Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Monograph About Why Magic Works

Since I was ten years old, I have been practicing magic and have entertained thousands of people...the reasons for this don't much matter so I won't go into them. But this past summer (July 23, 2008) an article was published that suggests that magicians know more about human psychology than scientists. The team responsible for this was from Durham University in England and the University of British Columbia and included Derren Brown and Dr. Gustav Kuhn. I have never heard of them so I don't know if they are reasonable magicians or not.

The study concluded that there are three fundamental elements that make magic work, and help to alter our perceptions: "misdirection, illusion and forcing."

While I have no particular differences with the study's conclusion, after decades of of work, practicing and such I think that their description is very simplistic. I have many more categories that I would add as follows:

1. Disarming the audience...they don't know what you are going to do so you can use myriad techniques to keep them off balance. The best way in my opinion is to always use common objects; coins, cards, rope etc. so that nothing fancy seems to be happening.

2. Misdirection as noted by the authors...but this is more about voice, body movement, original stance and such. Juan Tamariz the noted South American magician has reviewed all this in the excellent and rare book "The Five Points."

3. Timing. The aforementioned authors do not mention this one bit and it is a critical element. When I do a trick, I may need to skip a beat or two because:

4. Memory is also an element...people don't remember short-term things for very long, so if I hesitate for a second or two, they will immediately forget what they recently saw.

5. Angles. You can produce miracles by adjusting your body and line-of-sight just so...I did this yesterday and blew them away. If you don't believe me, look at the "wrist kill" for 10 seconds.

6. Suggestion. If you explain what you are going to do, then people set up in their minds what they expect to see. When you do the opposite, it confuses them to no end.

7. Technique. This is standard. You have to be able to successfully turn a double or vanish a coin...but this is the "illusion" referred to by the authors and frankly, it is the most trivial part of magic. So is forcing...very mundane indeed.

8. Patter. Every great trick needs a great story. This confirms the illusion, interests the audience and affirms everything that you are doing.

9. Expectation and repetition. As mentioned above, nobody knows in advance what you are going to do. Unsuccessful magicians get flustered when they blow a trick, better ones just change the trick so that it isn't blown. If you can do a trick well, then you can repeat it...see Ambitious Card for example.

10. Explanation. Nobody really wants to know how the magic is done...it will wreck their experience. But if you have "regulars" as the famous Jay Sankey points out, every now and again it makes sense to "give them one." In my case, I actually ask them to commit to forever performing the effect, and if the thing involves a gaffe, I go back home and make it for them.

11. Tension. Magic requires extreme tension between the performer and the audience...why wouldn't it...we as performers are doing the impossible and you as onlookers are expecting to expose us. Tension abatement at the proper time allows for the most enjoyable experience for both parties. Humor and self-effacement from the performer are major factors here.

12. Confidence. If you want to be good at magic, you must think you are good at it...it's the consummate sales pitch. Whenever I conclude an effect, I try to surprise myself...obviously this isn't altogether possible and is somewhat tautological, but if I am not astounded by the audience's reaction then I probably have not done the magic well enough. In other words, be your own worst critic.

Respectfully submitted to the magic community.

John A.

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