Interpretation in magic

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Philippe Noël
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Interpretation in magic

Postby Philippe Noël » July 18th, 2020, 2:25 pm

In music, it is very common to speak of the term interpretation.
It seems to me but I may be wrong that in magic we rather use the term presentation.
We will say that someone has a very good presentatation for by example the ambitious card.
But for me interpretation is larger than presentation, it covers the presentation but also the handling, the structure of the trick.
Do you sometimes use the term interpretation when talking about magic?

Q. Kumber
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Re: Interpretation in magic

Postby Q. Kumber » July 18th, 2020, 4:08 pm

I've never used the term 'interpretation' but I take it to mean, "What am I bringing to this effect that allows me to express something of myself or is unique to me?"

Students of classical music can hear different recordings of the same piece and tell the conductor and/or the solo performer.

Right now I am working on a version of Travellers. I have all the moves but I am driving myself bananas trying to figure out how to present/interpret it.

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Re: Interpretation in magic

Postby Philippe Noël » July 18th, 2020, 4:30 pm

Very good definition Mr Kumber.
Personally, I would say: "What am I bringing to this effect that makes it different from what others make of it ?"

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Re: Interpretation in magic

Postby Philippe Noël » July 18th, 2020, 4:58 pm

Or rather: "What am I bringing to this effect that makes it different from what others do while keeping the same effect ?"

Jonathan Townsend
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Re: Interpretation in magic

Postby Jonathan Townsend » July 18th, 2020, 8:26 pm

That term also comes up in direction and production in theater.
Here's one actor on a script we have probably all heard so ... on interpretation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGbZCgHQ9m8 :)

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Paco Nagata
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Re: Interpretation in magic

Postby Paco Nagata » July 18th, 2020, 11:50 pm

I use the term interpretation only when I talk to other magicians' friends, whereas I use the term presentation or show when I talk to lay people about a particular magic trick or show that I did.
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Re: Interpretation in magic

Postby MagicbyAlfred » July 19th, 2020, 9:00 am

Thought-provoking question, Philippe. Yes. I do sometimes use the term "interpretation" when talking about Magic. IMO, the terms interpretation and presentation are intimately related, although not exactly synonymous. Using the Ambitious Card routine as an example, there are many possible ways for the magician, as artist, to interpret it. Personally, I think of the interpretation as the plot or theme I am setting up. When doing the AC for children, I explain that the deck is a building, and that no matter where the card goes into the building it will always come back to the top floor. (i.e. my interpretation).

This leads to the actual showing of the trick, the patter/story and effect(s) and the synchronization of the two; in other words, the presentation. (Components of the presentation include having every kid present sign the card, saying and showing that the card is going into the "building" (with a funny sound effect as it's pushed in) having them push the "Up" button on the back of the card (i.e., the top circle of the two circles on Bicycle Standard or Ride Back card), riffling the cards upward to simulate the elevator making its way to the top floor (again employing a funny sound effect). At one point, the elevator cable "snaps" and the deck falls rapidly downward, but the AC suddenly appears face up on top (air pressure move), etc. etc.

By comparison, when I do the AC for adults, most often my interpretation (i.e. plot or theme) is that when someone signs a card, the card adopts their character and personality traits. I explain this to them, and patter that I sense the signatory is the kind of person who just cannot be kept down; that regardless of the challenges they face in life, because of their character and determination, they will always rise above adversity; eventually, they will always come out on top.

As to the presentation (let us say, the spectator is named "John"), in phase one, "John goes down into the deck. But he can never be kept down for long." (I riffle the deck similar to the kids version, but no elevator patter). When the card is shown to have come to the top, I say, "John just has this amazing ability to always get to the top; nothing can keep him down." This is repeated in phase 2. In phase 3, the same actions are repeated, but an indifferent card appears on top. I say, "Something you did not know about John - he is a master of disguise” (paintbrush color change), and the indifferent card changes into the signed card. For phase 4, I do a top change, and announce that I have a strong feeling that John has amazing magical powers. In the process of completing the top change (and it is great cover), I extend the deck to John and ask him to cut off a portion of the deck. I then place what is believed to be the signed card on the remainder of the deck, and ask John to place the cards he cut off on top, "burying the card." Then I say, "Please take the deck in your own hands, "I don't even want to touch the cards." I ask him to wave his hand over the deck, turn over the top card, and bow to his thunderous applause (I owe a debt of gratitude to Daryl for most of this exceedingly strong third phase). There are 2 to 3 more suitable phases, with the card finally ending up in my wallet. As the zippered compartment of the wallet is being unzipped, I say, “One other thing about John – he believes that nothing is impossible.” The card is then removed by the spectator..

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Re: Interpretation in magic

Postby Philippe Noël » July 19th, 2020, 11:17 am

Hi Alfred,
Nice post, thank you.
If I understand you correctly, you use the term interpretation in the sense of interpreting what the effect is and this interpretation determines your presentation.
My use of the term interpretation is similar to yours in that the choice of my patter and the way I deliver it constitutes in my opinion my interpretation of the effect.

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Re: Interpretation in magic

Postby Brad Henderson » July 19th, 2020, 11:41 am

Magicians tend to use the term presentation as synonymous with script. The trick is the same, just the words and a few choices that don’t effect the overall gist of the piece are changed. If the performer presents an effect using his or her own moves or sequences, that would generally be considered a variation or version of (say) the ambitious card.

In music there are transcriptions/orchestrations - which are adaptations of a song to different instrumentations. The difference between holst’s Jupiter for band and orchestra is only what instruments play the notes. The ‘song’ is the same otherwise.

There are arrangements which are versions of the song which do not follow the original writing. In these the composer not only picks what instruments play what parts but may provide transitionary passages, move bits into different orders, or even create socially new contexts for the ‘song’. In an arrangement there are usually changes made to the original piece.

An interpretation is how one would chose to play the notes on those pages provided by the transcriber or arranger.

Should the third movement of suite for band be played with the trumpets at the forefront or the winds? Should this passage build into the next, or should the following come in as a surprise? While the composer/transcriber/arranger may leave notes regarding their intended interpretations they are not mandated.

We do all these things in magic as well. But I think the problem is our use of presentation as it is generally used solely related to script BUT it is also true that one’s presentation of a piece encompasses all elements or performance.

So it’s use as both a specific and general term may complicate discussion.

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Re: Interpretation in magic

Postby MagicbyAlfred » July 19th, 2020, 12:53 pm

Yes, I agree that presentation includes, but encompasses far more, than just script. Presentation could include, for example, the set design framing the performance, the props utilized, the costume (style, colors, era, etc.) worn by the performer(s), lighting, sight gags, musical accompaniment and/or sound effects, magical gestures (e.g., waving of the hand, use of a wand, a hand placed at the temple as if in intent concentration), use of smoke, flash paper, or confetti, the points in the routine when the magician does certain actions, the employment of one or more spectators in the routine, and more...

Q. Kumber
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Re: Interpretation in magic

Postby Q. Kumber » August 1st, 2020, 9:26 am

Q. Kumber wrote:I've never used the term 'interpretation' but I take it to mean, "What am I bringing to this effect that allows me to express something of myself or is unique to me?"

Students of classical music can hear different recordings of the same piece and tell the conductor and/or the solo performer.

Right now I am working on a version of Travellers. I have all the moves but I am driving myself bananas trying to figure out how to present/interpret it.


I'm happy to say that I have found a presentation/interpretation that I believe satisfies me and the interpretations that others contributing to this thread have put on the word 'interpretation'.

Oddly enough the answer came in the middle of the night with a single image that made perfect sense for every phase. I won't say any more for the moment as with all the lockdowns here in Manchester, I haven't had the opportunity to try it out.

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Re: Interpretation in magic

Postby Joe Mckay » August 1st, 2020, 11:25 pm

David Regal's latest book (which is incredible) is called Interpreting Magic.

Michael Close - in his review of the book - touches on the key importance of interpreting magic in a way that makes you stand out.

Scattered throughout Interpreting Magic are essays devoted to topics such as the things I mentioned in the previous paragraph: Staging, Structure, and Conditions; Writing Magic; Magic in Motion; Method and Effect; The Power in Not Knowing; Examining Examination; The Human Element; Falling Down; and several others. All of this information is backed up by David’s years of experience as an improvisational comedian, a comedy writer for television, and a consultant/coach for many projects. The overarching priority, however, is given in the title: the need for magicians to be interpreters of the magic effects they perform.

In the Preface he writes:

This book has many pages, but its intent can be summed up in a sentence: The surest pathway to good magic is through interpretation.

It’s strange that there is a need to point this out, as it is something that goes without saying in the case of all the other arts. No singer purchases the sheet music to a song, and thinks, “I’m done.” The singer is not done. The singer is just beginning, and the sheet music is a tool that allows the singer to begin.

That is what a magic secret is. It’s wonderful, essential, and just the beginning.

Secrets are a necessary component of magic. They allow a performance of magic to occur, and as such are a means to an end, not the end. They give us a way in which to reach a desired aim, and the better secrets and methods provide pathways that allow our aim to be realized with elegance. The audience does not enjoy the secret, because the audience does not perceive the secret. All the audience can take in is the presentation of our intent. The decisions we make in the process of creating that intent become our interpretation.


How important is this idea of personalized interpretation? I’ll let you make up your own mind about that, but here’s a hint. Interpreting Magic includes interviews with more than thirty of the top performers and creators in magic today. I’ll give you a partial list. As you read through the names, make note of the fact that each and every one of these magicians has established an identifiable, unique performing style: Simon Aronson, Barry & Stuart, John Bannon, Gaetan Bloom, Eugene Burger, Darren Brown, Lance Burton, John Carney, Mike Caveney, Raymond Crowe, Charlie Frye, Guy Hollingworth, Helder Guimaraes, Kevin James, Mac King, Martin Lewis, John Lovick, Max Maven, Eric Mead, Jeff McBride, Andy Nyman, David Roth, Juan Tamariz, Teller, Johnny Thompson, Suzanne, Paul Vigil, Michael Weber, David Williamson, R. Paul Wilson, Rob Zabrecky. If you have been in magic for any length of time at all, merely reading the name conjures up images of that person’s performing style. This is the importance of interpretation.

For me - the key thing to remember is that it is not about starting with a trick and then finding a way to personalise the presentation of it. It is better to first take a step back and find tricks that fit well with the distinctive interpretation of magic that you are trying to share.

I have found it helpful to find the core of what it is that you love about magic that can also be shared in a meaningful way with your audience. There may be 20 different things you love about magic, but only one of those things is something that a layperson could also appreciate.

Once you have that vision in mind - you can then go about assembling tricks and working out ways to present them in a way that fits in with the vision you want to share with your audience.

Eventually your style becomes defined by the tricks you don't do. You will invent brilliant presentations for tricks that are already excellent. But, you then find they don't fit with the vision you are trying to shape.

Prince used to have this problem and would often give away songs that would go on to be hits for other performers.

The best way to measure your progress is to see the brilliant material that you decide to pass on since it is not in line with the vision you are polishing. That is how you know you are staying true to your vision. By passing up the temptation to do brilliant magic with equally brilliant presentations - that don't fit your vision - you will know you are staying true to the path you have set out for yourself.


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