The Tragic Rhythm - David Ben

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Joe Mckay
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Location: Durham, England

The Tragic Rhythm - David Ben

Postby Joe Mckay » June 17th, 2020, 11:02 pm

There is a brilliant essay by David Ben in Scripting Magic - Volume Two (written by Pete McCabe) called An Organic Spiral Up. I have spent a few weeks digesting it and that has in turn inspired me to write an essay.

So apologies for the lengthy post below. I just wanted to provide some notes that are a record of the thoughts inspired by David Ben's insightful essay. I am posting up my thoughts now before this post gets any longer.

I know there is some repetition in what I have written below. But I would rather just keep this as it is rather than continually chopping and changing it.

David Ben's essay is the most useful piece of magic theory I have ever read.

The essay is based on some advice given to David Ben by Teller. Teller recommended that David Ben read the following book about drama in order to get a useful framework to increase the impact of your magic.

https://www.amazon.com/Idea-Theater-Study-Changing-Perspective/dp/0691012881

David Ben said that whilst he found the book quite dry - the concept of the Tragic Rhythm that is taught in the book was so powerful that he went on to use it in all of his magic tricks.

I was fascinated by this essay since I am obsessed with the work of Penn & Teller.

David Ben applies the thinking to tricks that involve multiple stages where the key effect is repeated. However - he likes to frame this in terms of strengthening the conditions or clarifying the effect as a result of new information that is shared with the audience. This creates a feedback where information is shared with the audience - which sparks a rhetorical response - which then conditions the next phase of the routine.

A few pages later - Pete McCabe applies the same framework to an analysis of the brilliant self-working card trick by Juan Tamariz called Neither Blind Nor Stupid. Except here it is in order to communicate to the audience the information the magicians has about the location of the selected cards - so that the conditions can repeatedly be made more stringent.

At this point I want to split the concept of the Tragic Rhythm into two halves.

It can be applied to the PRESENTATION and it can also be applied to the METHOD of a trick.

In my own shorthand (and very much following the analysis of Pete McCabe) - applying this concept to the PRESENTATION is something I associate with the work of Penn & Teller. And applying this concept to the METHOD is something I associate with Juan Tamariz (and his Theory of False Solutions).

Let's start by looking at how this concept applies to the presentation.

One thing that jumps out at me is that the tricks of Penn & Teller tend not to have multiple stages where each stage is simply a repetition of an earlier stage except under more stringent conditions.

Instead Penn & Teller tricks tend to start off with one premise and then the routine ends up with a surprising finish that logically grows from the initial premise of the trick. Michael Weber has spoken about this sort of structure as the 'expected surprise'.

Here are some examples from the work of Penn & Teller. You can find this sort of thinking in most of their tricks. However I don't want to make this post just be about Penn & Teller so I will just stick to some obvious examples that come to mind.

1) The cups for their cups & balls are changed multiple times throughout the routine.

The first phase is a traditional Cups & Balls.

The second phase is the "American" Cups & Balls - using plastic throwaway cups.

The third phase is the "Penn & Teller" Cups & Balls - using clear plastic cups that you can see through.

Each repetition of the effect has a different meaning that builds organically from the conversation between the performer and the audience. This creates a rhythm and (unconscious) expectation which means the performer can keep the audience on the end of a piece of string and keep tugging them along with the trick in order to keep them engaged.

2) Penn juggles flaming torches. He tells the audience that people sometimes think the flames might be fake. So he will try something else instead. He then gets three bottles of beer and empties them before smashing off the ends, and juggling the broken beer bottles.

In this trick - Penn answers a rhetorical query from the audience and meets it. This credits the audience with being smarter than they actually are. Since most "thinking" is simply agreeing with opinions expressed by others. This is much more powerful (and - again that word - engaging) than simply bringing out some broken bottles and juggling them.

3) Penn stops somebody in the street. He asks them about Houdini and asks if they agree that anybody could do the escapes of Houdini since he probably used fake locks and fake boxes. He then ties him up in a box and throws him in a river. This is an extreme example. But this is a logical consequence that Penn pulled the spectator into through the guise of rhetorical questions.

4) A drawing duplication goes wrong. Until Penn notices that perhaps what the spectator wrote is some kind of mirror image. A mirror is found and held up to what the spectator reveals. A title from the bible is revealed to have been written unconsciously by the spectator in mirror writing. A bible is found and when that passage in the bible is found it is revealed that it matches the prediction drawn by the magician at the start of the trick.

This trick pulls the spectator into the performance.

In real time.

It reminds me of what Tommy Wonder wrote when he talked about secondhand drama ("Let me tell you about a time a drunk guy screwed up my deck of cards" versus firsthand drama ("Whoops - I have accidentally shuffled the cards face up into face down").

--------------------

A great essay clarifies your thinking and allows you to put into words things you have noticed in the past without realising it. I had that response to David Ben's essay. I am always thinking about tricks and categorising them in different ways - so that I have a list of favourites for each category.

MAGICIAN FOOLERS

SPECTATOR AS MAGICIAN

SUCKER EFFECTS

And so on...

What is interesting is there was a certain type of trick that really appealed to me but I had no conceptual framework to understand why. I just knew that the structure of the trick gave the trick much more power than I would usually see in a trick. The first time I came across a trick like this was in the introduction to Jon Racherbaumer's Inside Out column in the April, 1999 issue of MAGIC magazine.

Here is an excerpt of an email I sent to Andy (over at The Jerx) back in 2015:
I remember reading a trick in MAGIC once. It was actually a description of a trick from some novel. Jon Racherbaumer was talking about a brilliant presentation he came across in a novel he was reading.

It was the classic "Ashes on Palm" trick. The guy in the novel asked the spectator if she was Catholic and believed in Stigmata? She said she was a Catholic and did believe in Stigmata.

He then had her look at her right hand - and nothing was found.

The magician acted like he had failed until he asked her if she was left handed?

She said she was - and when she looked at her left hand - she could see a faint residue of ash.

And the spectator (in the novel) freaked out.

I always thought this was a great touch for this trick. And it is these little touches that can pack more punch than ten other tricks put together. So I just want to pass along the idea in case you find it of use in your work. It is the sort of thing to be on the look out for if you know somebody is left handed. Or if you know what religion they are.

So here we see an example of the Tragic Rhythm from a trick that is not by Penn & Teller. And in a trick that uses the concept on the presentation part of the trick rather than the method part of the trick. These simple touches can dramatically increase the power of a trick. It creates a spark of electricity that makes the magic happen now. Rather than the spectator being cast in the role of observer to an experiment.

Instead they are a genuine participant in what is happening right now. It feels organic. However it takes a lot of thinking and planning to find ways to add these moments to your tricks.

This is something that David Blaine is very good at. He seems to have an instinctive feel for this type of moment. He uses his off-kilter personality to increase the tension in a trick in a way that drags the spectator into the role of participant rather than simply being a witness to proceedings. Then the tension is popped by an unexpected personal moment that is shared by the magician and the spectator.

-------------------------

Let's look at how the Tragic Rhythm can be applied to the method of a magic trick. This type of thinking echoes a lot of the thinking we see in the work of Juan Tamariz and his Theory of False Solutions.

A trick I like is the Three Phase Book Test by Paul Brook. The routine has three phases and each phase cancels out the method used in the previous phase. He routines together three different methods. Each method gets progressively stronger. And each phase builds on the last phase by pointing out a possible method that could have been used before cancelling out that method in the next phase of the trick.

For example - “Okay - I held the book in my hands when you looked at the word. Maybe you thought I caught a glimpse of the word? Here - you hold the book in your hands and look at a word as I turn away”.

It is a great routine. And it has a wonderful flow to it since the structure drives the presentation in a way that feels organic and fresh since the magician is (apparently) responding to the unspoken thoughts of the more critical members of the audience.

This credits the spectators with being smart and engages them in real time with what is going on. And all this by focusing on the structure of the trick and not the presentation.

You can get a quick feel for how powerful this is. Take a one-way deck and have a spectator choose a card. You then reveal the card. You then laugh and say that actually you cheated - all the cards are the same.

You show the spectator 52 cards that are all the same. You then replace the deck with a new deck where all the cards are different. You then find the selection (either using a force or a control).

This trick - thanks to the structure - will feel much more engaging to the spectator than simply doing a regular card location.

Engage.

Engage.

Engage.

This is the key word.

By restructuring a trick you can force the spectator to engage with what you are doing by poking at their critical faculties by apparently exposing how a trick is done. You can then rule out that method in the next phase of the trick.

It is literally impossible to be disinterested as you watch a trick when a magician is forcing you to engage with the trick in this way.

Interestingly this type of thinking can be traced all the way back to Greater Magic. That book contains a great trick called The Tuned Deck by Ralph W. Hull. This is a card location that is repeated over and over. Each time - the method is switched for a different one as the method used in the previous phase is ruled out in the next phase.

When I first read this trick I categorised it as a Magician Fooler. However - I see now that it is an example of the Tragic Rhythm.

It is one of the most interesting tricks in all of magic. My favourite philosopher is Daniel Dennett and he was the first person I ever saw who wrote about this trick. He said it was a devious trick where the secret lies in a single word.

The.

The.

The.

By calling the trick The Tuned Deck - and repeatedly reminding the audience of the name of the trick - the title of the trick misdirects the mind into looking for a single method rather than multiple methods.

H.L. Mencken once wrote that 'For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong'. Ralph W. Hull encourages the spectator to go on a wild goose chase for an answer when in fact the real answer is that there are multiple answers.

Daniel Dennett argues that this misdirection also applies to The Problem of Free Will. By calling it the problem rather than multiple problems - it misdirects philosophers into looking for a single principle that explains all aspects of Free Will.

The second part of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s career was devoted to arguing a similar point. He believed that most philosophical problems came about as a result of using sloppy language.

It delighted me to find a reference to such a devious magic trick in a book of philosophy. The reason Dennett is my favourite philosopher is because of the many surprises and pieces of wonderful ingenuity that he scatters throughout his work.

-------------------------

The concept of the Tragic Rhythm can be applied to both the presentation and the (apparent) method. The latter approach is reminiscent of the ideas that Juan Tamariz explores in his Theory of False Solutions. However I agree with Tommy Wonder that making the method the focus of the trick sells the "puzzle" aspect of magic and robs the spectator of a richer experience.

Engagement is the key word here. The Tragic Rhythm is about changing the structure of a trick so that the presentation flows organically from the events of the trick.

Think about a funny story a friend tells you. Then something unexpected happens whilst he is in the middle of his story (a phone rings or somebody spills a drink).

The best storytellers jump on such a surprise and then wittily incorporate it into the story to create an unexpected punchline. The Tragic Rhythm is about creating a sense of momentum in a trick so that the spectator feels like they are participating in a miracle in real time. Rather than being a witness to a dry demonstration of powers, which turns a trick into a scientific demonstration rather than something that pulls them directly into the action.

I remember Penn Jillette saying that this is what he loved so much about the Asi Wind trick that was performed on Fool Us a few months ago. That trick is the best trick performed on the show so far. Funnily enough - Asi Wind was performing as a guest performer and not as a contestant.

Penn said that what he loved about the trick is that there was no way to predict how the trick would end once it started.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fg0CC99hVK8

My sense - going back to the David Ben essay - is that Penn & Teller want their tricks to feel like events rather than demonstrations.

What do I mean by events? Well a trick where there is an unexpected left-turn half way through the trick. Ideally this left-turn should feel a natural part of the trick. This makes the spectator feel like they are witnessing magic in real time. Rather than a demonstration that was certain of success from even before the magician brought out the props.

I wonder if this is why Magician in Trouble and Sucker Tricks play so well for lay people?

Magicians often look down on these plots but one thing the plot does is make it feel like the magic is happening in real time. So - perhaps the core of the essay and its impact on Penn & Teller - is that they want their tricks to feel fresh and spontaneous. But without resorting to the Magician in Trouble or Sucker Trick premise. At its best you can feel the charge of electricity coursing through the audience.

If we go back to the Magician in Trouble and Sucker Trick premise - what is happening theire is that the tricks take an unexpected turn that raise a question in the spectator's mind. And that question is then answered by the magician at the end of the trick.

The goal of to David Ben's essay is to eoncourage magicians to create an imaginary conversation between you and the audience - where the next phase of the trick is shaped by the questions the magician rhetorcially raises on behalf of the spectator.

A good example of this is the Three Phase Book Test by Paul Brook. In this trick - he does a book test in three phases. The final phase allows for any word to be chosen and successfully divined. However - he builds up to that that final phase by using two weaker methods. He performs the opening phase and then points out a flaw in the procedure.

He then performs phase two which eliminates that flaw - but is still not flawless. Before finisihing with a trick that meets all the previous objections raised in the minds of the audience (and pointed out by the magician).

When we talk about building a trick up - what we are really doing is pulling the spectators into an imaginary conversation with us. And this pulls them into the trick by making them feel like participants rather than witnesses.

This creates drama. As a kid I couldn't stand most Hollywood action films (such as James Bond) since I knew the star of the film would always be alive at the end. So there was no sense of jepardy as I was watching.

This is something that can make magic boring as well. Usually the only way magicians create a sense of jepardy is by using Danger Tricks. But that creates a feeling of dread rather than true uncertainty about the outcome of the effect. It raises the stakes of the trick but doesn't do anything to really increase the sense of engagement with the audience.

This essay has been very helpful to me in understanding why Penn & Teller tricks have the impact they do.

---------------------------

What is the most commercial card trick ever?

The invisible deck with the invisible deck presentation.

If we ask a spectator to name a playing card and then show it reversed in the deck. They are a witness to a trick. Almost as if they are scientists with clipboards observing an experiment.

But if you get them to shuffle an invisible deck of cards and reverse one - their mind is sent on a wild detour. The subtext of which is - what is going to happen with the card I pretended to reverse? Sub-text is a fancy way of saying this is a thought the spectator will have or will make sense to him when the spectator answers that quetion in the next part of the trick.

So the secret here is to turn the trick you are going to perform (predict a freely-named card) into the sub-text of a different effect. Sub-text means we are answering a question that the spectator naturally asks themself. Rather than a question that the magician raises himself.

This creates a sense of drama in the minds of the audience since they feel genuinely involved in the trick.

So - a good way to strengthen a magic trick is to take the effect and bury it inside something else.

Hand the spectator a metaphorical wrapped present. And when they unwrap it - they find the trick you were going to show them all along.

Let's say you want to burn a card and reproduce it. How can we bury this premise to that it later emerges as an off-shoot to something else rather than it simply be demonstration of your powers?

Well - you can pretend to be annoyed that you got the wrong card (David Williamson idea). You produce the Ace of Clubs and "mishear" the spectator. Apparently you thought she said the Eight of Clubs - and as a result you over-react and decie to destory the "wrong" card by burning it.

You then find out that the card was correct all along. You then produce an envelope (which you call Fire Insurance) an reproduce the chosen card from there.

This is just a quick example from off the top of my head. I guess the above is what Tommy Wonder touched on when he talked about the difference between third-hand drama and first-hand drama. You want the trick to feel like it is taking place in the moment.

If a magician was truly magical and had god-like powers, he could simply stand in front of an audience and have them shout any magical feat and he would be able to perform it. Forget about Any Card At Any Number - this would be the ultimate magical effect.

As such - as soon as a magician defines what trick he is going to perform - the audience feels a little cheated (on a sub-concious level) that the magician should be in control right from the start. As such - the magician has to give the illusion of losing control during the trick in order to increase the tricks impact at the nd when the magician steps up to meet an apparently unexpected challenge.

This can either be through the use of a hokey left-turn (Magician in Trouble or Sucker trick). Or by creating an organic experience where the spectator feels like a participant whose concerns are being answered as they watch the trick.

Pit Hartling also touches on this in his Inducing Challenges essay.

http://www.card-fictions.com/Inducing%20Challenges.pdf

Sorry once again for the lengthy ramble. I am going to end it here.

I just wanted to shine a light on such an important essay. Penn & Teller are the greatest magicians in the history of magic. And David Ben’s essay provides a glimpse into the inner workings of their minds.

David Ben's essay is an important contribution to magic and I just wanted to put together a post acknowledging that.

Joe Mckay
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Re: The Tragic Rhythm - David Ben

Postby Joe Mckay » June 17th, 2020, 11:59 pm

CORRECTION:

I messed up. Michael Weber's concept is not the expected suprise.

It is the inevitable surprise.

Sorry, Michael!

Edward Pungot
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Re: The Tragic Rhythm - David Ben

Postby Edward Pungot » June 18th, 2020, 1:48 pm

"The scene contains the act."
--Kenneth Burke, A Grammer of Motives

See David Ben's book Tricks,
"Listen To Me" (p.103).

Joe Mckay
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Re: The Tragic Rhythm - David Ben

Postby Joe Mckay » June 18th, 2020, 2:39 pm

I used to have a copy of the David Ben book. But cannot find it now.

I have been looking online for another copy.

No success so far.

Can anyone sell me a copy? I know it is a rare book these days, so name a suitable price.

Joe Mckay
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Re: The Tragic Rhythm - David Ben

Postby Joe Mckay » June 18th, 2020, 5:51 pm

A buddy is going to lend me his copy.

So I will stick with that for now.

Cheers!

Joe Mckay
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Re: The Tragic Rhythm - David Ben

Postby Joe Mckay » June 20th, 2020, 7:51 pm

Here are some thoughts from the creators of South Park (Matt Stone and Trey Parker) that touch on the same ideas expressed in the David Ben essay.

http://www.wideopenmagic.com/index.php/2020/05/29/2-words-for-clearer-plots/

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Re: The Tragic Rhythm - David Ben

Postby MagicbyAlfred » June 21st, 2020, 9:41 pm

If I may humbly say so, I believe this thread and the various sources cited within it, highlight an important issue relevant to anyone, whether amateur or professional, who performs magic, of any kind, for people. I think we as magicians (well, speaking for myself, at least) tend sometimes to be like a kid in a candy store or with a new toy(s). We want to cram in multiple effects in presentation, when oftentimes the so-called "kicker" or kickers do not flow cohesively from the plot, or even obscure it, thereby muddling the spectator's mind and dampening (or, at worst, even killing) the impact. Vernon opined that the spectator should be able to describe the effect in a single sentence.

Recently, I performed, for the first time, a prediction effect I had proudly created. The audience of one for this magical maiden voyage was none other than my lovely girlfriend, who, believe me when I say, has seen an infinitude of magic. At the denouement, the identity of the seemingly unquestionably freely chosen card was revealed in a very surprising and refreshingly unique fashion. The reaction was all I could have hoped for. But then, although I should have known better, I spread the cards face up to show that all the cards but her "selection" were blank. Instead of being haled with the "I am not worthy" response I had expected, and her heartfelt declaration that she would be starting a religion around me and having t-shirts made up bearing my image, I saw her look of admiration and astonishment give way to one of ill-disguised let-down and confusion.

When I discussed the trick with her, she shared with me that she could not understand why i had shown all the other cards but the prediction/selection to be blank. She said that the trick, up to that point, had blown her away, but then she became confused in trying to assimilate why all the cards were blank. She said she felt it would have been much stronger had I just casually spread the deck face up showing all the cards were different and that, implicitly, it was an ordinary deck. The showing of the blank cards she said, in her opinion did not only add nothing, but actually detracted significantly, and was likely to plant the seed of suspicion that a "trick deck" was being used, thus completely undermining the wonderful impact of the basic effect. It was also Vernon, I believe, who said "Confusion isn't magic," or words to tha effect. I thought back to an occasion, many years ago, when I had done something for my esteemed magical mentor with a "kicker" or two that I thought was going to elevate the trick into the miracle class and beyond. The reaction I received, however, was underwhelming, and consisted simply of the question: "Combining effects again, Alfred?" Many years later, in the above-described trick for my girlfriend, I obviously had forgotten my teacher's admonition, and was unable to resist the temptation to sink back into "magician-think." It will be a cold day in hell before that will happen again...

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Re: The Tragic Rhythm - David Ben

Postby Dave Le Fevre » June 22nd, 2020, 4:44 am

Sometimes that extra step can be one step too many.

Eight years ago, a conjuror performed on the UK TV programme "This Morning", and I just happened to see it.

He got a spec to hold up a newspaper, and then took a Polaroid photo of the guy. He took out the Polaroid print, and the spec pocketed it.

After performing several other effects, he asked Fern (one of the show's presenters) to think of a card from a deck that he fanned. She chose the King of Clubs.

The Polaroid photo was then shown to have a large King of Clubs on it where the newspaper had been.

He then took the newspaper, showed it to be The Times of that day, turned to the personal adverts, and showed an advert reading "David predicts that Fern will choose the King of Clubs".

Now it was all really well done, and it was a joy to watch.

But to me, the newspaper advert weakened it.

Trying to put myself in the place of a spec, I'd think "Wow, that's neat! The card appearing on the photo is clever. I can see how it could be done, but it's clever. But a randomly chosen card appearing on the photo – now that's bl**dy amazing!"

But with the advert, I'd think "Wow, that's neat! The card appearing on the photo is clever. I can see how it could be done, but it's clever. And the card force was nice too – I wonder how he did that?"

So, to my mind, it would have been stronger without the advert. But that's just my opinion. I suppose that the advert does give a double whammy effect.

And nowadays I sometimes see card effects that are impressive, and clearly no force was involved. Until a final written prediction tells us that it was in fact a force after all. Maybe many spectators are wowed by such effects. Maybe my reaction differs from everybody else's.

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Re: The Tragic Rhythm - David Ben

Postby MagicbyAlfred » June 22nd, 2020, 8:42 am

Dave's interesting story of the photo and newspaper reminded me of an important aspect of my own anecdote I had forgotten to mention. Another point my girlfriend made was that although she had no idea of the method I used for the force, people would be likely to deduce the "predicted" card had to have been forced upon them when they saw that all other cards were blank. And although the force i devised for the trick was well-disguised, this now takes us into the realm of, "I don't know how he forced or made me select that card, but I know that's what he must have done." At that point, the initial surprise, instead of continuing into lingering astonishment, quickly decays, and the trick falls prey to becoming a puzzle to be chewed upon by the spectator's rational mind.

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Re: The Tragic Rhythm - David Ben

Postby Jack Shalom » June 22nd, 2020, 9:04 am

Alfred's and David's stories are good examples of what the "Too Perfect" theory is really about---that there's only one way that the trick could have been done, so the spec comes to the correct conclusion.

I would propose a corollary to the "Too Perfect" theory, the "Too Imperfect" theory. In that case, there are too many ways the trick could have been done, and even though the spec guesses the wrong one, it doesn't matter, because in the spec's mind s/he's solved it. For example, a spec guesses "marked cards" even though it was a force.

In both versions, the solution lies in canceling all the possible solutions whether it is the correct one or not.

And as a corollary to the corollary, a refutation presented after the fact ("See, the cards are not marked") is much less effective than one given during or before the effect. This is because if a spec has a possible solution in mind while the trick is in progress, s/he cannot actually experience wonder in the moment. There can only be an intellectual admission of defeat of not being able to solve the trick afterwards. This is not a good place for the performer to be: the inevitable intellectual defeat of the spec in magic has to be leavened by the gift of arousing wonder. That's the contract the audience expects: We'll suffer intellectually, but you have to allow us to experience that rare emotion of wonder. That's the pleasurable trade-off that the audience expects and allows.

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Re: The Tragic Rhythm - David Ben

Postby Q. Kumber » June 22nd, 2020, 10:17 am

I highly recommend David Ben's Penguin Live lecture where you will learn more about excellence in magic than discussing it here.
https://www.penguinmagic.com/p/8486

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Re: The Tragic Rhythm - David Ben

Postby MagicbyAlfred » June 22nd, 2020, 12:00 pm

Q. Kumber wrote:I highly recommend David Ben's Penguin Live lecture where you will learn more about excellence in magic than discussing it here.
https://www.penguinmagic.com/p/8486


I highly recommend reading and listening to everyone's point of view - especially NON-magicians - if one wishes to improve as a magical performer.

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Re: The Tragic Rhythm - David Ben

Postby MagicbyAlfred » June 22nd, 2020, 12:12 pm

Jack Shalom: I really enjoyed your post. Superb points and eloquently stated.

Three very important words come to mind: psychology, psychology, psychology!

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Re: The Tragic Rhythm - David Ben

Postby Dave Le Fevre » June 23rd, 2020, 4:16 am

MagicbyAlfred wrote:although she had no idea of the method I used for the force, people would be likely to deduce the "predicted" card had to have been forced upon them when they saw that all other cards were blank
That was precisely the point that I intended to make, and I should have said so explicitly.

I like the idea of the Too Imperfect Theory.

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Re: The Tragic Rhythm - David Ben

Postby Edward Pungot » June 23rd, 2020, 3:16 pm


MagicbyAlfred
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Re: The Tragic Rhythm - David Ben

Postby MagicbyAlfred » June 23rd, 2020, 4:09 pm

One of my favorite card tricks has long been "A Poker Player's Picnic." I learned it from the RRTCM, but typically, it is uncredited therein. To the best of my knowledge, it was created by Steven Belchou. I always got very good to excellent reactions with it. But I did not get super phenomenal reactions until the last few years, when I re-oriented the presentation and patter around establishing conditions that cancelled any possibility of a set-up or manipulation by the magician. This goes back to Jack Shalom's post concerning the "Too Imperfect Theory," as well as the important distinction between "a refutation presented after the fact" versus a refutation "given during or before the effect." (the latter being highly effective, and the former being highly undesirable for reasons Jack explained).

Anyway, in my presentation of the trick, the spectator is given the deck to shuffle in the beginning, and great emphasis is given to that fact. I explain that many people do not trust magicians because they do sneaky things, and that, because the hand is quicker than the eye, they can deceive people with sleight of hand and manipulation. In truth, this statement is a confirmation of the stereotype most spectators already hold concerning magicians, and it resonates well with them. So it is very disarming when you apparently dispel any possibility of a set-up or control on your part by relinquishing the deck for them to shuffle to their heart's content.

The conviction being built then grows stronger and stronger as the routine progresses. The same emphasis is then given to the facts that they and only they are (1) cutting the cards, (2) dealing the cards, and (3) turning over the cards at the denouement. I can repeatedly and convincingly state that, "I never even touched the cards," and even obtain their wholehearted agreement to that bold-faced lie several times during the routine. And indeed, the statement is (almost) absolutely true! For the only time I touched the cards was when I took the deck back from them momentarily after they shuffled, in order to replace 4 cards. But, of course, they do not see that happen, and most importantly, they never remember that for that for one brief moment in time, I did in fact touch the cards...

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Paco Nagata
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Re: The Tragic Rhythm - David Ben

Postby Paco Nagata » June 24th, 2020, 4:26 pm

Jack Shalom wrote:I would propose a corollary to the "Too Perfect" theory, the "Too Imperfect" theory. In that case, there are too many ways the trick could have been done, and even though the spec guesses the wrong one, it doesn't matter, because in the spec's mind s/he's solved it. For example, a spec guesses "marked cards" even though it was a force.

In both versions, the solution lies in canceling all the possible solutions whether it is the correct one or not.

This is a very interesting corollary, Jack!
Every thesis has its antithesis, and the "Too Perfect" theory's antithesis is a very good one to take into account.

Let me tell you my personal thoughts about it:

I think that the "Too Perfect" theory is more "popular" than the "Too Imperfect" theory because it entails a more difficult problem to solve.
In the case of the "Too Imperfect" theory, it can be solved by other well known theory: "False Solutions." Actually, the "Too Imperfect" theory has much to do with the "False Solutions" theory.

For instance, if the viewer thinks that you knew the card because the deck must be marked, obviously you can solve the problem showing that it is a false solution; the deck is not marked.
But, how to show it's a false solution without showing every single card?!
Well, there are two easy and good ways to show many possible solutions as FALSE in card magic:

One of them is using a borrowed deck.

The other one is giving the deck away.

By means of one of them you can get rid of tons of possible card trick solutions!
Spectators could only "complain" about your sleight of hand.

In the case of the "Too Perfect" theory, the situation is a more delicate matter.
To solve this problem I think that you should FORCE some possible solutions to make sure that there is not only one! So then you can turn them into a false solution one by one, as well as the correct one, of course.

Regarding Alfred's experience, his girlfriend considered that he forced the selected card because all the deck was blank...
But, this is because she assumed that the deck was blank from the beginning, and it is because it was the magician's own deck of cards.

However, let's consider just for a moment that Alfred visits some friend's house with his girldfriend. Some of his friends give him a Bicycle deck of cards to do some magic. During Alfred's impromptu card magic show, he CHANGES the deck for his blank Bicycle deck and finishes with the trick he described above!

The situation would be very different since spectators would assume anytime that the deck of cards WERE NOT blank! They would be "killed," as well as his girlfriend.

Of course, they can say:

"Come on! when did you change the deck?"

You can answer:

"I didn't change the deck; this is your deck! but I will buy a new one for you tomorrow because I don't know how to bring it back to the normal state! Sorry, I'm still learing...!"

In any case, the magical impact would be really strong.
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Re: The Tragic Rhythm - David Ben

Postby Edward Pungot » June 24th, 2020, 7:58 pm

MagicbyAlfred wrote:One of my favorite card tricks has long been "A Poker Player's Picnic." ...I always got very good to excellent reactions with it. But I did not get super phenomenal reactions until the last few years, when I re-oriented the presentation and patter around establishing conditions that cancelled any possibility of a set-up or manipulation by the magician.

Check out "Wilson's Picnic" in Jared Kopf's Folk Magic manuscript. Click on the cover page icon for the free gift (thanks Jared). There are some extra layers in presentation that may interest you.
https://www.jaredkopf.com/coach

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Re: The Tragic Rhythm - David Ben

Postby Paco Nagata » June 24th, 2020, 9:36 pm

Edward Pungot wrote:
MagicbyAlfred wrote:One of my favorite card tricks has long been "A Poker Player's Picnic." ...I always got very good to excellent reactions with it. But I did not get super phenomenal reactions until the last few years, when I re-oriented the presentation and patter around establishing conditions that cancelled any possibility of a set-up or manipulation by the magician.

Check out "Wilson's Picnic" in Jared Kopf's Folk Magic manuscript. Click on the cover page icon for the free gift (thanks Jared). There are some extra layers in presentation that may interest you.
https://www.jaredkopf.com/coach

On July 26th I started this thread:
viewtopic.php?f=6&t=51924
But, nobody aswered.

In that thread I talked about a version of "A Poker Player's Picnic" published by Juan Tamariz in one of his first books, "Aprenda Usted Magia" (1973; page 33, "Poker de Ases," https://www.conjuringarchive.com/list/book/1353). As far as I know there is not an English version (yet).

That version consists in setting the deck by adding a random card on top of the four Aces. So that, from the top you have a random card and the four Aces. So then, instead of taking three cards from each piles, you take one from the first, two from the second, three from the third and four from the fourth. That way you get a justification to the procedure by means of a "stepped procedure," whereas in the original version you pass three cards, just like that, from each pile.

In the great "Wilson's Picnic" version that Edward shared with us (Thank you very much, Edward!), you can use the "stepped procedure" to illustrate the progression of the spectator's life. So that, improving the metaphorical presentation of the Wilson's idea as well.

As far as I can see this idea seems to be unknown out of Spain, so I only wanted to share it.
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Re: The Tragic Rhythm - David Ben

Postby Edward Pungot » June 25th, 2020, 7:39 am


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Re: The Tragic Rhythm - David Ben

Postby MagicbyAlfred » June 25th, 2020, 8:21 am

I think that we, as magicians, oftentimes feel a need to provide a justification for certain actions or procedures when none is needed. I believe that a justification is necessary only when the person(s) to whom it is provided would entertain a suspicion or question what takes place absent the justification. I have not found this to be the case in performing A Poker Player's Picnic on a regular basis for about 20 years. Why don't they question that we are having them deal 3 cards from each pile to the bottom, then one card on each of the other piles? I honestly don't know. I do know that many of the people for whom I have performed have been brazenly (sometimes brutally) outspoken, and not hesitant in the least to question anything when their suspicions have been aroused. Yet I have not ever had a single person question the classic dealing procedure for the trick. I believe that providing a justification when none is necessary can actually backfire, and may focus their rational mind to begin analyzing and questioning a procedure where they otherwise would not have done so.

I always felt that the real weak point was in proceeding with the trick without first absolutely extinguishing that there could be a set-up. An overhand jog shuffle or false cut, for example, by the magician, to retain top stock does not get the job done, since they obviously know we can control the cards and, of course, they are 100% correct. As I said, when I began doing it as I described in the prior post, where they are allowed to shuffle before the procedure begins, the reactions heightened off the charts. So two revered expressions come to mind in regard to this fantastic card trick: "Don't run when they're not chasing you," and "The proof is in the pudding."

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Re: The Tragic Rhythm - David Ben

Postby Paco Nagata » June 25th, 2020, 7:17 pm

MagicbyAlfred wrote:"Don't run when they're not chasing you," and "The proof is in the pudding."

I back up this thoughts, Alfred.
It is similar to the Professor's "Don't make unimportant things important."
I should have used other words;
instead of "... to justify the procedure..." I should just have said "... to do something different..."

I remember once, a friend of mine showed me a variation of a card trick I created. I told him:
"Nice! You've improved it!"
Right after, he replied something interesting:
"Improve? No. I just did something different".
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Re: The Tragic Rhythm - David Ben

Postby Leo Garet » June 26th, 2020, 9:53 am

Paco Nagata wrote:
MagicbyAlfred wrote:"Don't run when they're not chasing you," and "The proof is in the pudding."

I back up this thoughts, Alfred.
It is similar to the Professor's "Don't make unimportant things important."
I should have used other words;
instead of "... to justify the procedure..." I should just have said "... to do something different..."

I remember once, a friend of mine showed me a variation of a card trick I created. I told him:
"Nice! You've improved it!"
Right after, he replied something interesting:
"Improve? No. I just did something different".


And here's my own:

Don't Hide When Nobody's Looking.

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Re: The Tragic Rhythm - David Ben

Postby MagicbyAlfred » June 26th, 2020, 10:46 am

Paco, I admire your graciousness and open-mindedness, two valuable traits for a magician. Yes, the admonition, "Don't make unimportant things important" is -- well -- important.

According to Jamy Ian Swiss, in his insightful and thought-provoking book, Devious Standards (Hermetic Press), the chapter entitled, "Discovering Importance," the saying, "Don't Make Unimportant Things Important," was widely unknown to Vernon scholars. Jamy noted that the saying did not seem to appear anywhere in the lexicon, including, but not limited to Vernon lecture notes, the Ganson books, the Vernon Chronicles, He Fooled Houdini, or the 22 years of The Vernon Touch (the Professor's column in Genii). Swiss's "best guess" was that he heard Vernon make the statement at a lecture circa 1978. He characterizes the Vernon saying as "an archaeological artifact, a stone I overturned that, rather than being commonplace, turns out to have remained unseen all this time."

Swiss points out that when we make unimportant things important, suspicion is raised in the layman - suspicion that would not have been there. To me, yet another aphorism now comes to mind: "Let a sleeping dog lie." We, as magicians, aware of our own secret contrivances, often attribute certain thought-processes to laymen that they do not in fact have. But then how do we distinguish between what laymen would consider unimportant versus that which would they would consider important, where their suspicions would be aroused if we failed to take steps to dispel the suspicion? There is no simple answer to this, but only through experimentation in the laboratory of performance -- through trial and error -- will we truly learn and become wiser. As I've offered before, the laymen are our best teachers.

Many years ago, Art Linkletter had an entertaining TV show called, "Kids Say the Darnedest Things." Well, the truth is that layman think the damnedest things! They will think things we never thought they would, and not think things we were sure they would. Human psychology is an endlessly fascinating subject to me, and IMHO, the greater our understanding of it, the more effective we will be as performers. Jamy Ian Swiss states in the above-mentioned chapter, "To fool laymen we need to be able to think like laymen - to imagine accurately how and what they will think. Without this ability, we can't fool anyone, except possibly ourselves." This is where I would modify one part of his erudite statement, because just "imagining" how and what they will think will not enable us to "accurately" think like laymen. We must actually discover how and what they will think - and this can only come from experience. But in fairness, that may be precisely what he meant.

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Re: The Tragic Rhythm - David Ben

Postby Paco Nagata » June 27th, 2020, 7:19 am

MagicbyAlfred wrote:Paco, I admire your graciousness and open-mindedness, two valuable traits for a magician. Yes, the admonition, "Don't make unimportant things important" is -- well -- important.

Thank you, Alfred. I'm learning so much reading your valuable posts (as well as others', of course).
And with learning a mean everything in general, not only about the art of magic but also about the history, origins, backgrounds... as the origin of the sayings! Thanks so much for sharing your knowledges about it.
Certainly, "sayings," like some general ideas in magic may be very old and so that be re-invented or re-discovered by great magicians (as well magicians they are) with the purpose of not letting them to pass into oblivion.
The important thing is to keep in mind any usuful and valuable piece of magic art : - )

Edited to correct some spelling.
Last edited by Paco Nagata on June 27th, 2020, 7:27 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: The Tragic Rhythm - David Ben

Postby Paco Nagata » June 27th, 2020, 7:25 am

Leo Garet wrote:Don't Hide When Nobody's Looking.

That's another good one not to forget, Leo!
^_^ Thank you.
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Re: The Tragic Rhythm - David Ben

Postby MagicbyAlfred » July 4th, 2020, 11:38 pm

Jack Shalom Wrote: "And as a corollary to the corollary, a refutation presented after the fact ("See, the cards are not marked") is much less effective than one given during or before the effect. This is because if a spec has a possible solution in mind while the trick is in progress, s/he cannot actually experience wonder in the moment. There can only be an intellectual admission of defeat of not being able to solve the trick afterwards. This is not a good place for the performer to be: the inevitable intellectual defeat of the spec in magic has to be leavened by the gift of arousing wonder. That's the contract the audience expects: We'll suffer intellectually, but you have to allow us to experience that rare emotion of wonder. That's the pleasurable trade-off that the audience expects and allows."

I was very intrigued when I read Jack's thoughts on this. I have been thinking about this "corollary to the corollary" a lot, and have even reconstructed some routines I have been doing a very long time to coincide with what i consider to be a tremendously important presentational and psychological principle. It just makes so much sense to me that the refutation(s) must be given before the effect, not, as Jack puts it, "a refutation presented after the fact."

Today, an old Magician Versus Gambler thread was resurrected and it prompted me to go back and watch Harry Lorayne's routine. At the end of the routine he does a "kicker," specifically a production of the 4 queens from his pockets. But only after his production of the queens from his pockets does Harry then spread the deck face-up, obviously to dispel any notion that he didn't merely produce duplicate queens. In my opinion, based on Jack's corollary to the corollary," it would have been far stronger to first spread the deck showing that the queens had completely vanished, and then proceed to do a clean production of them. Otherwise, the impact of the production is tainted and diluted by the suspicion that the queens being produced are not actually the ones from the deck that the magician cut to earlier, and that the spectator saw. So, when Harry spreads the deck after the effect - almost as an afterthought - Jack's point, that there could only be an intellectual admission of defeat by the spectators seemed so clear and on the money. I found myself thinking that, as clever and experienced a magician as Harry is - and he is - he fell into precisely the trap Jack has warned against, providing a perfect example of a refutation presented after the fact. Another way of looking at this important principle might be to say that the refutation before the effect precludes skepticism, and builds conviction, thus paving the way for greater impact and astonishment when the effect occurs. Anyway, here's Harry's performance:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DuER_efoMe4&t=9s


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