Cardistry versus 'magic'

Discuss your favorite close-up tricks and methods.

Postby spike » 12/31/08 11:56 AM

As the new year approaches Ive been learning new routines and reworking old ones, and once again I am wrestling with the continuum between pure cardistry and unadorned magic. This issue looms larger for me with the popularity of cardistry, which increasingly seems like prop manipulation, a form of juggling that uses playing cards instead of balls or clubs. Im sure that many of you think about this, and Id love to know your take on it.

The how-to decisions for me come in many guises, but two common ones are revelations and false cuts/shuffles. In terms of revelations, at one extreme is, say, controlling a card to the top of the deck and then simply turning it over (to gasps of wonder if the routine builds up the suspense well enough). At the other extreme is some startling revelation, like Daryls hot shot, for example. Of course there are many alternatives in between these extremes.
And I am always trying to decide which false cut or false shuffle I want to use in a routine. Sometimes I go for the most natural looking (and invisible) manipulation I can do, but at other times I am tempted by the many new flourishy false cuts (think the Buck brothers, Dan Madison, or Brian Tudor).

Card magic is amazing. Isnt that why we do it? So how amazing is flashy card manipulation for you? When does it detract from the beauty of magic?

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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 12/31/08 12:45 PM

Doesn't all that really depend on what you want your audience to perceive - that you are dexterous, clever or ... using magic? Is it the cards which are enchanted to dance or you who are demonstrating your ability to juggle?
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Postby Tom Frame » 12/31/08 01:51 PM

Jonathan nailed it. Ive written and lectured about this issue before. Briefly, in what I call the Aint I Cool syndrome, the performer overtly displays his technical skills. Through attitude, words and actions, he explicitly conveys to the crowd that he possesses technical prowess. The magic resides within him and emanates from him. He is not one of them. He is special. He is cool. This is an exclusionary presentational stance, that tends to distance the performer from the crowd.

I am of the Aint It Cool school. I neither exhibit nor attempt to convey that I have any special skill. The magic does not reside within me. It is all around us. I am merely able to occasionally access the magic and use it to amaze and entertain the crowd. I am one of them. I am not special. I am not cool. The magic is cool. This is an inclusive presentational stance that hopefully facilitates a connection with the audience. The highest compliment I ever hope to elicit from the crowd is, But you didnt do anything!
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Postby Brandon Hall » 12/31/08 02:49 PM

Most of Harry Lorayne's Ace assemblies are displays of the magicians skill at controlling cards. David Regal takes those same assemblies and re-works them putting the magic back. While I am a huge admirer of Harry's I think Regal's approach is more entertaining for lay audiences.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 12/31/08 03:42 PM

Brandon, have you ever seen Harry do card magic for laymen? It would be hard for anyone to be more entertaining.
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Postby spike » 12/31/08 03:57 PM

Tom Frame wrote:Jonathan nailed it. Ive written and lectured about this issue before. Briefly, in what I call the Aint I Cool syndrome, the performer overtly displays his technical skills. Through attitude, words and actions, he explicitly conveys to the crowd that he possesses technical prowess. The magic resides within him and emanates from him. He is not one of them. He is special. He is cool. This is an exclusionary presentational stance, that tends to distance the performer from the crowd.

I am of the Aint It Cool school. I neither exhibit nor attempt to convey that I have any special skill. The magic does not reside within me. It is all around us. I am merely able to occasionally access the magic and use it to amaze and entertain the crowd. I am one of them. I am not special. I am not cool. The magic is cool. This is an inclusive presentational stance that hopefully facilitates a connection with the audience. The highest compliment I ever hope to elicit from the crowd is, But you didnt do anything!


When I try to think of what impresses *me* as a spectator, it's a combination of both magic and flashy manipulation, so I tend to use some of that flash in my presentations. To be honest, though, I am not a typical member of the lay audience. And that's an important consideration, I've learned. Things that really impress me can be totally boring for Joe-the-Spectator, and vice versa.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 12/31/08 04:17 PM

If you really want to add a "wow" factor ...how about doing dove productions instead of flourishes?
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Postby NCMarsh » 12/31/08 04:45 PM

No one buys a ticket to a James Bond movie thinking "it's so off-putting that he can do things much better than I can, I'd much rather see a movie about what I would do in the situation."

No one buys a Superman comic thinking "this would be so much better if he didn't have any super powers."

No one watches a David Berglas show thinking "if only he were less intelligent, less articulate, less well-groomed, and his material was less amazing."

Now, we definitely want those people to like us; we want their approval. And we definitely want to see them put in conflict and have to overcome obstacles...but the whole point is that we get to go into a world that is extraordinary, and we get to visit with someone who is special...who really has their sh*t together

And, conversely, nothing is less cool than someone who is obviously trying to be cool...people who really have their sh*t together don't have to worry about seeming like they have their sh*t together...so an act that subconsciously says "look at how cool I am" is self-defeating because we smell the insecurity.

But that doesn't mean we adopt this defeatist and insecure attitude of "well, I can't look cool or special...it's all about look how cool this is...don't pay any attention to little old me..."

A character choice of presenting an incompetent or insecure persona (Cardini, Jon Armstrong) can be charming and very entertaining...but that is totally different from approaching the act with a self-apologetic attitude of "I don't want them to think I'm special, it isn't about me, it's all about the special material I'm sharing with them" (Why book you? This guy also does amazing things and he'll do a show for $200)

You're a performer. You're standing at the front of the room, demanding our time and attention. If you're aren't special, sit down.
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Postby Eric Fry » 12/31/08 04:45 PM

OK. I'll play the devil's advocate. Aren't there magicians who openly display their skill and are well-received by audiences of laymen?

How about Ricky Jay? He establishes himself as an expert in card cheating, openly demonstrates false dealing, and gets great responses -- not only for the dealing but for effects that, in some cases, beginners or intermediate performers can do. That's not criticism. That's praise. He doesn't have a particularly warm fuzzy personality, either, yet he's very well-liked and well-regarded by laymen. They enjoy seeing a great sleight of hand artist.

How about Martin Nash? His performing style was hardly "goodness, why are all these strange things happening to me." There was no doubt that this flashy guy was the cause of the magic.

How about Paul LePaul's comment that skill is instinctively felt by an audience?

The downside of hiding your skill is that audiences may feel they can do what you do if only they owned the props or had read the "easy-to-do" books.

Here's another way to look at it. Let's say we're talking about a performance of classical violin music. Strictly speaking, the sounds are the art. That's what we go to hear. That's the music. But I think audiences also appreciate seeing human talent and skill, and admire it. It's part of their enjoyment.

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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 12/31/08 04:53 PM

So Eric, you think the violinist should also demonstrate his skills with a hackey sack while fiddling? Or how about juggling ping pong balls with his mouth and jumping rope?
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Postby Bill Duncan » 12/31/08 05:00 PM

Any connection between what impresses you and what is interesting, important, or meaningful to your audience is completely coincidental.

Daryl is clearly part of the Aint It Cool school (if hes not the Headmaster) and yet he is the opposite of exclusionary and I dont think anyone who has seen him work would say that there is any distance between him and the crowd.

Which is NOT to say that Tom is wrong; only that its something which needs to be overcome, if you take that approach. Its easy to come off as a jerk, when doing flashy manipulations, and some folks already assume all magicians are jerks, so...

The trick is to find out who YOU are, and what magic suits your character. There is no one approach that is more entertaining for an audience, only one approach that is more entertaining when you use it.

Heres a question to which there is no correct answer:
Who is a better/more entertaining magician, Darwin Ortiz, R. Paul Wilson, Michael Close, Bill Malone, or David Williamson?

The only honest and true answer you can give to that question is another question:
For what audience, in what venue, on what day of the week?
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Postby NCMarsh » 12/31/08 05:01 PM

Are their people doing card tricks while juggling ping pong balls in their mouth and jumping rope? I'd love to see that...
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Postby Bill Duncan » 12/31/08 05:11 PM

Jonathan Townsend wrote:...you think the violinist should also demonstrate his skills with a hackey sack while fiddling?


Ever seen a Bass Fiddle player spin his bass? The three kids who were on America's Got Talent last season had the youngest actualy STAND on his Bass at one point during a performance, and the audience went nuts. So yeah, maybe. If that's the sort of song that's being played.

I imagine if the tune were "Devil Went Down to Georgia" it not only would be well received, but it would be a meaningful addition to the piece.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 12/31/08 05:52 PM

No, sorry I can't say I recall anyone doing such things at a recital. I kinda doubt they offer stunt skateboarding in the classical music curriculum at Julliard or Oberlin. There was a cute scene in one of the St Trinians movies where a performer stripped while reciting the "to be or not to be" soliloquy in Hamlet.

Now if you wanted to offer conjuring on the same level as the old Hee Haw variety shows or perhaps burlesque...

Has Elton John ever performed one of the Brandenburg Concertos with his band on stage?
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Reason: to distract or not to distract ... now what was the question?
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Postby Eric Fry » 12/31/08 06:23 PM

Hi. Some of you are mistaking my point. I don't mean the violinist does something to display odd skills, or even performs one of those virtuoso violin pieces to jig up applause. I simply mean that we understand that playing classical violin well takes skill, and seeing a skilled person is part of our enjoyment of a concert beyond the music itself. Of course, that might not be a universal reaction. It may be just me. Fair enough.

Of course, the situation with magic is different if you mean that you want to hide not only your sleights but even the notion of dexterity itself. That's a reasonable stance, but it's not the only way to present magic. That's all I'm saying.
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Postby spike » 12/31/08 06:26 PM

The musical analogy is apt. Some of the best-loved performers, both classical and popular, are exciting to watch both because their skill is apparent and because they seem to enjoy their technique as much as we do. It's "entertaining" when performers appreciate *what* they're doing (feats of magic or playing a jazz solo) and *how* they're doing it (impossible flourishes or hitting that high C). Bill Malone is a good example. He is obviously showing off and enjoying the spectacle at the same time as he is entertaining his audience
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Postby Bill Duncan » 01/01/09 01:10 AM

Jonathan Townsend wrote:No, sorry I can't say I recall anyone doing such things at a recital. I kinda doubt they offer stunt skateboarding in the classical music curriculum at Julliard or Oberlin.

Now if you wanted to offer conjuring on the same level as the old Hee Haw variety shows or perhaps burlesque...

I'm sure you didn't mean that to be as elitist as it reads Jon. Surely there are other equally valid forms of both music and magic.

I, for one, would not relegate card magic to Hofsinzer's drawing room.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 01/01/09 01:21 AM

I'm all for whatever works for the character in context of the performance.

As to magic on television/YouTube using film technique or in private parties for well paying customers... tempting to make comment on that one.
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Postby Jeff Haas » 01/01/09 04:47 AM

This argument AGAIN?!

I'm with Bill.
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Postby Cugel » 01/01/09 05:50 PM

Tom Frame wrote:I am of the Aint It Cool school. I neither exhibit nor attempt to convey that I have any special skill. The magic does not reside within me. It is all around us. I am merely able to occasionally access the magic and use it to amaze and entertain the crowd. I am one of them. I am not special. I am not cool. The magic is cool. This is an inclusive presentational stance that hopefully facilitates a connection with the audience. The highest compliment I ever hope to elicit from the crowd is, But you didnt do anything!


So you're sort of the Rain Man of magic?
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Postby Tom Frame » 01/02/09 10:55 AM

Cugel,

Hopefully, not so much Rain Man as Every Man.

My aversion to some performers afflicted with the Ain't I Cool syndrome is that their rampant narcissism often causes them to pummel the crowd by loudly touting their skills, both verbally and via flashy, technical displays. This can cause them to look like skillful, arrogant jerks.

I at least pretend that I'm not responsible. And the crowd knows that I'm just pretending. This approach displays humility and endears me to the crowd because they know that I'm deflecting attention away from myself and focusing it on the magic and the participants. They know that I want to make the magic and the participants look good. This presentational style hopefully makes me look like a skillful, nice guy.
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Postby Cugel » 01/02/09 04:32 PM

An interesting approach.

I prefer that the audience knows I am skillful because, well - it's apparent - but that they find me warm and engaging. A balance. It's not a novel approach - my heroes are Skinner, Lavand, Green, Mullica, Ortiz, Bilis, etc, etc, etc...
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Postby David Thomas » 01/04/09 03:01 PM

I'd say 50% of people my age do cardistry...I choose not to do it because I enjoy not doing something everyone else is doing and being unique.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 01/04/09 03:36 PM

I think that you are simply mucking around with a false semantic issue. Why does "cardistry" imply anything other than card magic with cards?
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Postby Chris Aguilar » 01/04/09 03:46 PM

Ok, I'm glad Richard mentioned it. I have no idea what "Cardistry" means. I figured it was some wanky, pretentious way of simply saying "flourishing" or whatever.
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Postby David Alexander » 01/04/09 04:26 PM

I supposed that people who see themselves as "artists with cards" do "cardistry."

I prefer journeymen entertainers.
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Postby David Thomas » 01/04/09 08:52 PM

Cardistry is a term brought about by the biggest promoters of this idea: theory11, Daniel Madison, and Dan and Dave...my definition of this term would be over the top, confusing, difficult, showy flourishes with cards. So cardistry isn't just some word meaning flourishes...it means those crazy fasy elaborate cuts and flourishes. So a subdivision of flourishing with cards.
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Postby David Alexander » 01/05/09 12:00 AM

So "cardistry" is a form of juggling with cards. OK.

I guess some people will find that entertaining if done by the right person.
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Postby spike » 01/05/09 12:07 PM

Juggling with cards. I like that description. That's exactly my take on 'cardistry'. Prop manipulation can be entertaining, awe inspiring, and even magical, when done well. But I think it has to be used carefully in the context of card magic. Otherwise the technique obscures the essence of the magic, which for me always involves some kind of story, some plot line.
This reminds me how certain jazz musicians with a lot of chops are sometimes branded as 'technicians'. Nobody questions their skill, but they can be criticized as lacking 'soul', whatever that means.
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Postby Cugel » 01/05/09 04:38 PM

"I call them little pasteboard illusions."

(gag)
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Postby castawaydave » 01/06/09 02:27 AM

Originally posted by Cugel, "(gag)".

Well put.

Stephen Minch wrote what may be the definitive essay on this subject, "In Praise of the Lowly Flourish". It is in a very good but long out-of-print and now forgotten little book of magic by Daryl called "For Your Entertainment Pleasure" (copyright 1982 by Daryl Martinez).

The following much needed citation is offered as a public service.

"In another place, some years back, I examined two basic schools of thought as to styles in presentation of sleight-of-hand magic. The one school I dubbed the Artful Duffers, those persons who believe any overt show of skill must minimize the magical effect of a performance. This theory runs, 'If they know you are clever with the cards, coins, etc. they will attribute what they see to covert skill rather than supernatural powers'. The point is well taken as far as it goes. What lies beyond is the fact that, in the matter of simple conjuring feats, there is virtually no one in modern society who would mistake a card or coin trick for anything other than what it is, no matter how innocent the performer might seem... unless we restrict ourselves to that tight corner of the art known as mentalism. For this reason I can only view the philosophy of the Artful Duffers as touching and naively romantic, but without foundation in reality.

"The question next arises, if the average layperson no longer accepts magic as a real possibility, to what will he attribute a seemingly ingenuous performance? The answer: probably some mechanical means; i.e., stacked decks, marked cards, gimmicked cards or coins, mathematical principles, etc. This is an unfortunate assumption both in the event that such methods were not used and in that where they were! Here then lies the performer's reward who deliberately sets up to deny any visible skill in his art, exemplified by the amiable sot who comes up after a performance of advanced sleight-of-hand, grabs the deck and proceeds to show you the '21 Card Trick' or 'Little Leroy'. Obviously he has made the assumption that all he has seen must be of the same coarse cloth. If this is the reward of the Artful Duffer, this is the respect amassed by his philosophy in practice... Well, everyone must make a choice.

"The other school has it that not only is it ego-salving to betray some little skill in your craft, it is professionally necessary. If you expect to be hired, paid a good fee and asked to return, you must evidence expertise in your art. They have paid good money to hire an expert; an expert is what they expect to see.

"However, this sort of obvious expertise must be fully understood. Misunderstanding leads to pitfalls far worse that that of the Artful Duffers. First, the skill you exhibit must not endanger the true methodology of your effects. This sort of thing is often seen in the performer who has worked terribly hard in mastering his craft, yet constantly manages to 'flash' or 'tip' a secret sleight to his audiences. This can be from either of two things: a) inattention to misdirective routining, or b) unconscious exposure to telegraph the performer's skill to his viewers. This sort of silent swaggering is painfully understandable, but entirely deleterious to the magical effect.

"Here is where flourishes command respect. Flourishes can be the voiceless messengers of skill without exposing the genuine methodology beneath the effect. They are a sort of seasoning that garnish the salad. They can also serve to dissuade the layman from ascribing mechanical means to effects that actually rely on them.

"All secret sleights must remain so if the effect is to be admired. Flourishes, though, are separate values that stand outside the equation of the effect.

"Flourishes can also serve as credentials which tend to psychologically break down the audience's resistance to your illusions. If one is just introduced as a magician, as is most often the case, the first few minutes can set or destroy the success of the entire performance. As soon as one is recognized as a magician it can be taken as certain that there will be a significant number of persons in any audience whose immediate response to the image is, 'He is going to try to fool me, and I don't like being fooled. So I'll see if I can't catch him out'. This emotional response is, of course, antipathetic to the very mood of fantasy you wish to create for your spectators. Two things must be done at once to dissuade or diminish this reaction: First, you must immediately and efficiently convey your best and friendliest personality during the initial moments, so the audience immediately understands that you are a likable character, not some sneering smart aleck out to embarrass them. And secondly, as this is done the hands and cards come alive in the performance of flourishes which show an unordinary and magical skill that convinces them they will have little luck in catching you at your work, so they might as well relax and enjoy the performance. In this manner you have conquered their resistance to fantasy on two levels: one of personableness, the other of obvious but underplayed facility with your tools.

"Like all things, there are rules to flourishes' proper usage. One rule is that each flourish must have an obvious function aside from that of simple showing off. Flourish shuffles and cuts usually mix or change the order of the cards. They should be used logically within that context. Some flourishes can be made to appear funny. This has a function of amusing--that is, entertaining--one's onlookers. It is a viable function if used with common sense. In fact all flourishes are a sort of entertainment in and of themselves.

"This leads to a qualifying second rule: do not let flourishes interfere with or confuse the basic effect. The safest place for flourishes is between routines. There they form a sort of visual seque without competing with the important portions of the act, the effects. The last thing you want is to have your flourishes upstage the main effect or distract spectators to such an extent that they forget the selected card or what is being accomplished. Notice how Daryl forces flourishes to work for him, rather than against him, by making them into minor magical effects in themselves, but subservient to their major premise. They, then, add to the Gestalt of the entire performance, becoming tiny magical happenings that incidently surround the more important effects.

"Daryl will also use flourishes immediately after a routine. Here their purpose is to take the spectators' minds off the effect and thereby strengthen its impression when it is later remembered.

"The third rule to respect, perhaps the most important of the lot, is to treat all flourishes you do casually. By its very nature a flourish is a piece of braggadocio. It's 'showing off'. But braggarts and show-offs are seldom likable personalities. Therefore the sting must be removed from your flourishes by doing them effortlessly and paying no notice to them when they are performed. It is as if the cards have suddenly come to life for a second to do this marvelous thing in your hands; but you are used to it and pay them no attention. Don't look at the hands as you perform a flourish, and don't stop and smirk after it. Continue speaking to your audience and don't 'point' the thing verbally in the least. This not only speaks more eloquently for your skill than any posturing, it imbues you with a certain likable humility.

"Anyone who has seen Daryl work will know exactly what is meant here. Flourishes presented in this fashion might even fit into the canons of the Artful Duffers!

"A fourth and final rule of flourishes is to use them in sensible quantity. Too many flourishes in an act will send your audiences away with the impression they have seen a juggler rather than a magician. You want them to leave thinking and repeating to their friends, 'This man is incredible. He does things that are impossible. I've never seen anyone like him!'

"As you read over these thoughts, please don't misunderstand my intentions: I would not have it that the philosophy of the Artful Duffers is an untenable one. If one is a casual amateur performer who works in impromptu circumstances, mainly for those unaware of his skills, naive and clumsy-appearing handling of the objects he is manipulating may take a tremendous toll. I would not even deny that there may be some very successful professionals out there somewhere who subscribe to this theory. But all the personalities that come to mind at present use flourishes to good effect and handle their props with obvious skill: professionals like Mike Skinner, Paul Harris, Martin Nash, Jimmy Grippo, Ricky Jay, Al Goshman, Darwin Ortiz, the late Fred Kaps, Paul LePaul, and many more. They all recognized the extreme value of flourishes and used them to enhance their performances and reputations.

"I dislike dogma, in or outside magic. When it comes to things like performance, style, and most anything else in this life, anyone who tells you a thing can only be done properly in one way is to be distrusted. He is either a liar or a fool. The philosophy of the Artful Duffers has its one point to recommend it. Flourishes in turn have the points we've just examined to their credit. It is up to each performer to make his choice and brandish it to his best advantage. And good luck to him."
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 01/06/09 09:24 AM

Branding.

Who's your customer and which of their wants are you out to satisfy?

Oh look - here's that clever guy who does cool flashy things with cards? Sounds like a market niche.
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Postby DrDanny » 01/06/09 11:40 AM

Point well taken, but I find it hard to believe that anyone finds endlessly pirouetting cards and flying packets, etc, entertaining for more than a few minutes -- say, for about as long as the average dorm-room webcam youtube video. Eventually I'll want to see something less robotic, more human.
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Postby Michael Kamen » 01/06/09 12:09 PM

Castawaydave, thank you for posting the Minch exegesis. It speaks volumes, providing the logic of his thinking, with both examples and exemplars. Hard to directly contradict!
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 01/06/09 12:40 PM

Might be cool to have a deck transform (by way of some fancy cuts etc and then a ditch) into a cassette or MP3 player or phone that announces a selection.

Anyway I can see micro contact juggling as a legit artform like pen spinning but not such a big niche outside of advertising.
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Reason: how to get that nice transofmers sound effect to happen during a sequence... ;)
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 01/06/09 01:55 PM

Jonathan, I like your idea! I published it in my book CardMagic in 1979, :) under the title of "Cassette."
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Postby spike » 01/06/09 02:05 PM

Thanks also from me for that Minch piece, Castawaydave. Now I can get back to practicing a classic pass while somersaulting over the spectator.
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Postby David Thomas » 01/06/09 08:26 PM

A very helpful and interesting essay...Thanks.
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Postby castawaydave » 01/07/09 04:00 AM

Originally posted by Spike: "...a classic pass while somersaulting over the spectator".

Ingenious: The BIG move really would cover the small move. --With the right dismount, you could fry people.
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Postby David Alexander » 01/08/09 01:25 AM

A nicely written and thoughtful essay.

As Stephen pointed out, flourishes are a form of braggadocio which means they are about you. Magic, if properly presented, is about entertaining the audience. I think thats where the balance can be found: is your presentation more about you and your needs or about your audience and their needs?
David Alexander
 
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