Electronics VS Skill? How far would you go?

Instead of mentally projecting your mentalism thoughts, type them here.

Postby Guest » 04/18/06 08:36 AM

I'm new to the forum (Hi! :) ) and am wondering how far we all as performers are PERSONALLY prepared to go for the sake of the effect? By this I mean would you happily use hidden TV cameras and microphones to discover information, or do you consciously limit yourselves to more traditional props? Do you consider that those who are using advanced electronics rather than guile and a prayer are cheating in any way and are 'lesser' performers because of it?
I have no axe to grind in this and am not looking for a particular response, I'm asking purely because it's something that interests me. It's something I may consider myself at some point.

Also, I'm looking for info on the new book by Harling&Nyrup, 'Geist'. I got a mailer about it this morning but there are no reviews anywhere. Can anyone help?


Postby Pete Biro » 04/18/06 08:52 AM

The effect is what counts. I you can use any means to find out things for a show, go for it. Unless it is too much trouble. Often the simple ways are best.

Remember, it all boils down to the PERFORMER and his/her ability to sell the medicine.
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Postby Guest » 04/18/06 09:10 AM

I always prefer lo-tech, as there's less to go wrong. Many people have asked me if I plan to add an electronic line to my line of products. Answer: Nope. My motto: Lo tech is Good tech. I have some problem with sound, amp, etc at about one out of every ten shows, usually not serious, sometimes very serious. But I've never had problems from my Bugboards. :p

There are many stories from working pros about the hi-tech electronics going haywire at crucial moments. Considering the prices of these things, I would want a guaranteed 100% performance record.

On a related topic, it puzzles me why mentalists would use gaffed books and/or decks of cards, when there is so much great material with unprepared items. I suspect there's a part of us that really likes neat toys!

John R

Postby Guest » 04/18/06 09:38 AM

Personally, I prefer low tech. I've found that, in many ways, it's just easier. As well the low tech method is usually easier to carry, and since I tend to work out of a small carrying case the smaller the better.

Hope it helps.


Postby Guest » 04/18/06 10:04 AM

I too prefer low tech as there is far less to go wrong. Another important point is that if you are using certain "techniques" for television, you will be suspect when you cannot recreate them for a live audience if it employs camera tricks, plants, etc., and so you have more of a chance of having someone "expose" what you are doing. The more "real" the technique, the less chance it is of being exposed, thus few expose "muscle readings" but they will expose anything you can buy at a magic shop.

PSIncerely yours,
Paul Alberstat
AB StageCraft

Postby Guest » 04/18/06 11:51 AM

Originally posted by Paul Alberstat:
thus few expose "muscle readings"
Derren Brown exposed muscle reading in the latest (4th) episode of his new series over here.

He had a chap hide anything, anywhere in a certain region of Venice, then went and found it with him. The look of pleasure on the gentleman's face when he found the hidden item was a delight to see.

He also stuck needles into Robbie Williams. Shame it didn't cause him any pain. :)

Postby Guest » 04/18/06 12:41 PM

There are several responses to the question.

One response is that I will go to any end to achieve a worthwhile effect.

But one must determine what is worthwhile.

All the eletronic stuff actually adds a different slant to performing. Somehow we must convince the crowd that it is not electronic, regardless if it is or isn't.

Kind of like proving that the helper isn't a stoge.

I also believe that a phoney can appear more real then someone that actually can read minds or do magic.

But in the end, simpler is better.

Occam's Razor I guess.

Al Schneider

Postby Guest » 04/18/06 05:21 PM

Simple is best. Simple is always easiest and most reliable, and if you're doing mentalism, reliability is what you must have.

The bugboards from Riggs are a good example as are direct techniques like Center Tear and billet switches. As Pete said, the effect is the thing. I would add that while effect is the thing, method is inconsequential, as long as it is simply and reliable.

Need I point out that Bert Reese made a good living for himself by essentially doing the same effect using two methods for over 50 years. Edison thought he was real, so his technique was top-notch, yet simple and direct.

Postby Guest » 04/18/06 05:26 PM

Originally posted by Brown Hornet:
On a related topic, it puzzles me why mentalists would use gaffed books and/or decks of cards, when there is so much great material with unprepared items. I suspect there's a part of us that really likes neat toys!

John R

Can I get an order from you with those boards silk screened with Dragons like on my square Circle... wink

Postby Guest » 04/19/06 05:32 AM

Thanks for the replies so far. Just a question to some respondents: if electronic gadgets WERE 100%, would you use them then? I want to move away from it being a question of reliability.

I too have a dislike of gaffed items, it seems so much more of a challenge to try to perform without them. But this is the real quandry, I know it isn't about me or how I do what I do, just the effect that what I do has on an audience, so any and all methods are fair game. But has anyone reached a point where if a routine is easy to do then the gratification from doing it is far reduced? I find myself constantly looking for more challenging material (to actually do) instead of just accepting the fact that in most cases the audience neither knows nor cares about my methods. The simpler tricks become almost saddening to perform for me.
How do the bigger names cope I wonder, when they perform with stooges, electronics, etc, effects that anyone who could press a button or listen to a hidden earpiece could carry out just as well - though they'd of course lack the real performer's panache and performing skills. Does it reduce the pleasure I wonder of the performance, especially doing it night after night?
How do the Pro's cope with knowing that they're not really as clever as the public might think they are? Is it something that everyone, at every level, finds themselves having to go through?


PS Nice to see you here Mr Alberstat. I bought Harling & Nyrup's 'Sleight of Mind' on the basis of your recommendation. Excellent book, thanks:)

Postby Guest » 04/19/06 06:01 AM

I think you have changed the direction of this thread.

My perception is that pros have no concern for what you are concerned about. They do what they do almost every day. It becomes like breathing. Do you worry how fast your next breath is? Probably not. You only worry when you can't do it.

A pro worries about more important things. Promotion is a big factor. Contacting people. Perhaps they take a seminar on using cell phones better or how one should format their email for more impact.

When you have done an act a thousand times or more and you know it works, you tend not to mess with it.

You focus on delivering it and increasing your income.

Bear in mind these are my thoughts. I acquired them by listening to pros chat about thier business.


Postby Guest » 04/19/06 08:27 AM

From some items I've seen Tommy Wonder perform I have to say he packs a 'punch' and must not mind creating some very clever, and sometimes complex, methods to achieve that result. While I didn't see electronic stuff, he does use some ingenious props which wouldn't be that easy to duplicate but sure produces great effects. For his character and how and where he would perform those effects regularly I guess that fits. For somebody who only does strolling magic I'm sure they would want less complexity.

Postby Guest » 04/19/06 08:30 AM

Originally posted by SleightLimp:
I'm new to the forum (Hi! :) ) and am wondering how far we all as performers are PERSONALLY prepared to go for the sake of the effect? ...
Does an actor demand to perform onstage without costume or lighting?

It does not serve us to confound the frame of reference of the performer with that of the audience.

From there, isn't it mostly about utilitarian tradeoffs?

Postby Pete Biro » 04/19/06 08:38 AM

A couple of good examples: Two Top Pros... Del Ray and Jay Marshall. Both great performers.
Del Ray's act was so mechanically and electronically complicated it was unbelieveable.

Jay Marshall literally used NOTHING gimmicked, unless you call a vanishing cane or a linking ring key a complicated gimmick.
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Postby NCMarsh » 04/19/06 10:09 AM

"Electronics VS Skill" is, of course, a false dichotomy; and Pete has hit on the perfect example. Yes, Del Ray's act involved heavy electronics (though not in the "secret camera/earpiece" way that the poster has in mind); but Del also had chops like nobody's business. He did whatever it took to create the effect he wanted. Not unlike Tommy Wonder today.


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Postby Guest » 04/19/06 03:10 PM

As Nathan writes, it is not a matter of Electronics vs. Skill, as if it were one or the other.

Technology will never replace experience, skill, and thoughtful analysis, nor will it provide an interesting personality with whom the audience can interact.

Postby Guest » 04/21/06 06:19 AM

As performer I have 1 simple rule;

I shall use everything to bring the performed effect to a good end!

If I need for an effect electronics, stage hands, stooges, lies, etc to bring the effect to a good end, I shall not hesitate to use it.

For me is the entertainment and the outcome of an effect more important then how it is done. As long the spectators believe in de magic(power)


Postby Guest » 04/21/06 10:35 AM


While I applaud your "anything goes" approach, there is the problem of reliability in the consideration of any method. If you are only working the occasional show, fine, use what you want. If you are working twice a night in a club with the requirement that you perform a set length of time, and/or have been hired to present specific effects, your methodology must be reliable.

Simply put, the more complicated a method, the more likely it is to go wrong.

See Pete Biro's observation above on Jay Marshall. Jay's act was about Jay, not clever gimmicks. Jay did a marvelous turn with Troublewit, one of the lowest tech effects in existence. It is nothing more that a large piece of folded paper, yet Jay and other performers like Frank Herman, pulled a sold 6 - 8 minutes out of it.

Simple and reliable are important criteria for performing reliably.

Postby Guest » 04/21/06 01:43 PM

The simplest method is almost always the best. For example, when performing the Dollar Bill in the Light Bulb, Ted Lesley could have used a remote control device to turn off the lamp at the crucial point. He didn't. Instead, he used an offstage assistant who pulled the plug.

I understand the fascination with electronic toys. But if you want to do a jumbo card rise, use a thread. I currently own two (count 'em -- two) electronic jumbo card rises by Anverdi. They work every time while I am at home. But I can't rely upon them when I am on stage. So I use a thread. It works every time.

No matter what electronic doodad you have to give you information, you still need to find a way to read the display. If the writing is not aimed the right way, you certainly can't turn the monitor upside down. But if you have practiced, you can read upside down, backwards and sideways.

The questions you are asking are the kind that people who don't perform much ask. Don't think of this as a put down, either. It's just that as you work through routines, you begin to place less reliance on the toys and more reliance on your own resources.

Del Ray's act is a great example of combining tech and personality. Nobody can do his material like he did. For him, it wasn't just the toys people paid to see.

Postby Guest » 04/21/06 03:17 PM

Some years back I had a lunch conversation with Les Smith of Owen Magic. We got to talking about electronics vs mechanical. Les, who has built props for everyone, stated without reservation that "mechanical is always better than electronic." His 50+ years of experience building reliable props had convinced him of that.

My Martin Giant Card Rise, used in almost every show I've done for the last 36 years, has never failed to perform exactly as it should. It is as reliable as a prop can be.

Anverdi electronic packs, while clever, make great paperweights when their innards give up the ghost.

Postby Guest » 04/21/06 05:04 PM

I can assure you that electronics have gotten considerably more reliable since the days when Del Ray was designing and building. Still, nothing is maintenance free and one does need to have diagnostics and the ability to quickly swap out components.

Single chip microprocessors, servos, LED panels etc are quite reliable now.

The tough part may be getting tooled up to do the programming etc.

PS when you do the programming, don't forget the diagnostics and self test routines. ;)

Postby Guest » 04/24/06 08:45 AM

Hi David, (and ofcourse everyone)

What I tried to tell was that I use everything that fits the act te best.
when I do a newspaper headline act on television, I can use lots of differend methode.
from expensive maganical boxes till expensive electronic boxes, you name it.

but If I can use a stooge (bribe a notary) or can make a deal with the host/director,.....I shall use it! no electronics,..no other mecanical errors,...nothing,... it is easy and reliable!

When electronics are the best way, I shall use that.
I have also Anverdi items,...it is nice made and for that time, highly electronic state of the art but not functional. (only for collectors)
Today the electronics are more reliable then the "old days" electronics. The "problem" with electronics is that performers check and double check their material (threats,loops,...rubberbands, suit,..etc, etc) but do not check the electronics! I don't know why but I have seen it a lot happened behind the stage. (They only checked the batteries)

For performers who still not "believe" in electronics,....take a look at your car.
There is more electronics in there the last 10 years then you can inmagin and you use it every day.

Kind regards.

(sorry for my english,..I hope you understand my writing)

Postby Guest » 04/24/06 05:59 PM

Hello Richard,

Of course, electronics are far more reliable today than they were years ago, and as you point out, our automobiles are full of computers and electronics. However, even with that, automobile electronics still go awry and the equipment needed to diagnose is costly. Repairs aren't cheap, either.

I have no doubt that Richard is right when he observes that people double check their threads and rubber bands before they perform, but not their electronics, except maybe their batteries.

The point is, you can have a back-up thread or rubber band and cover the problem relatively smoothly if the first thread or rubberband breaks. My point is, electronics do not necessarily give any indication that they're going to fail until they don't work. When that happens and you're in front of 500 people, you'd better have an out or an alternate effect or a different ending, otherwise, you're left holding the bag, as it were.

Working pros do their level best to eliminate risk where they would end up in situations like that.

Then there's the cost factor. If you can create an effect using inexpensive low tech, why would you want to buy something that is expensive and complicated?

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