make a real effort to improve your ability to interact with others you will make significant improvements as a magician.

That’s it for now. I think next time I will talk a little about what moves you should study and what’s a big waste of time. In the interim take care and have fun.