The State and Status of our Craft

Discussions of new films, books, television shows, and media indirectly related to magic and magicians. For example, there may be a book on mnemonics or theatrical technique we should know or at least know about.

Postby Jonathan Townsend » 12/09/10 09:09 AM

Throughout the nineteenth century, magicians were at the forefront of technology and invention, but at some point the development of new effects essentially stopped and magicians clung to their (now) old traditions and technologies. Much of the low-hanging fruit had been plucked, and it was easier to continue to do the same old tricks.

From "Sleights of Mind" by Macknick and Martinez-Conde

Agree, disagree?
Jonathan Townsend
Posts: 6922
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Westchester, NY

Postby Bill Mullins » 12/09/10 09:57 AM

Further evidence that while the authors may be great neuroscientists, they don't know diddly squat about magic.

Pick a recent FISM winner, and go through the act in your mind. Very few of the effects will be of 19th century vintage.
Bill Mullins
Posts: 3330
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Huntsville, AL

Postby Jonathan Townsend » 12/09/10 10:08 AM

Agreed - I wish they had come here to look and ask questions before publishing that opinion.

I like the way their book presents the experimental findings of their coleagues and some of the neuroscience. Not a fan of coining terms like "nerutrickery" or "scientrickery" or "magicology" or similar.
Jonathan Townsend
Posts: 6922
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Westchester, NY

Postby Andrew Pinard » 12/09/10 10:48 AM


Effects? You mean like (apologies to Fitzkee):

* Production (appearance, creation, multiplication)
* Vanish (disappearance, obliteration)
* Transposition (change in location)
* Transformation (change in appearance, character or identity)
* Penetration (one solid through another)
* Restoration (making the destroyed whole)
* Animation (movement imparted to the inanimate)
* Anti-gravity (levitation and change in weight)
* Attraction (mysterious adhesion)
* Sympathetic Reaction (sympathetic response)
* Invulnerability (injury-proof)
* Physical Anomaly (contradictions, abnormalities, freaks)
* Spectator Failure (magician's challenge)
* Control (mind over the inanimate)
* Identification (specific discovery)
* Thought Reading (mental perception, mind reading)
* Thought Transmission (thought projection and transference)
* Prediction (foretelling the future)
* Extrasensory Perception (unusual perception, other than mind)

I would argue that not a single FISM winner performed an effect that wasn't already in use in the 19th century! (Just like using a red deck instead of a blue deck or a sharpie for a cigarette does not alter the basic effect as experienced by an audience.)

That being said, there can be no new (basic) effects until the human mind begins to perceive things in a previously unanticipated way (experiencing color through touch for example).

We are hard-wired to experience the world a certain way and magical performers use these limitations to advantage in order to communicate a contravention of reality.

Are we still on the forefront of developing new technology? Do we still actively develop new technologies for the express purpose of deception? I'm not suggesting we do not, but the magician-inventor is a vanishing breed and has been outpaced by industry at large...

We have plenty of "tricks" to share, perhaps our energy is better spent at finding ways to engage audiences in a meaningful pursuit expanding understanding of ourselves and our place in the world!
User avatar
Andrew Pinard
Posts: 334
Joined: 03/13/08 11:13 AM

Postby Jonathan Townsend » 12/09/10 11:30 AM

Andrew, isn't that like arguing that there's nothing new at the dog show since they all have four paws, a wet nose and dewclaws?

I suspect that using a beam of light as if it were a solid object and interacting with other realities shown by way of TV sets or screens are novel to what was available or considered back then.

In regards to engaging our audiences by way of themes and ideas they encounter in everyday life and the fiction they read - that's a yes here - though again I believe such has been a theme and practice that has not changed since someone tried to evoke (and arguably summon) a sense of the herds of animals by painting their images way back when in the caves of Lascaux.
Jonathan Townsend
Posts: 6922
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Westchester, NY

Postby Bill Mullins » 12/09/10 02:44 PM

Andrew -- I haven't read the material Jonathan quotes above, but I've read some of their other writings, and I don't think they are conversant enough with the magic literature to be using "effect" in the specific way that Fitzkee does. I think they mean the same as any other layman would - a vanishing birdcage is a different effect than a vanishing elephant, which is different than a vanishing statue of liberty, which is different than a vanishing space shuttle.

If their use of "effect" is the same as Andrew's and Fitzkee's, then what did the 19th cent magicians do that the 18th cent one didn't? And what were their advances over the 16th cent?

But even if the authors consider all vanishes to be the same "effect", their basic premise is wrong. Magicians continue to use new technology, and do not cling to old traditions and technologies.

Soma's act could not have been done in the 19th century. Nor could Lennart Green's. Nor Jason Latimer.

Marc Oberon's act has a Robert-Houdin feeling to me, but I believe he uses methods not available back then.

The top cardmen of today use sleights not even dreamed of 100 years ago, and plots that did not exist.

Did T. Nelson Downs use an expanded shell? Or a slippery sam gimmick? Or a folding quarter?

Take the best acts of the late 1800s, and compare them to even middle of the road acts of today. In all cases, the contemporary acts use improvements in "effect, method, or presentation".
Bill Mullins
Posts: 3330
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Huntsville, AL

Postby Jonathan Townsend » 12/09/10 03:41 PM

Bill, I agree about the word "effect" (meaning class of event interpretation) there being much evolution in props used in bringing forth those effects.

As it happens, at least according to Downs and Downs by way of Hilliard, Downs was using silver foil shell coins, even foil shell stacks of coins. According to his book he even had a special glass tube he would fill with up with coins and then, under cover of a hank would get lighter in a volunteer's hands and then could be shown empty. He also is said to have invented the dime/penney gaff which combined the shell with the copper/silver gaff - which is step up from the gaff in Scot's book and has more uses, though for some reason does not appear to have been expanded to half or full dollar size in his books to create the sun/moon and scotch and soda - odd that.

That passage comes from Sleights of Mind page 234 right before they offer praise to Jason Latimer in a paragraph which ends the best of our knowlege they have not developed any truly new catagories of effects yet), but they make fresh and exciting new variants on old tricks using high technology.

Okay - not going to get playful about "high technology". :)
Jonathan Townsend
Posts: 6922
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Westchester, NY

Postby Dustin Stinett » 12/09/10 04:07 PM

A few years ago, Jim Steinmeyer fooled the socks off me with a trick he was performing at the Magic Castle. While discussing it with Max Maven, he chuckled and said, You know exactly how it works: You just dont know that you know it.

Sometimes the old can appear new and there is nothing wrong with that.

Look how old Balduccis self-levitation was before David Blaine resurrected it from the pages of the Pallbearers Review (or was it Epilogue?).

My issue with the state of the craft is the age oldand it is oldproblem of performing magicians (versus hobbyists who love collecting tricksGod bless em) adding to their repertoire a trick they saw another magician perform only because they think its all about the trick. They add it without any thought as to how it fits in to their work: their craft; their art. It doesnt matter, though, because they dont think about their work at that level anyway. It usually shows, and there are too many of them. They have not yet learned that rarely does a trick make a magician unique.

Maybe it is people like this that Macknick and Martinez-Conde were writing about, doing exactly what many in the laity do: Apply what they see to an entire art form.

User avatar
Dustin Stinett
Posts: 6214
Joined: 07/22/01 12:00 PM
Location: Southern California

Postby Andrew Pinard » 12/10/10 08:51 AM

Bill -

I don't think audiences mistake the technology to achieve an effect with the effect itself.

A lack of awareness of Dariel Fitzkee does not affect an audience's capability in perceiving your examples of: "a vanishing birdcage ... vanishing elephant ... a vanishing statue of liberty ... [and] a vanishing space shuttle" as similar if not the same. The fact that they all vanish is enough.

If you don't believe me, try the following experiment: perform all of them in the same show. Perhaps you could start by vanishing small stuff and work your way up. Do you think the audience reaction would increase according to the size of the object as the performance went on? I would think that their attention would flag and at some point they would "get it" resulting in diminishing "effect". (While this is unlikely to happen, somewhat sadistically I would love to see someone try...)

Take another example. Daryl, in promoting his Encyclopedia of Card Revelations, remarked that if you know many ways of controlling a card but only one way of revealing it that you only know one trick; if you know only one way of controlling a card and one hundred ways of revealing it that you know one hundred tricks (I paraphrase). In practice, you can perform several card tricks in a row, it does not mean you can keep an audience that way without a compelling character, thoughtful organization of material and some thematic throughline to keep audiences engaged.

Variety for varieties sake is helpful, especially for keeping up an audience's interest.

We have a surfeit of methods; we need to spend more time connecting with audiences. Western (and by that I mean as opposed to Eastern) musicians get more effect out of their "limited palette" of twelve tones than we do out of our nineteen effect. Granted, their tones are more flexible in that they can layer them over each other to get differing sound qualities and various instruments producing different sonorities, but it all comes down to communicating an experience.

I do disagree with the broadness of the author's statement and the implied argument that reliance on old technology is what is limiting the advancement of the craft. Methodology is not effect (something that "magicians" often forget) and the focus of the book under discussion is METHOD. Hence the broad statement regarding method (one which is not too far from the truth).

If FISM was that interesting to the public at large, why don't American television stations broadcast highlights?

My fundamental point is that magic practitioners should explore *all* avenues when communicating with an audience. Effect & method are but two components that, when skillfully and passionately coupled with other theatrical components (character, story, costume, scenery, props, staging, movement, music, lighting, and other stagecraft), can create wonder-filled experiences that appeal to a broad section of the public.

Method is a small part of the equation, and a foolish performer (which I personally have been guilty of) will dismiss using a tool because it is "outdated".

User avatar
Andrew Pinard
Posts: 334
Joined: 03/13/08 11:13 AM

Postby Glenn Bishop » 12/10/10 10:06 AM

I remember reading some interesting things on this line of thinking in the book Okito on magic. If I remember right it talked about how Papa Bamberg was amazed by the new idea of the Svengali deck - and some other interesting points.

I remember having a conversation about magic and the effect of magic with Jack and Anne Gwynne. In their opinion a magician could only do two different things - that is - vanish and produce objects. Everything is accomplished by a vanish and a production.

I myself would add levitation to that and say three things but that is just my opinion.

One of the old sayings I am rather fond of (in magic) is the old saying of if a performer wants to find something new - look for something old.

That is what I do and did with my punch deal. I took an old gambling tool and used it with a cull instead of the second deal and worked on it - and came up with a whole different way to use it - added to it and came up with several routine ideas.

I wrote one book about it and 2 DVD's. Plus I use the ideas in my close up work all the time.

Just a few magic thoughts.
Glenn Bishop
Posts: 650
Joined: 03/14/08 10:52 AM

Return to Alternative Media