There are many parallels between magic and other fields such as music or even cookery. For example you can think of a card trick as a recipe and a sleight as an ingredient in that recipe. If the trick is ‘Twisting the Aces’ then the integral ingredient is of course the E—— Count. There are almost as many ways of executing the EC as there are magicians attempting to do it. By that I mean that my own idiosyncratic handling will be different from yours; and this is without those aspects that are technically and quantifiably different.
One of the most desired card sleights among dabblers is the Diagonal P— Shift (DPS), despite the fact that it is one of the least used card sleights. If this sounds contradictory, it isn’t: popularity is unrelated to functionality. Of course it’s possible that people don’t use the DPS because it’s difficult, but there are many difficult moves that magicians use all the time. The main reason is that the concept behind it is not particularly useful.
I taught the ‘Geiger Counter’ card trick to a couple of nine-year-old magic students recently. The theme of the trick is that due to ‘human radiation’ left behind on a chosen card, the Joker – your makeshift Geiger counter – can locate their card. Both of the boys loved this trick and both knew intuitively that the theme was a flight of fancy (which, nonetheless had a ring of truth to it on some level: humans do emit a form of radiation; the best fictions contain a seed of truth).
The difference between something seen and something reasoned or thought about is obvious. I can show you, say, two apples and three bananas (five fruits in total) or alternatively ask you to think of ‘2a + 3b = 5f’. One is perception (or a mixture of perception and thought) and the other, purely thought. In magic, however, the differences between visual magic and cerebral – tricks seen and those created in the mind – are not immediately clear, mainly because most tricks are a mixture of the two.
We have looked at the multi-dimensional world of routining for the informal performer. In that world there are fewer formulae and fixed ways of looking at routining, because informally one is not doing long routines for captive audiences, but at most linking tricks individually or in pairs for people and groups who may not have asked for or expected a magic show. As mentioned there, we might produce the four Aces and then do a trick with them, but we won’t do a five-minute routine of Ace tricks if we know what’s good for us (and our spectators). To do so would be to end up ‘putting on a show’ and dominating a situation where, probably, all people wanted to see at most were a couple of card tricks as part of the broader social interaction. It’s equivalent to someone asking ‘How are you?’ and then using them for the next half hour as a surrogate therapist.
As soon as you learn more than one piece of magic, the question arises as to what order to do the tricks in. Of course with two tricks it isn’t hard; you just do whichever trick feels right, first. However, as you develop a repertoire over the months and years this approach to routining – doing tricks in whichever order feels right – remains the core approach. Other factors such as choreography and logistics become more significant the more one develops magically, and the professional must be acutely aware of peaks and troughs of impact; but the artistic and intuitive side of the equation remains strongly significant.
Imagine going into your local McDonald’s. A bow-tied maître d’ with a paper hat leads you to a white-clothed table where you sit down and are given menus written in Italian on parchment paper. You order (as best you can) burgers, which come served in Chinese rice bowls. You order some wine; you are told to go to a service counter to order it where it is served in a polystyrene cup with a straw. You finish your meal with strawberry ice cream served in a cheap plastic tub. During the meal they are playing loud Mexican music, and the staff are wearing 50s style American outfits while sporting curly fake moustaches and tattoos, and talking with upperclass British accents. To say the least one would find this experience disconcerting!
Rules are like inflatable armbands when a child is learning to swim: once you can swim the armbands become a hindrance. Once we start to become competent at magic we develop an intuitive sense of when to do certain things and when not to; continuing to think rigidly in terms of ‘rule #7 says such and such’ will hinder us. But when we are starting out our knowledge is less sophisticated and benefits from general guidance in the form of simple rules. The truth of many of these rules still resonates for years to come.
The difference between the casual card-trick doer watching YouTube and the amateur or professional magician, is that the latter always uses correct grips and positions with the cards and props, as well as purposeful choreography, patter, presentation and misdirection. The former simply muddles through using more or less homemade handling. In every field there are right and wrong ways, whether it’s golf swings, piano chord-changes or chess openings. The casual hobbyist is either unaware of their ignorance (understandable particularly when a youngster) or willfully ignorant through insufficient interest to do things properly. No harm is done if people just want to whack a ball, play Scott Joplin badly, or bluff their way through a chess game or card trick.
In the first two parts of this series (Part 1 and Part 2) we looked at patter and misdirection in terms of their psychological impact on spectators. Using patter is so much more than reciting words (when performing informally we don’t usually recite anything at all): we have to use the right words in the right way, both to connect with people and misdirect them effectively. The subtlety and complexity of this task comes to light when we acknowledge that everyone we perform for, and every situation, is different. The more one is aware of this difference, the harder it is to produce satisfactory results, but the better those results will be. This is why at top levels in any art form we have the pained and self-loathing artist, whereas at the bottom, anything goes and everyone is happy doing a slapdash job. Probably the best approach for the everyday magician is the middle path: concerned and interested, but not obsessive about getting it right.