What we study in private is only, say, 50% of the overall lesson or learning of magic, but it is of course the basis for the other 50% (what we learn in performance) and deserves close analysis. Probably the best way to learn magic is via a triangulation between books – which ideally means illustrated textbooks – videos, and a teacher/mentor.
We all know the advantages of visual media such as video; or we think we do. However, when we examine more closely, it turns out that all is not what it seems. This is due to the mechanics of magic and the way it should be taught. Many magic techniques have key actions or moments. These key moments are like bullet points and, mechanically speaking, are the fundamental actions around which the whole manoeuvre (sometimes literally) pivots. The Erd—- Change for example (in the way it is done nowadays) can be broken down into seven or eight key actions. The fluid movements between the key moments are important too, but without those key moments made clear, the in-between bits are irrelevant.
Greater wholes and what produces and binds them are hard to define. The synergy of, say, the media and the events being reported by them remains vague and peripheral as we keep them separated into their constituent parts. We never think we are looking through a camera lens or through the mind of a journalist, who the cameraperson or writer is and how they came to be there, what their affiliations or biases are; only what we view through their lens as if their camera or words are our own senses. Our own biases, of course, are just as hidden, and what we see is reality – that’s it.
Problems are often created out of thin air by failing to see the reality of a situation or concept. One imagines that a certain situation pertains or has changed due to some unfamiliar but actually unconnected factor, when in reality nothing has changed. The Double Un—–t is always the same, regardless of whether one is c—ing cards from top to bottom or from middle to top. The number of cards in the top section – one or 25 – is an immaterial factor. When those cards are moved to the bottom, the card below them comes to the top. One is automatically a byproduct of the other. The number of cuts is also irrelevant; you could have simply made a single, straight cut.
In the world of the magician, black is white and white is black. The unimportant becomes important and the important is made to seem unimportant. I put a coin in my left hand. I want you to look at my left hand so I focus attention there, as that is the important area: the place where the magic is about to happen. The area or actions that are methodologically important are made to seem completely unimportant to you, the spectator.
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.