Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Magic III

Magicians tend to focus on deception as if it is the essence of their skills. It's an attitude often reinforced by audiences who have learned to expect very little from magic acts. If a magician manages to fool his audience, most accept that he has done his job - just as if a juggling act is great because the performer didn't drop any balls or a singer is wonderful because she didn't hit any clinkers. With the expectations set so low, most magicians are happy to descend to them.

Like many other kids I probably became interested in magic for misguided reasons, wanting to learn various tricks because they imparted secrets and hoping these secrets might award me a special status among my friends. In books of tricks the recipe is specific - here's the effect and here's the method - implying that executing and concealing the secret is always the ultimate goal of the exercise.

The magician David Devant wrote:

At the risk of offending many proficient conjurers, both amateurs and professionals, I make bold to state that magic does not consist in a few so-called secrets, which can be mastered by any intelligent person within a few hours. To say a man who can show a few tricks is a conjurer is about as absurd as to say that a man who can recite "The Merchant of Venice" by heart is an actor.

I regard a conjurer as a man who can hold the attention of his audience by telling them the most impossible fairy tails and by persuading them into believing that those stories are true by illustrating them with his hands or any object that may be suitable for the purpose.

If magicians have unfortunately come to view their art as deception, they must recognise that used car salesmen , advertising executive and politicians are also artists of deception. In fact, there's not very much art in a pure deception, the big lie or exaggeration. It's true that, at times, magicians might require something just this simple or bold. But usually the deception in a magic act is the negative element, the hole in the middle of a performance. The performance is a sort of inadvertent dance around this hole, with the hope that each spectator will be coaxed to slip through it.

The English landscape painter John Constable once insisted that his art "pleases by reminding, not deceiving." It's the same with magicians. The real art is in the subtle touches of reassurance that surround any deception and disguise it as a positive thing. With a gesture, a suggestion, a feint or a contrivance, the audience is convinced that they are watching a genuine wonder. Great magicians aspire to creating this temporary fantasy.

The end result becomes a little work of theatre, a play with a simple plot that exists on a fairy tale level. The fantasies of a magic show can often be appreciated in everyday life: causing someone to disappear, becoming someone else, acquiring the ability to escape or walk through a wall. The play might be seconds long or be elaborately written to include a full story.

Hiding The Elephant

How Magicians Invented the Impossible

Jim Stein Meyer

Arrow Books 2005

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

SUI Studios Recording 19/12/09-20/12/09

"Oh yeah, give it to a bone yard..."

"The minor left is all the difference made"

"I am a passenger"

"Enough to raise the roof"

A very big thank you to Dan at SUI Studios for making these sessions so extremely effortless for us

"As the smoke rises up"

(a minute after this photo was taken this ancient keyboard emitted some actual smoke!)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Magic II

Posting the excerpt from Hiding The Elephant (a book that communicated far more to me than a few magic trick spoilers, and manages to come off as part mystery thriller, part historical document, part love letter to a bygone golden era - all the while reminding one of that which is important in terms of performance and process) a couple of weeks ago, dislodged a memory that I had not accessed for some time:

I must have been eight or nine and a new kid arrived at our school. He was gangly and shy but with a very generous heart and great sense of humour and we seemed to hit it off straight away, as we shared some similar interests. The clincher was his hobby in magic!

I had recently acquired a book of magic tricks and was putting together a small repertoire. I had also received a magic set as a Christmas present from my parents. Unlike the simple homemade gimmicks I had built from the magic books I had read, the magic set came with great promise. All the tricks were housed in a cardboard box with glossy finish, showing top hat, silk scarves and interlinked metal rings and all the various other accoutrements that signified a 'real' magician at work. The interior was a different story altogether. Just like those pictures of hamburgers on fast food menus when compared to the actual edible artifact, the contents of the box of magic tricks were undersize, cheap looking and altogether disappointing. At least half the tricks in the box were ones that I knew already and the other half were cheap plastic gimmicks that could not stand up to the most surface of scrutiny. There was at most one decent gag in the whole bunch; three different lengths of rope that are transformed in three identically length pieces of cord. It required the most practice, relied on no custom gimmicks and was easily the jewel in a rather shabby crown. Still, some of these cheap plastic trinkets did somehow seem to provide me with at least a modicum of authenticity.

I just didn’t get it

My new found friend was to provide me with one better: a father who was a bona fide magician! I remember the first time I saw him. He had come to pick up his son from my house and was wearing shorts and a t-shirt and slops. He wasn't very mysterious, but then he was only a part time conjuror, you see. I think he was a chartered accountant during the day. My friend was having a birthday party soon at his house and the entertainment was to be his father's magic show. This is where he would surely transform into a more believable magical character?

Again, I was disappointed as he stood in front of about 30 other kids in a warm suburban Saturday afternoon again attired in the aforementioned t-shirt, shorts and slops while he ran through his sequence of tricks, sometimes including his wife in on the act for the more large scale illusions like the 'zigzag lady'. It was ok, nothing I hadn’t seen before elsewhere but I felt that he was holding back and that there was some arcane magic that we just weren't ready for.

I just didn’t get it

One afternoon at my friend’s house, while thoroughly bored we went outside and I asked what was in one of the spare rooms in their house. This was a spare room where his father kept all his old magic gear from years back and he (my friend) was not allowed inside and had never ventured in.

"You're kidding right?"

My powers of persuasion were obviously pretty good or my friend had just been waiting for an excuse and the right partner in crime to come along because we very quickly decided to make getting onto that room our little project for the afternoon. Whether we sourced a key, pried open a window or squeezed in through burglar bars, I cannot recall but we managed to get into the room without raising any alarm or breaking anything. I guess a lot of rooms that look pretty impregnable are quite easy to into (or out of) if you put your mind to it.

Inside was where our friendly neighborhood magician was hiding the goods. The room was literally bursting with the stuff of real magicians. Different colored silk scarves big enough to wrap a small child in tumbled out of half open chests, splayed walking sticks showing off their concealed bouquets of plastic flowers, top hats, different sized foam balls strange jugs emblazoned with rabbits and dragons and other signifiers of authenticity littered the entire room. Neither of us knew where to look first and just stood frozen trying to take it all in.

I eventually got on all fours to try getting a closer look at some of the prepared playing cards lying on the floor and noticed a file of old yellowed books on magic under the couch. I carefully lifted one up and began scanning its yellowed pages. Inside were tricks I’d never seen on any stage let alone in any book, now all forgotten, save for one explaining how to rip an entire phone book apart with your bare hands.

Eventually we had to leave and take care that nobody would learn of our intrusion. We each decided to take a small memento that would not be missed. The books and the silk scarves were tempting but were sadly off limits. In the end I opted for a small card containing transfers of a rabbit in a hat that could be put on various boxes water jugs and cones. Just something to communicate that you really meant it, that you were serious about this whole magic thing.

I never used them, just placed them in the box with the rest of my magic tricks hoping they would act as a talisman of some sort and just raise the overall class of the stash somewhat as they had belonged to a real magician.

I just didn’t get it

The following year my friend moved town, I watched David Copperfield on television flying across the Grand Canyon towards a singing Bonnie Tyler and promptly packed my box of tricks into storage for good.

I now perform feats of misdirection for my small dog using nothing but a ball

He seems genuinely astounded.

I think I finally got it.

Happy Hunting...

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

'I Will Rise Up' on Other Mother Podcast

Ramon Galvan's song 'I Will Rise Up' is available streaming on Other Mother Podcast Episode 4

Along with tracks from Us Kids Know, Sticky Antlers and others

Previous podcast have featured Givan Lotz, Ampersand and Kidoddoom.

Visit Other Mother Website here to find out more about them

Thursday, December 3, 2009


Magicians guard an empty safe.

In fact there are few secrets they possess that are beyond the capacity of a high-school science class, little technology more complex than a rubber band, a square of mirrored glass, or a length of thread: When an audience learns how its done, they quickly dismiss the art: "Is that all it is?"

The real art is how the rubber band is handled with the finesse of a jewel cutter, how the mirror is used or concealed precisely, how a masterful performer can hint at impossibilities that are consummated with only a piece of thread. Magicians understand the careful interactions of secret and performance and have learned to appreciate the art for these subtleties. But casual observers, eager to diagnose the gimmick, or solve the deception, focus on the uninteresting part and are quickly disappointed, the same way that one can always turn to the final pages of a mystery novel.

The success of a magician lies in the making of a human connection to the magic, the precise focus that creates a fully realised illusion in the minds of an audience. the simple explanation is that seldom do the crude gimmicks in a magic show - those mirrors, threads or rubber bands - deceive people. The audience is taken by the hand and led to deceive themselves.

Jean Robert-Houdin was famous for the opinion that a magician is actually just "an actor playing the part of a magician". It was an especially important decision in separating the loud mountebanks on the street corner making balls appear and disappear beneath three metal cups from Robert-Houdin's elegant Parisian deceptions. Today it servers to remind us that a magic show is a piece of theatre, and the Frenchman's analogy can be extended: A magic effect is a short play that simulates a supernatural occurrence. Like any real play there are characters and a developing plot. There is a progression, or an arc, to the action. There is a surprise and a resolution, which not only completes the audience's expectations, but builds upon them.

Just as no actor would attempt to walk on a stage, instantly begin crying, and expect to move an audience to tears, no real magician thinks that a performance consists of flapping an Inverness cape and - poof! - causing a lady to disappear. It only works that way in comic books. A great magic performance consists of a collection of tiny lies, in words and deeds, that are stacked and arranged ingeniously to form the battlement for an illusion. It's a delicate battle of wits - an audience that welcomes being deceived, then dares to be fooled, alternately questioning, prodding and surrendering. A great magician always seems to play catch-up to their thoughts but secretly must stay two steps ahead - not only solicitous and anticipating, but suggesting.

Hiding The Elephant

How Magicians Invented the Impossible

Jim Stein Meyer

Arrow Books 2005