What is Pure Magic?

Discuss your favorite close-up tricks and methods.

Postby Brian Rasmussen » 07/15/03 12:54 PM

I'm reading Absolute Magic and really enjoy the book thus far. My main interest is in card magic and when I came to the part that stated that you cannot hope to create a pure magical experience through cards I was diasppointed. How do some feel about this? It goes on to state that you cannot achieve pure magic with the likes of bits of rope, finger choppers, and the like. I can see some of the points in the book and while I may not agree with everything I'm thinking more deeply about my own magic and ways of presenting. Are most all things we usually associate with magic just cleverness, finger dexterity, and "oh that is nice, it must take a lot of practice to do those fancy moves" and should we abandon those standards for items that can play like pure magic? How does one still do something like card magic and make the impact that is talked about in the book. Can anybody out there comment?
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Postby Jeff Haas » 07/15/03 01:10 PM

I haven't read the book, but it sounds to me like the familiar argument made by performers who want to appear "real." In other words, they want their audiences to believe that they have real "powers" (or at least experience a simulation of someone with real powers) and they feel that any of the standards such as cards, coins, Zig Zags, instant teleportation to a distant island, etc. distracts from the experience.

Usually a performer who feels this way ends up doing mentalism.

And that's a whole 'nother subject.

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Postby Guest » 07/15/03 01:45 PM

I think that the average performer would find it difficult to create "pure" magic with a deck of cards, therefore, I'd agree with Mr. Brown's statement, in general (I haven't read the book yet so I'm only assuming that you've interpreted correctly what Mr. Brown is saying). However, I have seen some guys create total wonder and astonishment (i.e. pure magic) with simply a deck of cards.

Granted, counting out three piles of seven cards and spelling out the person's name to locate the chosen card doesn't seem pure to me either. However, what about the guys who explain to the spectators that they could create magic with any object, and who justify the use of playing cards merely because they're ordinary objects that most people are familiar with? These guys, in my mind, aren't really doing a hokey little mathematical card trick anymore. Now they are using the cards solely as a vehicle to take the spectator on a magical journey.

I think that certain tricks, such as cards across and invisible deck, in the right hands allow the performer to not only create an environment that is entertaining, but purely magical as well. One should be lucky enough to witness Whit Haydn perform Chicago Surprise. His routine is so well thought out and his performance of the effect has got to leave spectators feeling that they just witnessed something purely magical.

Postby Gerald Deutsch » 07/15/03 07:37 PM

I remember George Burns as God in the movie "Oh God".

When the was trying to prove he was God and was asked to do a miracle he produced a deck of cards and said, "Pick a Card."

I agree that a card trick is NOT a good way to prove real magic but a card trick well presented can me very entertaining.
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Postby Guest » 07/15/03 08:47 PM

Good topic Brian. Personally, when I put on my "spectator eyes" and someone says "Pick a Card" it destroys the moment that I was anticipating. I was anticipating seeing something other than someone find a card that they "lost in the deck". Of course this is from a magicians perspective. The first thing that goes through my mind is which one of the million and one ways is he going to reproduce my card. Now if you take two of the effects already mentioned, Cards Across and Invisible deck, you might see where I am going. I believe these effects break the normal cliche of "Pick a Card". I guess that is why I like effects such as Invisible Palm Aces, Twisting the Aces, Card Warp...etc. They break the norm.

"Pure Magic" is conveyed through your presentation and attitude in my opinion and has a lot to do with the effect itself. Take Simon Aronson's Red Sea Passover (thanks for that by the way). All someone does is think of a card. The do not remove it, they don't write it down, it is merely though of. That card, with an odd color back, shows up in another packet moments later. Now seriously, how did the magi know what card I was merely thinking of and make it travel? He didn't do some fancy flourish with the cards. It could only be pure magic. (Hmm...I smell the too perfect theory coming up somewhere but I hope not.)

Now on the other hand, if I deal out a 5 handed round of poker and I turn out to be the only one with the aces or a royal flush, this is merely a demonstration of my skill or cleverness with a pack of cards. I feel the same way when it comes to a card location where the card is cut to or spun out of a deck in a weird manner.

Darwin Ortiz has a good essay regarding this as a subject of weather or not to incorporate flourishes into routines and effects in his latest book Scams and Fantasies with Cards that is an excellent read. Everything has a time and place to be used so to speak.

Just my feelings or opinion regarding the magic I do and I hope no one starts off on some sort of tangent. Like I said this is only an opinion and you know what they say about opinions.

Postby Anthony Brahams » 07/16/03 12:53 AM

I have not read Absolute Magic but if there is a broad, unqualified statement that Pure Magic cannot be done with cards, I disagree. I suppose it could be said that the purest magic has to be done without any physical objects but maybe that would be getting ridiculous. Anyway, I contend also that entertainment has a paramount role (and an MGM one too!)
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Postby sleightly » 07/16/03 05:03 AM

I have not read "Absolute Magic" so I feel uniquely qualified to ignorantly respond... ;O)

I think that what needs to be qualified is just exactly what "magic" is. When you can answer that then, and only then can you add such adjectives as "pure" in front of it.

Most magicians seem to consider "magic" to be the process, i.e. something that happens visually that contradicts the laws of reality. I have believed for some time that magic is something that happens inside one's brain pan (a searing realization that the laws of nature are about to be or have been contravened) and that the visual component is a confirmation of what happens inside audience's head.

I guess the investigation should be into isolating when the "magic happens" and the audiences' role in the proceedings.

Does it come following the production of a load (a passive role) or does it happen *prior* to the revelation that the card that has been in plain sight has been transformed into the spectator's card (an active role). The latter relies on dramatic tension and anticipation on the part of the spectator, while the former relies primarily on surprise.

I would suggest that the passive role (what I like to call "eye candy") encompasses maybe 80% of magic currently performed (perhaps more).

I would argue that having the magic occur in the spectator's head and then being confirmed elicits a much stronger audience reaction. To generate this type of reaction requires much more active involvement on the part of the audience and thus requires more planning and effort on the part of the performer to ensure participation.

That being said, I am curious that few people have bothered to identify exactly *how* people percieve "magic" and what factors contribute to the sensation (something I have been studying extensively now for about six or seven years developing an approach I call "The Shared Experience").

Getting back to the original query:

It is in my opinion that there is a direct correlation between the quantity of unjustified or unqualified "stuff" (props, costumes, scenery) and the degree to which the audiences are directly involved in the "magical moment." When props and equipment can be identified as "tools," it raises the wall between us and our audience and thus they experience diminishing degrees of "magic."

Perhaps this is what Brown is referring when he speaks of "pure magic."


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Postby Jon Racherbaumer » 07/16/03 08:50 AM

Positing that you cannot create "pure magic" with playing cards is like saying, "You cannot create "pure comedy" with a walking cane or a newspaper.

The continual challenge is to create meaningful, amusing, and perhaps edifying relations between yourself, the audience, and the props (if any).

Most card tricks, alas, are puzzles in search of transcendent themes.

keep shuffling and searching...
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Postby Pete Biro » 07/16/03 09:18 AM

I would think effects like Finn Jon's Esoteric, McBrides Kundalini, etc. could be looked upon as pure magic... they certainly defy detection and are very magical in their actions. :p
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Postby Guest » 07/16/03 01:07 PM

The initial post reduced Derren Brown's thesis to begin a discussion but renders it inaccurate; he does not declare "Cards = No Magic." There, now the lot of you who have not read the book, needn't.

To Andrew Pinard, (and many others) I would suggest you read the book, as you and Brown have arrived at a very similar point. Brown is saying [my words] real magic occurs in the mind, and [his words] "When character and performance are fused with a magical effect in a celebration of elegant and subtle theatrical awareness, the experience of real magic is born."

Scanning the book to respond to this thread, I'm impressed by the wealth of thought and quotable quotes therein, such as: "magic has no pure form: in a pure form it is merely confusion, not magic at all. It becomes magic when the performer gives it shape in the mind of his audience. He may believe it to be about achieving a child-like state of wonder or some such notion, but this is just his choice of shape, and if he does not deliver the goods in performance, then he is deluding himself."

By the way, I believe Brian Rasmussen has misinterpreted Brown on cards. "Card 'tricks' do have their place in the model of Real Magic, as those delightful fireworks for solo violin have their place in the symphony. That is their home. Displays of skill, magical in theme (page 79)." And "each of these three routines is of a mind-reading nature, and none delights in the cards for their own sake." (page 80) And from page 81, "In short, card routines can be very lovely... But few card tricks will have the resonance of real magic: their appeal lies elsewhere, in the display of immense skill that they offer."

A word or two of warning; Brown declares from the outset this is his model for close up magic, not the model. But he also posits that your magical performance will always conform to your vision, whether a display of entertaining tricks, or an overstuffed dramatic pose, or something else. Why? Precisely because the "magic" can only be the interpretation of your audience.

There's so much more I could add, but perhaps responding to what is written in the book itself would be a more fruitful discussion.

--Randy Campbell

Postby Jeff Haas » 07/16/03 01:25 PM

OK Randy, now you've done it. Now I REALLY want to read the book. Derren Brown sounds like a writer I'd enjoy.

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Postby Brian Rasmussen » 07/18/03 11:11 AM

Thanks to all for the input. To Randy Campbell I do say thanks as well for reminding me of those passages. I guess that through reading further and thinking about it a bit more, the author is not against cards but does make strong points. It was these points that got me thinking that most all card magic I enjoy, and many standards you see performed, present a very difficult challege to come off as magic and not just tricky sleights or fancy movements. I can say that I am highly enjoying the book as a whole and if anybody wants a great book to read on these theory topics rush to get it!
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Postby Guest » 07/24/03 11:22 AM

I just finished reading Derren Brown's wonderful book Absolute Magic . I too have come to the conclusion that Mr. Brown is certainly not saying that "pure" magic can't be brought about with a deck of cards. Rather he attempts to get us to look at the tricks in our repetoire, whether they involve cards, coins, other objects, mentalism, etc, and think about how these effects can affect a spectator on an emotional level.

I think that lots of magicians (although not enough of us) have at least started pondering a great deal of the concepts that Mr. Brown so eloquently articulates for us. Hopefully this book will inspire some magicians to follow through with these thoughts to the point that they will be able to develop a close up performing character that resonates. I think that he has done the magic community a great service by writing this book.

A passage that comes to mind, since my trip to the Magic Castle last night makes it so relevant, is one found on page 205:

"Yet close-up magicians continue to be rude. 'Make your mind a blank. Oh, that was quick!' Worse, these dull comments tend to be made by the most charmless, ineffectual performers who couldn't even carry a good joke if it was quite light and came with bag handles."

A couple hours after reading this passage I made a trek over to the Castle to see Shoot Ogawa's close-up show. Walking around I came across a non-paid magician putting on an informal show for some guests. He was very insulting. I've actually talked to this guy a couple of times at the Sunday lectures and he is a nice guy. Unfortunately, he hasn't, after all of these years, come up with anything more meaningful to say during his coins across and card routines than the standard one-liners that serve only to belittle the folks who are out to enjoy an evening of magic. :mad:

Postby Brian Marks » 07/24/03 09:29 PM

Pure Magic is something I sniffed back in the 80's
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Postby Guest » 09/04/03 11:41 PM

Originally posted by Brian Marks:
Pure Magic is something I sniffed back in the 80's
lol. Good one Brain.

Real Magic is discussed in the Topic: An Impossible Effect, started by David Kane. It is worthwile and very fun IMO to check out this topic. (it's under Close-Up Magic)

Postby Guest » 09/06/03 01:14 AM

I think some people in magic need to rethink and relearn their behaviour while performing. Too often you see a dreadful man making insulting comments about someone who is so kind to give some of his precious time. Wasted time, as he will rightfully think afterwards.

There was a saying that you should always wear better clothing than the other guests, to be a little overdressed. I consider this is a wonderful idea. What about applying some proper manners, even better than most of the guests attending. That would be a very wise investment.

It seems to me that some magicians do not think what they are saying (since it's just patter anyway, isn't it?), which is a pity. I don't even think it is his fault because he never learned it better. All the other magicians are making these 'funny' jokes too. And people are laughing - more or less. Some are too polite to turn away and shake their heads in desparation.

But when changing the roles and thinking from a specatator's point of view he would feel what he does when he puts the audience down. He would see how embarrasing he is and what kind of picture he paints of magic. No wonder magic is not that highly respected.


Think of an experience you would like to relive, of some kind of service you felt was over the top. When someone thought of something for you that made you feel happy for a moment. He/She did not have to do it, but he/she did. You highly appreciated that.
In my opinion you should give this kind of experience to people. Give them more than they expect. Treat them well and treat them with respect. Treat them like they were in the best hotel in town.

Then see the difference. It is really worth trying. You'll see.

All the best,

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