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The Magic Memories (108)

Hello everyone!

Today’s topics are: report of The Session London 2023.

These are The Magic Memories 108, gone online Sunday, January 22nd, 2023, at 0:07h sharp.

All The Magic Memories from 2021, 2022, including the Magic Advent Calendar from 2020 can be found HERE.

I’m back from the Session in London, which took place from JAN 13 to 15 in London, and will try to give you an idea of the events, plus some comments and opinions, inevitably digressing here and there, as you have come to be accustomed from my writings, especially in these The Magic Memories, because I believe that any writing should not only be about information, but also about learning and understanding. As I have said several times, in various forms: A good book, lecture, or conversation is one were you leave knowing and understanding more than before…

the [sic] Session 2023

The short version: I greatly enjoyed it, as I do almost every convention, because even the worst has a few extraordinary moments, but this one was truly good, in many ways as you’ll read below, and I can certainly recommend it to anyone, especially to advanced levels, but even beginners will find something.

The fact that it is the first magic convention of the year, as far as I know, makes it an ideal start into a magical year, to meet old friends and make new ones, all the while discovering new talent (there is a lot!), to pick up new information, to see new interesting problems, and to look at old problems from a fresh angle. The more you know, the more you find out how little you know. Uplifting and humbling, briefly, a pleasant and necessary experience.

The long version: read ahead…

Disclaimer: All you read is just my opinion, no more, no less. To note: I have been artistic director in two magic conventions, a smaller one (150 attendants) and a bigger one (800 attendants), so know about conventions from the inside and the outside (most who write about conventions only see it as a visitor from the outside).

Location

The event took place at the Radisson RED Hotel in London Heathrow (LHR), making it logistically practical for international visitors who fly into Terminal 3 or 5. However, several visitors from England, to whom I talked, said it was not so practical for them. Personally, I don’t think the location is a first priority: If Blackpool manages to get several thousand people to one of the most inconvenient magic locations in the world (it’s a real hassle to get there, especially for international visitors, and there are a lot of them), then a smaller convention like the Session could be anywhere – much more important is the venue (more on this below).

In theory there is a free bus from the Heathrow terminals to the hotel, but in the several years I’ve been there before the Pandemic Years I never could find out where and how to get that. There is also a shuttle bus for £ 6 ( 1 £ is ca. 1,2 $, so, add 20 % for DOLLARS, and 15 % for EURO), but since at age 60 plus I decided to simplify things and make life comfortable, I took the taxi for £ 23.

Confusion occurs as there are TWO Radisson Hotels at Heathrow, one Red and one BLUE, and more than one booked and got to the wrong one.

I found out as I clicked the hotel link on the homepage of the Session, and it didn’t work (Mysteries of IT). So I went to the hotel homepage directly (I was lucky to get the right one), became a Radisson Rewards Member with a few clicks (free), and paid less than if using the “convention discount”. It seems to be quite common that conventions instead of offering a better price get a cut from the hotel, making it ultimately more expensive. I paid £ 85 incl. breakfast and all taxes, while several told me they had paid £ 115 and more for the same, that’s a difference of £ 30. I can’t say how this happens exactly, maybe it is due to the fact that hotel prices behave like the stock market, and it is nobody’s fault but the system’s, however, I take notice.

In my opinion, it is legitimate, especially for smaller conventions like this one, that have 300 plus attendants and which charge little, to take a small percentage from hotel, bar etc., however, it should be less, and it should be transparent. This said, consider also this: The convention fee was £ 175. Compared to any other professional convention (surgeons, IT, etc.) , which costs up to TEN times more, getting a cut from the accommodation, the bar etc. is OK. It is another matter with really big conventions (FISM, Magic Live, etc.), and I wonder if anyone has ever investigated that.

BTW: As I’m writing this the WEF (World Economic Forum) is taking place in Switzerland: There are 250 participants, and the ticket is € 7’800. So, let’s stop complaining 🙂

Venue

In my opinion the very first thing to consider when organizing a convention is the venue.

In this respect the Session has almost everything right:

  1. All activities are under one roof, including bar (social area) and hotel, making it easy to go from one place to the other, and quickly go back to your room, if necessary (and this is necessary for most). This said, there are some conventions, like Magialdia in Spain, that have the hotel, convention center, theatre and other activities spread over the city. And still, it works very well, provided the locations are within walking distance. Such a layout has the advantage that you get out, see parts of the city, eat in a variety of restaurants, etc. So, both formula work.
  2. The advantage of the Session’s location in a “remote” place like an airport hotel where you can go nowhere else, is that before and after the official events everyone stays in the same place (bar, restaurant, lobby), rather than taking off in different directions as this would be the case, e.g., in Las Vegas, to see some attraction. Everyone staying in the same place allows for much better social interaction and results in a great atmosphere.
  3. The hotel offers a large bar area than can take the attendants, with service open until very late (ca. 2 am!), and this is one of the most important things that any convention should have, but only few do. The Session has it. And the bar has a wide selection of drinks (however, coming from Switzerland, I’m surprised that people say Switzerland is expensive, because this bar had the same prices, and even higher, than we have in Switzerland…).
  4. The schedule is such that there are no events going on at the same time, and everything takes place in one room. I like this “symposium” setting known from academia. And I particularly like those 60-minutes sessions, which I would extend to 90-minutes sessions, where several presenters talk for 10 or 20 minutes about a specific subject (more on that below under “Program and Presenters”). Fact is, that even big conventions could adopt this idea more often.
  5. The biggest problem of the Session is the room where the activities take place. Although they put a tremendous effort into the production value, have great equipment, and competent people (headed by the formidable and tireless George Luck, who should have a street named after him in Magic City 🙂 it is impossible to see what happens on a table on stage, regardless of whether you sit in the first or last row. This is a fact, not an opinion. And the day they acknowledge this, they will have a better event.
    Yes, they have THREE cameras, and two monitors, beautifully imbedded in the backdrop of the stage, all exquisitely designed in sync with their CD, but it does not resolve the basic problem all close-up presenters have. And yes, they even have a director who decides which camera is active on the monitors, but unfortunately this is limited for mainly two reasons.
    Problem One: The performers, most of whom are not acquainted with this setting, and simply don’t know the communication grammar of the cameras, keep going out of frame, which leads to Problem Two: The switch of the half-total camera to the close-up camera, or the overhead camera, in many instances occurs too late (understandably they do not have time to rehearse).
    AND: Their front half-total camera is not steep enough, being at an angle of about 25-30 degrees, instead of at least 45 degrees, does not show the table top while at the same time showing the performer’s bust.
    Solution: If they can change the angle of this front camera, it might be possible to at least improve the situation. The acts of Markobi and Jeki Yoo in the SUN gala suffered most from this problem: Even sitting in the second row and in the center – best seats, you may say – I was not able to follow some of the effects, as some of the important visual information couldn’t be captured by the camera.
    However, I’m afraid that even IF they manage to improve this, you are still forced to watch the monitors most of the time in a close-up lecture (I attentively observed my neighbors who sat, as I did, in the front row, and most of the times they simply watched the monitors instead of looking at the performer). This is not what you want, is it? The best solution is to find a new venue that has tired seating, like some big universities have. Maybe you have to limit the attendance and double the price for it, but this venue has to be changed.

The Program and the Presenters

I’ll give you my impressions on the performers and their presentations in chronological order. You can find out more about each person HERE (this link may expire at some point).

The first lecture on FRI started at noon, giving most attendant from the UK time to travel to the location on that day, and those of us who had come in the day before and session at the bar the night before until the wee hours of the morning got enough time to sleep in 🙂 Smart timing, based on years of experience doing conventions.

Matt Baker

The first was Matt Baker, who is a professor of math, and it was his first appearance at a magic convention out of his native USA. So, understandably, he was quite nervous, but managed very well, and his demonstrations and explanations about essentially mathematically-based card tricks were well received.

The biggest problem with these tricks (not all were self-working, as you might think) is that they are quite procedural.

Generally speaking, Baker had the merit that he had framed every trick with a good presentational plot, I liked several of his prologues a lot. In one instance the presentation around the trick I experienced as much more captivating as the trick itself (one using M&M’s).

The first trick was interesting in two ways. First, it exemplified how problematic a lot of dealing can be. This is a problem that needs to be addressed. I have written extensively about this and offered solutions (e.g., see my Card College Light trilogy). One is to do the dealing yourself rather than letting the spectator do it.

In this case Baker had a spectator who was an experience card handler, but in a real-world-situation this will be different. In most cases it doesn’t make a difference whether you or the spectator deals, provided, that you do so with utmost clarity, all the while keep up the pacing and the attention.

When for instance dealing five hands of Draw Poker, twenty-five cards, half the deck (!), you can start by asking a question, amusing or else doesn’t matter, e.g., “Who, by a show of hands plays Poker often, not so often, or never.” As you look into the audience deal the first round. When the first spectator laughs (not all will get the joke), deal the second round, then, “Let’s do five players.” Deal the third round as you say that. “Each player gets five cards.” Deal the fourth round as you say that. “And watch very closely that I’m doing this right.” Deal the fifth and last round. Done. Find your own wording, of course…

Absolutely painless and “entertaining”. See also my entry in Secret Agenda of April 28 “Dealing Procedure in Gambling Demonstrations” (p. 129) – a gold nugget, if I may say so 🙂 Baker will improve his trick if he finds a solution to his dealing procedures.

Second, it taught how not to start a lecture. Although the trick was sufficiently good, and Baker himself a very likable person, it is not a good idea to start any type of presentation, regardless of whether it is a show, lecture, talk or whatever, with something where nothing happens except procedure. You need to start with something that transmits an emotional experience and maybe a first insight, and only then can you go on and be procedural. A big topic I cannot go into further, but which I address at every private coaching I do, as it is essential.

Among the more mathematically oriented effects, all of which had something interesting to learn, was a very lay-oriented effect (my name for “commercial trick”, a term I dislike), namely a prediction, that started with an amusing prologue and ended with a smash finale: The seemingly impossible prediction of an absolutely freely named card was correct, and at the end the rest of the cards were all the same, all QH. I’m not so sure abut the magical coherence of this trick, but it certainly plays well in real life, and Baker must have sold out on this tick, the name of which escapes me (a commercial item using Phoenix cards).

The last trick he did was not only possibly the best trick, but also very amusing, not only for me. I explain:

Knowing that I would attend the Session, Baker had contacted me a few days before, explained that he would do as his last trick one he dubbed “Card College”, and asked if I would be willing to be the assistant. I had no idea what would happen, but we decided to play it straight and it was great fun.

Baker brought me up, pretending not to know who I am, all the while going on to explain that the following trick was called “Card College”, in three phases, in each you get a degree (Batchelor, Master) until a Ph. D. The audience was highly amused, some not sure if this was straight or set up, and several came up later and said that this was their favorite moment of the morning 🙂

All in all I found Baker’s lecture to be an excellent start into an even better convention.

Baker & Giobbi (photo Sean East Photography)

After the lecture there was hardly time for lunch, but since I had a copious breakfast, I did the “Convention Diet”, which for me means “Lunch Cancelling” – this is not a problem for me, as I have reserves… An apple (free from the hotel) and a Cappuccino (English Style…) were enough. As the saying goes: Tea against thirst, coffee and milk against hunger, I agree. However, I then caught up with dinner (see below).

Friday Session

The next hour was session-style, similar to the TED talks, where several presenters talk about a subject related to magic.

Personally, I like these talks a lot, especially those with interdisciplinary subjects. Such was the talk by Steven Bridges, who later came up to me and said how much my Card College books had meant to him when he started out.

Bridges talked about card counting and his experience with it. Briefly: I found this educational and interesting. He’s quite of a YouTube star, with more than 400’000 followers, and you can spend the rest of the week watching his video posts HERE.

Alice Pailhes and Gustav Kuhn, who had been at previous Sessions, were next. They are both highly qualified psychologists specializing in the psychology of magic. They conduct real-world scientific experiments on various matters magical, with focus on the psychology of forcing. They do quite a bit of field work, and publish their results.

VI has a book about their work that should be out shortly. I’d love to dedicate more time to discussing what they did, alas, space and time don’t allow me to. They gave some interesting information about the Equivoque Force, based on a practical experiment they had done with a group of laypeople. The result was that to laypeople it does not as much matter whether an Equivoque procedure is coherent or not, not as much as it matters to us magicians. Certainly food for thought and discusssion – we did some of it at the bar… and after the third Glenfiddich 15 years old we seemed to agree that the matter is complex 🙂

I remember a talk Kuhn, who is a Professor and expert of cognitive psychology at Goldsmith’s, London, gave before the Pandemic at the Session about degrees of freedom in the selection of the cards from the point of view of a layperson.

In an experiment he asked laypeople what selection procedure they thought gave them the highest degree of freedom. The result was quite opposite to what most of us magicians would have thought, including myself, namely that thinking of a card is the most free way to select a card. Surprisingly, or not so surprisingly if you think about it, was that the majority of the laypeople surveyed said choosing a card from a face down ribbon spread on the table gave them the highest degree of freedom.

So, these two people are worth listening to.

Peter Turner

Turner, who has more tattoos than skin surface available, a feat in itself, started out with some mental experiments. I freely admit that mentalism is not my cup of tea, as the British say (the German say “das ist nicht mein Bier – this is not my beer”, which tells you everything about cultural differences…), but I’m always curious to learn.

However, I had to give up on my principles, and left after twenty minutes. His presentation reminded me of what Helge Thun said at a recent Austrian Convention about mentalism, “A lot of bla-bla-bla, and at the end it’s correct.” Well, Turner certainly complied with the first part, a lot of bla-bla-bla, but at the end it was not even correct. Several I asked later told me the lecture had not improved after the first twenty minutes, so I’m not the only one…

Most unfortunately I missed the Markobi lecture that followed from 7 to 8 pm, and only came back to see the Nick Difatte’s show at 9 pm, as I need to have a proper meal once a day, and it was dinner.

Unfortunately young convention organizers, as well as most in the New World, do not seem to agree with me that the absolutely best way to socialize is to do so over a good table. There is no other category of social interaction (not even loving sex) that gives so much opportunity to have an intelligent, entertaining, fascinating conversation as when you dine and wine. This is, of course, highly subjective and I accept all contrary opinions 🙂

Since the hotel bar and restaurant food was not at the same level as the magical quality of the convention (how is that for a euphemism), on all meals we simply took a cab and went to where Mr. Michelin and his guide would take us (actually there is nothing in the Michelin even remotely close, so I relied on my friend Joe Gallant, as I always do at conventions). For those who plan to attend a future Session, and who have similar tastes as mine, put “Belle Epoque” in the Hotel Sofitel in your agenda, as it is possibly the best choice within a 15-minute cab ride. If you were at the Session and have found a very good restaurant, please write to me and let me know… for next year. My prediction is that nobody will write in…

Nick Difatte

Difatte is a funny man, knows what he’s doing, and was very successful with his one-hour one-man show. I’m glad I came back to see it, and it was a lovely closure to the first day.

Difatte comes across as very likable, and since I was sitting near to the stage, my experience was “live”. Fortunately, almost all of his effects took place on a vertical plane, and he was obviously experienced to play to a larger audience, so he did not depend on the cameras and monitors, a true professional.

I had seen him for the first time, but remember he did at least three good effects.

Now, Difatte, is definitely of the school of thought that believes making the audience laugh is the most important thing, and that the term “entertainment” is defined by comedy.

I certainly don’t want to argue with a successful and likable performer as he is, however, my personal opinion is that he could be even more impressive, at least to me and people who think like me, if he had more respect for the magical effect.

He could do that without losing any of his comedic talent, of which he has an over-abundance. What I mean is what Vernon and Tamariz have independently recognized, namely that at the moment an effect occurs, the comedy should be reduced to a minimum.

Difatte in all three instances mentioned, managed to cover up the moment of astonishment with some very funny comment or situational comedy bit, thus putting ketchup on a perfect dry-aged-steak (I apologize to vegetarians and vegans for this analogy).

To stay with the analogy: You can use ketchup with your fries, if you really crave them, but for Vernon’s sake do not put it on the steak, which only improves with some butter and fleur de sel.

I was reminded when as a child my father took me to a circus where musical clowns performed. They were doing very funny clowning routines, but at some point my father whispered to me, “You’ll see in a minute that they are also excellent musicians.” And when they indeed started playing the violin, or whatever the instruments were, I was very impressed, as I thought to myself, “Wow, they are not only very funny, they are also excellent musicians.”

I believe that if Difatte would stage the moment of the climax differently, the audience would leave by saying, “This was not only a very likable and funny man, he’s also a great magician.” If Difatte reads this, he might hate me, as every author hates a non-positive comment, but if he applies my advice intelligently, in a few years, when we meet again, he will buy me a whole bottle of Glenfiddich (15 years old) 🙂

Saturday Session

Saturday started with another session featuring various talents.

Alex Romanoff, who is probably much better at academic talks as he’s at performing, did a very well prepared talk discussing the question of whether magic is an art form.

His delivery was impeccable, and his Power Point slides well-chosen. Only rarely did he fall into the trap of reading out a text written on a slide, a most unfortunate mistake most speakers make.

Almost all his slides were a metaphorical illustration of what he argued verbally, some of them illustrating actual facts, and he had the audience in the palm of his hand. He could do with a little more humbleness, which would make him more likeable, but there is no doubt that his talk was word-perfect.

As I’ve insinuated above, every convention should have at least one historical and one theoretical talk of this quality. Well done!

Ondřej Pšenička, the creator of the Butterfly Deck, and an all-around brilliant chap, gave a presentation on a very little used principle in card magic, clocking the deck, possibly best known by those who know through Harry Lorayne’s publication The Epitome Location. The subject is so specialized that I didn’t even treat it in five volumes of Card College!

Although not everything worked out as expected, the talk was highly informative, and delivered with such panache and enthusiasm that I’m sure it sent back many to investigate the principle further. I myself made a note to look into this again, as I remember having invested quite a bit of time into it decades ago, but finding that it doesn’t suit my intellectual potential so much (in other words: I’m to dumb for this principle… you need to be a quick thinker and instant calculator, and I’m neither).

After a two-hour break, which would have been an opportunity to have a proper lunch, if one had been available (most thought this was the case, so I’m in a minority), I attended the next lecture. I had another apple, and no Cappuccino…

Mortenn Christiansen

This young man from Denmark, to me, was the discovery of the convention. He oozes with talent, as an original performer, as a technician, as an originator.

An excellent lecture. You can’t get any better, different, yes, better, no.

Also, he had the good sense of picking material that could be seen without the cameras and monitors, or the organizers had the foresight to pick someone who fitted the infrastructural requirements…

Generally speaking, I believe that it is always the organizer’s responsibility to pick the right act, for the specific target audience and the conditions offered by the venue.

I’m saying this as a past artistic director, where I hand-picked every act first and above all considering the question: Where will they perform, what will they do, will it be seen, heard and understood.

For this you MUST know the performers’ act/lecture as well as the precise conditions of the venue. And then I did not hesitate to ask for certain pieces to be removed from the act, and others put in for being a better fit. Yes, this is extra work and requires an extra degree of competence, but it has to be done in order to avoid pitfalls (see below my comments on Markobi and Jeki Yoo at the Sunday gala).

Back to Christiansen: He was a hit with the audience, who all seemed to agree to have seen an extraordinary talent, and best of all, someone most had never seen before. This is one of the talents of Andi and Josh, who scout a lot to get interesting and unknown people to the Session. More power to them!

Luke Jermay

Here is what even the term “consummate professional” (my highest praise for a performer) doesn’t accurately describe: Jermay is a unique blend of everything you need in magic, and a bit more.

Untypical for him, he did not talk about his core competence, mentalism, but about a coin trick and a big conceptual subject.

The first part of his lecture turned around how to study a trick, from the moment you pick it, to how you practice it, to the moment you bring it in front of an audience. He did this with an original and well-performed Coin Assembly routine that had various surprising phases. This is how a theory presentation should be: Do something practical that fascinates the audience, afterwards talk about the “hidden” aspects of it.

For those who wanted to learn more about the technicalities of the trick, Jermay offered a free workshop later at night.

Briefly: Jermay – a brilliant and generous artist.

PS: If you are interested in the subject of how to study magic, go back to my essay “The Study of Card Conjuring” in “Chapter 27: Theory” in Card College Volume 2, and also see my essay in “Chapter 54: The Structure of Magic” in Card College Volume 4.

I missed the Mark James lecture, as I had to take in my daily meal, and that’s dinner… with interesting friends and conversations.

Richard Turner

The evening was closed by Richard Turner with an almost 90-minute performance. I particularly appreciated that this was a “show” Turner does for laypeople a lot in his own country and abroad.

I had met him before on two occasions, the last time at a convention in Las Vegas, where we had dinner with Paul Wilson and Bill Kalush, quite a memory, and where he did several things for me, and I did a few things for him, which at that time he could see and liked – he even used my deck to put in the special “work” he uses on certain cards…

Turner deserves a long write-up I can’t do here. Just a few things:

He sits at the table with a spectator at either side, and holds the entire audience for 90 minutes with sheer charisma and competence.

If you haven’t seen it, get his doc-video Dealt, and learn more about him.

Fortunately the overhead camera they had worked very well with Turner, because his effects – or should I say demonstrations – were all happening horizontally, and for the rest you could look at him directly.

The following day Andi and Josh tried to interview Turner during an hour, but had a similar experience as I had when I interviewed Paul Potassy for a convention I had organized in Switzerland: You ask ONE question, and the rest is automatic 🙂

All was interesting, not much practical things to learn, but inspirational and simply entertaining in the broad and good sense of this term.

Briefly: Although I had seen Turner several times and knew him personally, this was another absolute highlight of the convention, for beginners and experts, and well-chosen.

Lots more to say, no time to do so…

Sunday Final Gala Show

This is the closing event before about half of the conventioneers head home and the other half talks into the night at the bar (see below).

Mark James, another very experience professional, emceed the show and kept it moving – an always difficult job, and well done.

The first up was math-professor-mental-prodigious-calculator Arthur Benjamin, and he was a joy to watch and listen to (I missed his early-morning lecture, as I had just gone to bed, but heard it was excellent and various said they wished he had been their math teacher).

I simply love those unpretentious people on stage, no laser, no smoke, no show-business braggadoccio, just the man, his instruments and his words.

He had the audience in the palm of his hand from the first moment, and fascinated everyone with just “mental” pieces. He’s the epitome of what Tamariz called “prodigious magic”, as opposed to “miraculous magic”. “Prodigious magic” builds on effects that although not impossible and miraculous, are absolutely improbable,  and gain their effect through the degree of difficulty necessary to achieve them.

Next up was Mortenn Christiansen, whose performance was even more brilliant than his lecture: Astonishing, very good and original, period.

Had the show stopped here it would have been already worth attending.

The last two performers, Jeki Yoo and Markobi, both had excellent acts, but where the wrong choice for this venue.

Although the first part of Yoo’s performance played very well, as it was part of his stand-up act, the second part, with his FISM card routine, simply did not work, at least not for me, as he kept going out of frame, and the cameras had difficulties following his whimsy movements.

Furthermore, the effect category on which almost the entire act was based, was travel-transpositions, the most difficult effect category of them all: You have to follow two locations and two identities, that’s four pieces of information, and with Yoo it was even worse, as he used three signed cards.

Fortunately, I had seen this act years before in Switzerland and remember having ben very impressed. But this time I could not repeat the experience.

The same was true for Markobi, FISM 1st prize in Card Magic, whose act can be seen on YouTube under better conditions, as several effects happened out of frame, and the final effect simply did not register as it should have done.

I had identified the problem in previous Sessions already: Close-up acts simply don’t work under these conditions. They can be OK in the context of a lecture, but not in a gala situation.

You either have to change the venue, or simply book only acts that play on stage. But I know what it is: the Session started out essentially as a close-up convention, and they want to keep this spirit, which of course is laudable. But, they have become so big, that most of the time the concept no longer works. It’s hard to admit this, I know, but that’s what they need to do.

Bar Magic

I’ve always believed that the most important and pleasant events at a convention are those that are unscheduled: The meals and the time spent at and around the bar area.

Some of those conventions which have received the worst reviews, to me have been the best, because I have met and sessioned with some of the most interesting people in magic.

This edition of the Session was not different. Interestingly, the Session attracts a very special type of “magic audience”. I find it to have a high degree of active, above-average talented people. Some that are very well know, besides the artists booked, of course, people such as Pit Hartling, Tom Stone, Ian Rowland, Denis Behr, Laura London, Marco Fida, Michael Weber (not here this time), Jörg Alexander, and then lots of professional performers, lesser known in magic circles, but very successful in their won right, like my friend Stephan Kirschbaum, who successfully runs a small theatre in Nuremberg.

I met several who did some very unusual and interesting things, such as Tibor Varga, who floored almost everyone with a very little known principle – and even when you know, only few could do it. He wrote a booklet on it, Meditations on Ripping, which he kindly gave me, and which you should be able to acquire from him.

Obviously, I greatly enjoy young and old people coming up to me, complete strangers, and say how much my Card College books, and some others, have helped and inspired them in their magic. Some of the things these people said to me were quite touching and genuinely moved me. Occasionally, I jokingly added that they can find me at the bar 🙂 Seriously, you can always show your appreciation by sending wines, liquor, cigars, salmon, anything considered unhealthy, just don’t send flowers 🙂

During the four days several young people (and some older ones, too) came up to me and asked me if something they had come up with had already been invented, and then proceeded to show some kind of move, occasionally very well done. It certainly flatters me that they should think I know everything. Most of the time I sent them to Denis Behr and was amused to see how he got out of the affair 🙂

For real, what I say most of the time is to explain that the highest grade of creativity is to come up with a new plot (e.g., “All Backs” was a new plot) or operational concept (e.g., “the Gilbreath Principle” was a new concept), but most of the time, 99,5% of the time, what we come up with, including myself, are personal handlings of something that already exists.

This is of course very important to the person who finds it, as it gives one an incomparable feeling of satisfaction, and increases our self-confidence, and pleases us, all things that add to our quality of life. But we should not kid ourselves into thinking that we have made a major contribution to civilization.

This is not easy to explain to an enthusiastic youth. I always try to be as encouraging and complimentary as possible, without exaggerating.

The most difficult to handle for me are those who go on to perform a trick for me, and they don’t do it well, or they do it well, but have no presentation at all.

And, after they ask for my opinion, I try to ask what they think the effect is, and what the emotional hook is. Almost invariably they don’t even listen and start talking about the method and how clever they think it is.

Not only do they not have a notion of how to stage and present an effect, which is not such a problem, since you can learn this, no, what really hurts me is that they couldn’t care less, they simply are not interested in looking at the piece as a magical performance piece, they look at it as a curiosity they can do well and with which they can fool someone. They get so intrigued by the method and their digital skill that they completely overlook the essence, the magic effect. (This is one of the reasons I am so unhappy with the title “Fool Us”: Although a beautiful platform for many talented but mostly unknown performers, it focuses on a completely wrong aspect of magic as the performing art of wonder.)

I have discussed this subject at some length in my essay “Common Mistakes Amateurs Make”, and you can find it HERE.

What I find to be missing at the Session are decisions makers: Curiously, there are no, or only very few, presidents of clubs, organizers of conventions etc., those that book talent. On the opposite of the spectrum you have conventions like FISM, which have A LOT of them, fortunately also a lot of artistic talent. However, the decision makers are those who book you for conventions, lectures etc.

Since I consider myself semi-retired as of now, I don’t care, but I took notice…

And, finally, let me say that all those talks were just marvelous – thank you to all who approached me, said hello, chatted, bought me drinks and helped make this a memorable little important convention.

Forgive me for all those I did not name, you were all wonderful!

Laura London and me discussing Erdnase… over a good Bourbon

Suggestions

Here are a few ideas to think about:

  1. During the talks the room is mostly dark, but many want to take notes, and it is difficult to do so. Leave some 20% light in the audience so you can see what you write. During talks and lectures this will not take away anything from the atmosphere, on the contrary, it helps the presenters see the audience, which in my many years of experience is a great advantage for both performer and audience. In my talks I always insist to leave some light in the room, and I learned this from Juan Tamariz, who does this even with shows (!).
  2. It is a good idea to have music playing as the audience enters the room before an event to built atmosphere – I remember how Ali Bongo once gave me a short lecture on this topic (he was another genius).
    However, the music must not be too loud. On the Sunday evening gala the music was so loud before the start that you had to shout even at your direct neighbor, I eventually had to give up an interesting conversation.
    Unfortunately it seems to be a credo among those who make music (DJs, bands etc.): The louder, the better. Yes, maybe in some places, but certainly not at a magic convention, especially on the last evening, where most know most others, and you want to chat with your neighbors.
    FORTUNATELY, in the bar area there was no music (the background chatter was loud enough), so you could talk, as this is all you want to do when you socialize. Whether this was by intent or not, I don’t know, but it is my recommendation that at magic conventions you keep the background music down, or, as in the bar, leave it out completely.
  3. Badge: This is a pet peeve of mine, and I have told this to several convention organizers, but most just don’t care.
    Question: What is the most important thing on the badge? The logo? NO, certainly not, as you don’t need to sell anything to the wearers of the badge, they’ve already bought their ticket, and they know exactly where they are. And believe me, nobody, absolutely nobody who is not at the convention looks at that badge, or cares about that badge, or will become a client and buy something.
    The single most important thing on a badge is THE REGISTRANT’S NAME. Not so much for him- or herself, but for the others!
    We all know the situation: You see someone you know coming towards you to greet, or you want to go up to that person, but since you haven’t seen that person for at least a year, you don’t remember the name. Here is were the name, ESPECIALLY THE FIRST NAME, comes into play. You must be able to read it from at least three meters distance (that’s ca. 3 yards or 10 feet). HOWEVER, almost all badges, including the one at the Session, has the name on ONLY ONE SIDE. Therefore, on 50% of the time, you don’t see the name.
    SIMPLE SOLUTION: Put the name on BOTH SIDES, big and nice, make the logo small, and if you want to print the schedule, use both sides. Alternatively, if you want the name only on one side for reasons of design, CI and CD (no attendant of a magic convention cares about CD and CI, except the organizers…) invent a way to attach the badge so that it doesn’t turn (possibly the inventor could become a wealthy person, as EVERY convention in the world has this same problem, only most don’t even recognize it – same as in magic, where many don’t even recognize the most basic problems…).
  4. I learned something important from Juan Tamariz: Do not take questions during a lecture, just DON’T.
    Do so in a talk, or workshop, or masterclass, or other format, but not in a lecture, especially not in a lecture at magic conventions, where they give you only 60 minutes or less.
    The point was proven in several instances, where the presenter asked, “Any questions?” And most questions were just dumb, wasting everyone’s time. My solution, but only if there are some extra 15 minutes at the end, is to say at the very beginning to please take notes and write down questions, that I will be happy to answer at the end, but not during the lecture in order not to break its flow. This has proven very efficient, also because those who have very basic questions rethink them and at the end recognize that it is not an apropos question to ask. One of the problems, of course is, that if we were at a surgeons’ convention, everyone would be a professional surgeon, but at a magic convention 95% are not professional magicians, but teachers, gardeners, doctors, accountants etc. who do magic as a hobby: a few are “inspired amateurs”, some are very proficient, most have good basic knowledge and skills, but more than one doesn’t even know the basics of the instruments they are playing with. Of course they are welcome to magic conventions, as it adds to the richness of diversity, but they should just listen, especially at a lecture.
    Two pieces of advice for taking questions: One, have someone with a microphone ready to hand it to the asker, as it is primordial that EVERYONE hears the question, or else the next five minutes the presenter may take to answer the question are absolutely meaningless. Unfortunately this happened almost each time “questions” were asked. The only laudable exception was when Andi and Josh interviewe Richard Turner, where they had a technician ready with a mike running around and hand it to the asker. Two: If you don’t have access to a microphone, or if the seating situation makes it awkward to get the mike to the asker, REPEAT the question yourself. This is so simple: Just repeat the question, and then go on to answer it.

That’s it, it is almost midnight and I have to close this, I apologize for any typos etc. but hope you’ve enjoyed my ramblings.

Wish you all a very successful week!

Roberto Giobbi

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The Magic Memories (107)

Hello everyone!

Today’s topics are: How to read Erdnase, or any good book.

These are The Magic Memories 107, gone online Sunday, January 15th, 2023, at 0:07h sharp.

All The Magic Memories from 2021, 2022, including the Magic Advent Calendar from 2020 can be found HERE.

As you’re reading this (if you do so on JAN 15th), I’m still at the Session, which is why this edition of The Magic Memories (107) was supposed to pause.

However, I just had a brief email exchange with Andi Gladwin, who is working on a larger Marlo project, and who asked me about an essay I had written as part of my Genii column “The Genii Session” about Marlo.

Curiously, I never wrote extensively about Marlo, although he’s mentioned all over the place in my works, for obvious reasons.

What Andi meant was an article I had written on Erdnase, the book, and how to read it. He sent me back to it, I reread it, and thought that some of you might want to (re)read it, as it has some general thoughts you might find interesting. And also because Erdnase was the topic of a few of my past The Magic Memories, where I expressed some critical thoughts. The article below is from 2011, 12 years ago (!), and offers yet a different angle.

It’s a bit long, though…

How to Read Erdnase (or Any Good Magic Book)

The Genii Session (2011-11)

By Roberto Giobbi

Prologue

Today’s column is directed particularly at those new to magic and is an attempt at explaining how a magical text can be read so that you will not only extract the relevant information from it, but also gain insights of a higher order so that after having studied the text you will be wiser than before. This is a claim that only the best books can assert, in general and in magic. Please trust me: The Expert at the Card Table is one such book.

An Invitation to Read

There is no doubt that The Expert at the Card Table (“Erdnase”) contains plenty of information on card technique and card tricks, as well as on the theory of their execution and performance.

However, Erdnase has more to offer than mere information. For it is one thing to be informed, but quite another thing to understand and be enlightened by knowing what the author means and why he says it. Having more information after you read than before is, at best, a quantitative change, but to understand what the author means, why he wrote what he wrote, and to relate it to your reality raises your skill level. There is an important difference that has always been there when reading a book, but which gains an extra dimension in an age were we are inundated by facts to the detriment of understanding. Today’s media are designed to give us the illusion of understanding, which is a cleverly packaged set of instructions based on flashy visuals aiming at pleasing us at the moment we are consuming it. The fact that it is enjoyed when read and/or viewed is often mistaken for comprehension, whereas in reality it is mere entertainment disguised as education and gives the impression that thinking is unnecessary.

Insight, Not Just Information

To educate the reader takes more than offering novelty and amusing prose. First, the author should be smarter and more skillful than his readers, at least in the field he writes about—it is hard (but not impossible) to learn from a lesser figure. This requires self-confidence and humility on the part of both the author and reader. We all know of books by great authorities who come across as arrogant and thus impede the flow of communication. Although Erdnase is certainly not characterized by an overabundance of humility and modesty, what he writes and how he writes immediately captures the attention of any intelligent reader who will accept a little eccentricity from the author. If Dai Vernon, one of the greatest sleight-of-hand experts, bowed deeply before Erdnase, it should be easy for lesser mortals such as you and me to emulate him.

Second, if the reader studies the book for the sake of increased understanding, rather than just for information or entertainment, the insight will follow almost automatically. In contrast to modern books Erdnase is very tightly written and requires attentive reading—this, more than the slightly archaic language, is the real challenge. Read slowly and not more than four or five pages at one sitting. It might sound like I’m contradicting what I wrote above, but if you read for enjoyment rather than profit, you will gain more insight.

Third, ask questions, underline or highlight important passages as you are reading, make notes in the margins and your notebook. A good author puts his finger on problematic issues that require solutions, and Erdnase does this continuously. He will give his answers, but not always, and not all of them. To get the full and deep meaning, you’ll have to find your own answers—insight is the result of analysis and intuition working together in different proportions, depending on who you are, what you read, and for what purpose. In the 1920s Dai Vernon went to New York and fooled the best magicians very badly. When he told them that he got most of his knowledge and skill from Erdnase, those magicians answered that Erdnase was like spherical trigonometry to them, to paraphrase Prof. Diaconis in his wonderful foreword to Revelations (Magical Publication, 1984). But that’s precisely the point. Not only should the author be superior to you, the reader, but the text must make demands on you in the sense that it must seem beyond your capacity. If it doesn’t, it won’t teach you much, but if you manage to overcome the difficulties by understanding what the author means—and in the case of Erdnaseacquire the skill to execute and perform the sleights and tricks taught—you will have learned more about yourself and about life. Reading a great book like Erdnase will make you think more clearly about magic, because its author (or authors?) thought and wrote more clearly than most others before or since.

As we will see in the subsequent analysis, asking questions will identify the brilliant as well as the weak within the description. Remember what Confucius said, “If you see a worthy man imitate him, if you see an unworthy man look at yourself.” In this sense the identification of the good will allow us to install it in our tool box, but the bad should make us look for the same weakness that might be hidden in our current repertoire. In both cases we ascend to the next level of understanding and skill, growing simultaneously as human beings and artists. To learn how to do this is half the fun and I hope to inspire you, so please follow along. I will try to show you how to actively read a magic text by asking questions and attempt to give my personal interpretations—you might find that your opinion differs from mine and that’s fine, of course, the point being to try to read between the lines and understand the text, milking the author’s knowledge and wisdom, rather than just consuming it.

Starting Inside Erdnase

The subject of our study shall be “The Exclusive Coterie,” which you’ll find on p.172 of Erdnase and which I have briefly commented on in my September column.

Below I will reproduce the original text, indented for clarity, and give my interpretation and comments between the lines. I suggest you follow along with cards in hand. This will make it easier to visualize my explanations. Please don’t worry if you don’t do any of the sleights mentioned, as our main focus is on text interpretation strategies and techniques rather than on physically learning how to do this specific trick.

The Exclusive Coterie.—In Effect. The four Queens are selected and laid face down in a row on the table. Three indifferent cards are placed on each Queen. Now the Company selects one of the four packets, and it is found to consist of the four Queens only.

The effect is the standard Ace Assembly, but the use of Queens instead of Aces, and the story framing the performance, give it an extra dimension as we’ll see.

Generally speaking, I find it important to describe the effect as it is seen and experienced by an audience at the beginning of a trick explanation. It is like showing a photo of the prepared item in a cook book before giving the recipe. Now you know how your food should look and you can anticipate the experience that your guests will have when they see and then eat it. The effect is the overall vision that at all times governs the detailed study of the method and should never be lost. At all times know what the effect is that you want to create and avoid getting lost in the details of the mechanics of the trick. Dai Vernon used to say that the difference between a professional and an amateur is that the former knows what an effect is, but any enlightened amateur can posses this knowledge, too.

It’s Useless Because it’s Old-fashioned

Patter and Execution.—“Ladies and gentlemen, I shall endeavor to Illustrate, with the aid of this ordinary deck of cards, how futile are the efforts of plebeians to break into that select circle of society known as the Beau-monde, and especially how such entree is prevented by the polite but frigid exclusiveness of its gentler members.

“We shall assume that it is the occasion of a public reception, our table the hall, our deck the common herd, and we may fittingly select the four Queens as representing the feminine portion of the Smart Set.” (Lay four Queens face down on table,)

I admit that when I first read this some 35 years ago, I turned the page. Looking back I think my assumption—“Nobody talks like that anymore, so this trick is totally outdated”—was mistaken. Of course, that bad thinking is the result of creating a causal link between two lines of reasoning where there is none, because the fact that nobody talks like that doesn’t mean the trick couldn’t be a very good one. All that might be necessary is to simply change the text, or replace it with music, two viable solutions. As most will know, Ricky Jay has even proven that you can take exactly the same text and still do the trick successfully—although he changed the method, which is also a good strategy with which to approach “old tricks.” (You can find it on YouTube by searching for “Ricky Jay: 4 Queens 3 Ways.”)

Even if you don’t want to use the patter (I find “text” a better term), note how the use of Queens rather than Aces in the context of the story gives everything a dramatic unity that is lacking in most Ace Assemblies.

The first question this introductory paragraph raises is: what are the pros and cons of a story trick, which this is. It will depend a great deal on the person and the personality of the performer … from the “act,” if there is one, to the target audience, and the situation in which it is performed. Although the trick is not such a long one—I estimate it can be done in less than three minutes depending on the performance style and pacing—it does need a free surface, the larger the better, since the effect is the travel of cards, and is therefore suited for more formal shows than table to table or walk-around magic. The ability to know when to do a particular trick, but above all when not to do it, is just one of the characteristics of the professional.

Too many story tricks in an act can be corny, and only the experienced performer will do more than one. However, it is clear that a story can make a very attractive change of pace by giving dramatic unity to the actions, explicitly creating one or more conflicts which then are magically resolved. All in all, a story trick can be a great emotional hook.

Furthermore, using Queens and calling them the “feminine portion of the smart set,” and the indifferent cards “the common herd” or “presumptuous plebeians,” is a personification of the cards, raising them from two dimensional pieces of cardboard into a third dimension of personalities. Attaching human qualities to cards is a great way to get attention and to appeal to the emotions of the audience, but it should not be overused. The fine line between what really is, and what is supposed to be in a fictional sense, should be carefully drawn. This needs intelligence, sensitivity, and experience, as always.

Is the Easy Way Always the Best Way?

“Will some one now kindly see that there are no more Queens in the deck.” (Hand deck for inspection.) “There are no more Queens in the deck? Thanks!” (Take deck back.) “But are we all quite sure that the cards on the table are the four Queens? Please examine them.” (Hand them to one of the Company, and now secretly palm three cards in right hand.) “They are the four Queens? Kindly place them on the deck.” (Extend deck in left hand and when Queens are placed on top secretly place palmed cards on top of them.)

Most modern conjurors would dismiss this phase and simply replace it by exchanging three of the four Queens while displaying them with the Braue Addition (Card College Volume 1, p.204). I’m not saying this wouldn’t be a practical solution for modern-day requirements, but look at the packed ingenuity concealed in the “old-fashioned” way described in Erdnase.

This phase is straightforward and masterly constructed. It shows great intelligence on the part of its creator and an awareness of how the mind of the spectator must be led in order to be amazed at the end. It is a brilliant example of modern constructivist thinking. Let’s look at it in detail, with special focus on the psychological construction, as well as the management and handling of the palm.

Knowing that the final effect is the gathering of all the Queens in one packet, the performer must discard the possibility of duplicates being used to begin with. If the audience has even the slightest suspicion that there are more than four Queens in use—and this is a possible solution—the whole effect is killed, so it is very smart to address the issue.

Handing out the deck, and a moment later the Queens, also negates the one basic solution practically every audience has to this very day as to how a card trick is done; the magician is using special cards. He or she who ignores this solution in the performance before a lay audience is either inexperienced or naïve or just wants to show-off instead of astonish artistically. It is imperative in my opinion that at some point in every performance you must find a way to let people handle the cards and make sure they are normal. This is part of the psychological construction of the trick that takes into consideration how wonderment is later produced.

This very same action of handing out the deck, however, is also clever management for the palm. When the deck is taken back, it might briefly be spread between the hands, lifting the faces toward the audience, and pointing out that although there are no Queens in the deck, the Queens themselves could somehow “hide a secret assistant under their gowns.” This automatically draws attention to the tabled Queens. As this happens, close the spread and obtain a break beneath the top three cards with the left little finger. While the audience examines the Queens, two cards each by two spectators is nice, you have all the time and misdirection in the world to Top Palm the top three cards in the right hand as you casually square the deck. Due to the first-rate cover, this trick becomes a wonderful exercise to gain confidence with the palm. To protect the palm, the right hand holds the deck in End [Biddle] Grip as the Queens are being looked at.

You can now proceed as explained in Erdnase, holding out the balance of the deck for the two spectators to replace their Queens face down on top. As the left hand moves forward to allow this, the right hand can innocently drop to the edge of the table, an excellent cover for holding out the palmed cards for the two or three seconds necessary. Dai Vernon would ask, “Which hand moves first?” Answer: The left hand moves about half a second before the right hand so the eyes of the spectators are drawn to the left hand.

Next you have to think about how to replace the palmed cards because the author doesn’t explain it. Here is one possible way to manage it, but try to find your own: Before anything else, you need a reason for the right hand to take the deck. Transfer the deck into the right hand End Grip in a secondary, in-transit action, in order to free the left hand, which in a primary action points to the table, saying:

“Now, as our table is supposed to be the scene of this grand function …”

The palmed cards have not been replaced, yet. This is done as the deck is smoothly placed back into left-hand dealing position, again in a secondary in-transit action, the primary action being the right hand pointing to the four spots the “Queens” are going to be dealt to in just an instant, saying:

“… we shall station those four particularly exclusive ladies at different points in the room” lay out the first three top cards face down), “giving her majesty the Queen of —” (hesitate and carelessly turn Queen face up apparently to see the suit, and allow the company to see it also, then name the suit), “the post of honor near the entrance.” (Lay first Queen on the table and make a shift, holding location of other three Queens.)

Note how the concepts of miscalling and accidental flashing are used in perfect timing to create the false reality that the four Queens are placed on the table.

Design as Solution

Another question arises: The author doesn’t tell us the configuration in which the four cards should be laid out. The now standard T-formation, invented by Dai Vernon, is a possibility. Since we are supposed to be in a ballroom, a square configuration makes as much sense. Personally, I’d opt for a diamond shape configuration with the real Queen opposite and farthest away from the performer, i.e., “near the entrance.” It not only looks more interesting than a square, but like the T-formation above it will also allow us to overcome the question of forcing the packet—if we choose to do so a little later.

But before we proceed, let me raise still another question. Can the layout be achieved in any other, even more logical, innocent, and natural manner? How about the following “modern expert’s” solution?

Palm the three indifferent cards as the spectators look at the Queens as per Erdnase. Holding the deck in right hand End Grip, stretch out your empty left hand and take the Queens back face down, holding them in dealing position, as the right hand sets the balance of the deck down in front of you in the eleven o’clock position. With the same two in-transit actions described above, transfer the Queen packet first to a right hand End Grip, then back to left-hand dealing position, in the process imperceptibly adding the palmed cards on top as you make the gestures explained. Without interruption turn the packet face up and display the four Queens, two in each hand, using Ascanio’s Open Display (Card College Volume 3, p.599)—the lowermost Queen in your left hand is a quadruple card and hides the three indifferent cards. Gather the Queens and in so doing obtain a left little finger break under the three top face-up Queens. Smoothly turn the packet face down, like the page of a book from left to right. The break will automatically close and the three broken Queens will end up in a stepped position on the bottom of the packet now held by the right hand in End Grip. This is the Tenkai move, and the three Queens on the bottom of the packet are now in perfect position to be unloaded on top of the balance of the deck resting on the table by means of Dai Vernon’s Transfer Move (Card College Volume 3, p.516). Before doing the Transfer Move, turn to a spectator on your left and ask him, “Which one is your favorite Queen?” If he says Hearts, you can use this as the last Queen is the Heart; if he names a different suit, reply in Tamariz-fashion, “Fine, mine is Hearts.” In any case this naturally brings the packet above the deck for the upcoming Transfer Move. Since the deck has been tabled at eleven o’clock, this provides perfect extra cover for the unload. Do so by taking the top four cards at their left side with your left hand, as the right hand simultaneously descends with its clipped cards straight down on the deck, seizing it and moving it to the right, making room for the first “Queen” to be dealt right in front of you in just a second. Deal the next two indifferent cards and then the Queen of Hearts, exactly as per Erdnase (don’t forget the miscalls and the flash).

To Pass or Not to Pass

“Now, as would naturally be the case, we shall besiege these high strung patrician ladies with attentions from the lower orders, which the rest of the deck represents, by first surrounding her majesty on the right with three cards from the top” (lay three cards on first table card), “and to show no partiality we shall cut the deck haphazard, and plague our second liege lady with three of the first presumptuous plebeians we may find there” (cut off small packet and place three cards on second table card) “and though the proximity or even notice of any of these common persons are equally abhorrent to our grand dames we shall treat them all alike by again cutting and surrounding her majesty at the entrance with three more rank Outsiders” (this time cut to location of shift, and place the three Queens on table Queen), “and permit three more from the bottom who have been least crowding and therefore more deserving to proffer their homage to the other fair one.” (Lay three bottom cards on the other table card.)

In Erdnase’s time, a card trick without a Pass wasn’t serious magic, was it? But in my opinion—for once—we could do away with the Shift by simply cutting about a quarter of the deck from bottom to top and keep a little finger break. You can then proceed exactly as described, placing three indifferent cards from the top of the deck on any of the indifferent cards on the table which are masquerading as a Queen. Repeat twice more, each time cutting about a quarter from bottom to top and then dealing three cards on a supposed Queen. For the last triplet, cut to the break and deal the three Queens on top of the only Queen on the table. Mission accomplished, nothing lost, Shift avoided.

Hobson’s Choice

“Now, ladies and gentlemen, as you have seen, I have brutally taken advantage of these unprotected and tenderly nurtured creatures by placing them in circumstances that must be extremely galling to their aristocratic sensibilities. Will they endure such conditions? Having some knowledge of the marvelous subtlety, finesse and resources of the sex, I feel confident they can, with tact and discretion, easily elude their persecutors, and form a more congenial coterie among themselves. Will some one please select two of these packets?” (Whichever packets are selected place those two that do not contain the Queens at the back of the table side by side.) “Thanks. Now kindly tell me which of the two remaining packets I shall take?” (In any case pick up the two packets, placing the Queens at the front of the table and the second packet back beside the others. The question is purposely ambiguous.)

The question raised here is an important one: should we use Magician’s Choice, sometimes called an equivoque force, or should we just determine the target packet ourselves and go ahead with the assembly effect?

It would certainly be possible to establish the last Queen, which has been flashed and named an instant ago, as the Leader Queen, to borrow a post-Erdnase term. To give it further logic this could be the Queen of Hearts, “The Queen of Love, and therefore the most powerful of all.” Taking the symbolism of any other suit, any other Queen can be justified accordingly. Or you could say it is the Queen with her female entourage, automatically elevating the Queen of Hearts to the leader function. By proper arrangement of the Queens at the beginning, it is simple and easy to get the desired Queen to this position.

You now make one Queen after another disappear from their packets and then show that they have gathered in the packet of the Queen of Hearts (in our example). If every vanish is handled a little differently, this version can be made to look and feel very good. Such a procedure will avoid the forcing process, which is not as easy as it might seem and needs experience and expert audience management to pull off successfully. Also, it avoids breaking the rhythm the selection process entails.

Clearly, the solution in Erdnase is inspired by the old school of magic and it is a very good one, since the Queens will apparently travel to any one of the packets the spectator has decided—this is very strong. Not only does it add an element of interaction, which maintains interest, it also introduces a variable determined by the spectator rather than by the performer—there is no question that this adds to the intensity of the astonishment. These are important and distinguishing features, especially in close-up magic.

Which do you think is better? An interesting problem to ponder—only one of many.

Bolero

“Now we must see whether I was over-confident in predicting that the Queens would seek each other’s society. If they are all found in one packet, I was right. In which packet would they be most likely to congregate? As the front packet was your selection, and as it is given the most prominent position, I think the fatal vanity of the sex would tempt them to be there. We shall see.” (Turn up four Queens, then face the other three packets, showing no Queens among them.)

Here we are faced with another key moment in the psychological and dramatic construction of the routine, which is the design of the climax. Almost everyone who performs a lot will concentrate their wits and efforts on this phase. As Ascanio used to remark, the climax is very important, but it is only as good as the structure of the rest, especially the initial phases. The audience must be convinced that there is a Queen underneath each packet and that the cards above them are indifferent, otherwise no presentation in the world, regardless of how brilliant, will make the effect shine. And if there is no effect, there is no magic—there might be exquisite entertainment, but there is no magic. Therefore, the structure of the climax cannot be dealt with independently from the beginning, both being part of the whole, and the whole being more than the sum of its parts.

Contrary to Erdnase, I would opt to reveal the vanish of the Queens from each packet first and only afterwardshow that they have gathered in one packet. The vanish of each Queen is the build-up and their assembly is the climax. If you do it the other way round, by first showing the Queens in one packet and then “prove” that they have “of course” vanished from each packet, the curve of interest will drop and the climax will be weakened. I believe it makes sense if you think about it, and many years of professional experience have shown me that this is the way to do it.

And Now, Ehhhm …

At this point let me briefly draw attention to the word “now,” which is used seven times in the patter, four of those times occur at the beginning of an address. These are what I would call “makeshift-solution words,” often used like “eehm,” “ahh,” “okay,” “well,” “let’s see,” and a big etcetera. They are used to make time to think and cover short pauses where the performer doesn’t know what to say or do. It is not so bad in the Erdnase text, but it is clearly a problem one has to be aware of in the study, practice, and rehearsal of a trick.

A solution for getting rid of them is to record yourself with audio or video. Once you have identified the problem, you will be able to correct it in a short time. Another way is to script your text. Scripting is a big issue—too big to be treated here in depth—and there are many opposing opinions about it from very competent people in the business, much like the question of “acting” in magic. Personally, I suggest you script two or three of your tricks and see how you feel about it. You will notice that in the process you’ll install a set of skills that might make scripting redundant in the future. This, however, only applies to close-up magic. For trade shows, theatrical shows, and similar performance situations, scripting will still be the way most feel comfortable with. A very veryfamous and influential magician, whose name I will withhold, recently said to me when discussing this topic, “Everybody should read a book about scripting—and then do exactly the contrary!”

Two Authors?

It will have been seen by the foregoing that the presentation of a card trick may contain much more bosh than action, and indeed the performance of the one just described might be advantageously prolonged by a great deal more nonsense. In all card entertainments the more palaver the more the interest is excited, and the address and patter of the performer will count as much if not more than his skill in manipulation.

This last paragraph is perplexing to say the least. The terms “bosh,” “nonsense,” and “palaver” used to describe the text and presentation seem to reflect a very inartistic understanding of what a piece of magic is. This sounds like it was written by an inexperienced amateur magician. On the other hand, the last sentence is in contrast to what was previously said, as it clearly states the importance of communication (“interest excited,” “address”) and presentation (“patter”). Maybe we are really dealing with two authors as has sometimes been suggested, or our understanding is tricked by arcane language? Although the author mentions the concepts of communication, presentation, and skill, and brings them into relation with each other, he fails to mention what is even more important, in my opinion, namely the performer’s person, his personality and the effect. But this, as they say, is another story.

Epilogue

In the preceding analysis I have tried to identify many of the questions that are either explicitly or implicitly raised by the Erdnase text, most of them implicit. Although Erdnase was technically the most detailed book of its time, it is still a far cry from today’s writings about the substructures of magic. This essay has been an attempt to show how one could proceed when reading a magic text, and I hope you found it not only informative, but above all insightful. As I had to be quite explicit on some issues, as always, I remind you that this is only my opinion.

Report about The Session, London

Next week I’ll be back with a little report about my adventures at The Session…

Wish you all a very successful week!

Roberto Giobbi

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The Magic Memories (106)

Hello everyone!

Today’s topics are: Thank you; Cours de Cartomagie Moderne; Juan Tamariz in the NY Times; S & R in The Atlantic; On Card College 3&4 – Personal Instruction (Beaune);  Card on Forefinger .

These are The Magic Memories 106, gone online Sunday, January 8th, 2023, at 0:07h sharp.

All The Magic Memories from 2021, 2022, including the Magic Advent Calendar from 2020 can be found HERE.

And before anything else

Big THANK YOU to all who regularly or occasionally write in with kind words of support.

Please know that I read and appreciate all your messages, compliments, and good wishes, but please also understand and forgive that I do not answer them, preferring to use the time to bring to you the next The Magic Memories 🙂

Cours de Cartomagie Moderne

I just finished signing 100 business cards for the one hundred copies of the Collector’s Editions of Cours de Cartomagie Moderne (CMM), the French version of Card College.

Ludo Mignon and his Marchand de Trucs undertook it to reprint the French version of the books that had been out of print for years and were circulating in various pirated editions.

Volumes 1 and 2 have met with great success, as Ludo tells me, and volumes 3 & 4 are at the printers right now to be delivered soon.

So, if you want to practice your French, or are a native French speaker, or simply a collector, or want to simply support the project, place your order with Marchand de Trucs HERE.

…signing 100 business cards

 

Juan Tamariz in the New York Times

On Sunday, 8th January 2023, the New York Times, in its magazine supplement, will run an article portraying Juan Tamariz. All in the US should be able to get it, but don’t yet know if the magazine that contains the article is also available in the international edition sold outside of the US.

The author contacted me a while ago, and I spent about one hour on Skype to provide information and an insider’s point of view. Paul Wilson, who is preparing a documentary on the Maestro is mentioned several times…

A Spanish version of the article, provided by Ana Tamariz’s “Gran Escuela de Magia” is circulating on Internet HERE.

It is certainly nice when some of the “Greats” in our specialty get attention from an equally great publication.

Tamariz in the NY Times

S & R in The Atlantic

Talking about stories of famous magicians in famous outlets: Just ran across a looong article on Siegfried and Roy in the American magazine The Atlantic, titled “The Original Tiger Kings”.

Although written to appeal to a non-magic audience, as most such articles are, I found a few things I didn’t know, and therefore thought that some of you might want to read it HERE.

This reminds me of my only meeting with S&R, well, with the “S” part of the duo…

I must have been 21, or little more, of age, on my very first trip to the US, as part of a group-tour organized by Belgian’s (then) foremost illusionist (he bought Kalanag’s “show”), Klingsor, who took his name from Wagner’s opera Parsifal.

Together with his wife Solange – also his stage assistant for many years – once a year arranged for a group of about 20 “magicians” and their wives, mostly from France, a two-week “magical roundtrip”, usually going to one of the major conventions (IBM, SAM), with visits to the Magic Castle (my first one meeting Vernon!), Las Vegas etc.

I remember that Richard Vollmer and Francis Tabary were also part of the group, and we had a hell of a time doing card tricks to each other (almost) round the clock 🙂

I was still a student then and cannot remember how I could afford that, but afford it I did, and consider it, in retrospect, one of my many worthwhile investments into my private and magic-professional life. I remember at that time working quite a lot during university semester breaks for the Swiss train postal service, mostly on night-shifts and on week-ends, to get extra allowances. Along with my service in the Swiss Army, which is another story (…), it was the only “physical” work I’ve ever done in my life, and I’m glad I did it, as after that my work was mostly “white-collar” work.

Anyway, Klingsor’s trip took us to the IBM convention, which took place in July of 19??, and on board of the “Queen Mary” in Long Beach, California, at that time functioning as a hotel and with its theater facilities also as a convention center. At that time the experience seemed very “normal” to me, but today, looking back over 40 years, I think it was a stupendous experience, and I wish I had some photos to look at and show.

Coming back to “S” of “S & R”, as I entered one of the ship’s elevators that would take me to Karrell Fox’s lecture, imagine my surprise when an instant later Siegfried also entered, and it was he and me alone in this huge (my memory) elevator. I was speechless, of course, and can’t even remember if I mumbled something like a German “Guten Tag”. I wish I had then known what an “Elevator Pitch” is, then I might perhaps have talked him into booking me as a close-up magician in their Las Vegas Show… Maybe not… But that was my “S & R” without “R” experience 🙂

On Card College 3&4 – Personal Instruction

Just before the end of the year Barbara and I took two days off and met our friends Guillaume and Estelle Cerati in the beautiful city of Beaune, in the heart of Burgundy, site of the arguably world’s best wines. The short time only allowed me to taste a few bottles, though…

Guillaume is the man responsible for filming and editing the Card College 3&4 – Personal Instruction videos, so deserves a big portion of the credit for the success the product has seen. (If you haven’t yet read the review from Genii magazine, you can find it HERE.)

Guillaume Cerati and me sharing a “Secret”…

Card on Forefinger

There are some tricks in the Card College series that seem to have become “Classics”, in the sense that they found their way into the repertoire of many performers, be they amateurs or professionals.

As far as I could determine, “Homing Card Plus” from Card College 2, is the number one trick of the series, meaning the one most performed. I can’t believe how many have been telling me that they do the trick all the time, and many have found “improvements”…

But there seems to be a runner-up to it, one that goes back quite a bit in history: “The Lucky Coin” from Chapter 16 on the Top Change.

Although the idea seems obvious, it is not so obvious to track its origin. Checking my own text in Card College, and to my own surprise, neither I nor my editor-publisher Stephen Minch have added any historic information.  All I’ve been able to find is that Ron Wohl (Ravelli), in 1955 published the idea of having a miniature card appear under a matchbox in The Gen (Vol 11, No. 7, NOV 1955). Later, in 1958, in the Swiss magazine Hokus Pokus (1958, Nr. 1), he published another version with the seminal idea of having the matchbox dropped on an apparently freely chosen card (Ravelli forced it), revealing the miniature card underneath the box as an effect-gag, and then, as a sucker-climax, showing that the box had really been dropped on the previously selected card. That’s the stricter of the effect as described in my Card College, only that I use a coin, an idea I believe I had read in an Italian magic book by Salvatore Cimò, but have not been able to locate, yet.

If anyone knows something, please write in, and I’ll let everyone else know.

Anyway, the idea has brought forth many variations, including commercial ones (some crediting me and Card College, some not…).

I myself have for many years substituted the coin with the card box of Fournier’s 505 cards, a brand I use to this day professionally. It has the great advantage of depicting a card on its back, so I don’t have to carry the gimmicked coin with me all the time, as it’s automatically there whenever the cards are there… obviously, the presentation has to be modified, si capisce

King of Hearts on the card case of Fournier 505

I have never published this idea, as  far as I can remember, but shown it in many private sessions and some lectures. Some have then used the idea in various ways, including having a card printed on the case of their personalized cards, for the sole purpose of performing “Lucky Coin”, such as done by my friend Gianfranco Preverino with his Sharper playing cards.

Sharper playing cards by Gianfranco Preverino

Recently I was perusing an older issue of the aforementioned Swiss magazine Hokus Pokus, and discovered the idea depicted in the photo below: A card is forced and lost in the deck, the cards of which are then scattered face down all over the table. The spectator takes the performer’s wrist and hovers over the cards to finally set it down on one card. Performer, “Would you be surprised if under my finger there was precisely your card?”

You bet he (and even she!) would.

The performer then slowly turns his hand palm up to reveal a miniature card duplicating the selection, stuck to the pad of his forefinger!

In the magazine the idea is attributed to Rolf Andra, and merely described as a gag, but it is not a giant step from the gag to a higher effect, similar to the one in my Card College

Interesting detail: The article is from Hokus Pokus Nr. 1, 1956, two years before Wohl’s entry, and Rolf Andra was Ron Wohl’s teacher. As Ron even at a very young age was very meticulous about crediting, this might be a case of Remember & Forget… Anyway, a great idea.

From the Swiss magic magazine “Hokus Pokus”

Wonder what you can come up with 🙂

Next Week’s The Magic Memories (107) Take  a Break

As announced in last week’s The Magic Memories, I’ll be attending The Session in London from January 13th to 15th, therefore won’t be able to be with you next Sunday, as I’ll try to learn a few new things at a lecture or else… Also look forward to see many friends I’ve missed due to the Pandemic Years.

I’ll be back for The Magic Memories 108, and will report about my doings there, plus a few more things, as usual a mix I myself would like to read 🙂

Have an excellent two weeks!

Yours faithfully,

Roberto Giobbi

 

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The Magic Memories (105)

Hello everyone!

Today’s topics are: Happy New Year & thanks; Erdnase Comment; Talk on Daley’s Notebooks & PDF; The Session London 2023.

These are The Magic Memories 105, gone online Sunday, January 1st, 2023, at 0:07h sharp.

All The Magic Memories from 2021, 2022, including the Magic Advent Calendar from 2020 can be found HERE.

Thanks & Happy New Year

The kind and appreciative mails and cards many of you have sent have enormously pleased and touched me – Thank you!

It is certainly nice to know that my  Magic Memories for many have become a Sunday Classic 🙂

For the New Year I wish you all the very best, much pleasure studying and practicing magic, and I thank you for your loyalty in following my ramblings and supporting my magic life through your occasional patronage. As you know, I try to give back as much as I can. I want all you spend to be an investment, and I promise never to be trivial (I try).

Erdnase Comment

Following my text on “Looking for Erdnase”, the documentary-movie on Erdnase in The Magic Memories 101, I received several comments. You might be interested in the following by Leo Hevia:

The Erdnase film left out W.E. Sanders as a viable candidate. This remarkable man was discovered by the late David Alexander, another remarkable man and magician. David was also a private detective and utilized what he had learned in that field to find Erdnase. He first created a profile and eventually found what he believed is the likeliest candidate. There is too much circumstantial evidence involving Sanders to dismiss him as Erdnase. As David wrote:  “At some point the idea of endless coincidences becomes unreasonable and the evidence, even though circumstantial, becomes overwhelming.”

I leave this to those interested in the matter to follow up. Let me know of any new results, and I shall be pleased publish them here.

Talk on Daley Notebooks

My note in a recent The Magic Memories in reference to the talk I gave together with Vanni Bossi and Aurelio Paviato in 1994 at the Escorial Card Conference had three (t-h-r-e-e) people write in and asking me to publish it – this tells me how interesting it must be 🙁

Anyway, disregarding the statistics, here it is, for whoever wants to plough through it. Although I quickly ran through the text and made some corrections and a few annotations, you will still have to pardon any typos and stylistic clumsiness, which I hope are compensated by an idea or two you might use, or look up.

To read and/or download the PDF CLICK HERE.

I did’n find another photo with Aurelio, Vanni and me, so put the one below, which also should fit with the New Year’s Eve celebrations I hope you had yesterday evening!

Juan, Carmen, Roberto, Aurelio, Vanni

The Session London 2023

I will be at The Session in London JAN 13-15. If you are there, too, please come up and say “Hello”.

Let me know what you like of what I do, so I can do more of that, and also what subjects you would be interested to learn more about, as I might make it a future subject (maybe!). Of course I do not like to hear criticisms, like most 🙂 BUT I appreciate your friendly feedback of what you did not like and what I could do differently – be candid please, as I have a vulnerable soul, like most artists who didn’t become politicians 🙂

The Session 2018 – Me interviewed by Joshua Jay

Wish everyone a Happy New Year, an excellent week!

All the best,

Roberto Giobbi

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The Magic Memories (104)

Hello everyone!

Today’s topics are: Happy Holiday Wishes; Remembering my parents.

These are The Magic Memories 104, gone online Sunday, December 25th, 2022, at 0:07h sharp.

Happy Holiday Wishes

I planned on writing a very long blog for today, until I realized that I would be writing it on Christmas Eve, and that you would be receiving and reading it on Christmas day.

And although this is not a religious event for all of my readers, as we are a pretty mixed group, there is probably hardly a “civilized” place on this planet where Christmas is not seen, heard or felt in some way, at least the “commerce” around Christmas seems to be everywhere.

Anyway, whether you are a believer, or not, or believe in something else, it is a good moment to realize that we need to take care of ourselves, our fellow human beings, and the environment-planet we are living in, in equal proportion, regardless of religion, as this is our major responsibility as human beings, and to do this with the highest degree of Ethos.

That’s it for philosophy today 🙂 … and for magic, too, I’m afraid, as I’m getting ready for tonight’s festivities which take more time than I expected, but it’s a pleasure, of course 🙂

However, you’ll have to wait for some magical goodies (I hope…) until next week.

Meanwhile please receive my very best thoughts for these days, thank you for following my ramblings in The Magic Memories, and although at some point I was firmly convinced that they would end this year, right now I believe I need these more than you… so, I’ll be back next week, which, I realize, falls on the last and first day of the year, yet another holiday 🙂

Very best wishes to all of you!

Remembering

One more thing before I leave you: As it is a special day, I would like to do something out of the ordinary that has nothing to do with magic (in some way it has…), and remember the two most important people in my life, my parents Maria and Oreste Giobbi, who are no longer with us: “Grazie Mamma e Papà per tutto!”

Maria & Oreste Giobbi

Wish everyone an excellent week!

All the best,

Roberto Giobbi

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The Magic Memories (103)

Hello everyone!

Today’s topics are: Theory by Fu-Manchu; Commented Table of Contents; Strotmann’s Magic Lounge; Genii Review of Card College 3&4 – Personal Instruction

These are The Magic Memories 103, gone online Sunday, December 18th, 2022, at 0:07h sharp.

I’m writing this blog as we’re still snowed in… this is how some will imagine Switzerland 🙂

The Snows of Muttenz…

Theory by Fu-Manchu (David Bamberg)

Years ago, Dr. Robert Albo attended a lecture of mine at a convention in Las Vegas. Although I’m neither a collector nor a historian (maybe in a sense I am…), and although at that time I did not possess any of his legendary books (I do now…), I knew who he was.

After the lecture he came up to me and was very complimentary about it, telling me in detail how much he liked the structure and the contents of it.

The lecture had been mostly on cards and theory, and at first  I was surprised and impressed that a “historian and collector” would appreciate all that. But then I realized that of course almost all of “those historians and collectors” are highly educated people, some of them have even performed in their early years, and a few still do, and they do not only have a great knowledge about their field of interest, but many also understand the artistic and conceptual aspects of magic. (Some don’t, and get lost into irrelevant historical details, very much like some amateur cardicians get lost in moves and methods and disregard the effect…)

Anyway, a few weeks back in Switzerland, a big parcel arrived, and imagine my surprise when I unwrapped two volumes of his collection: The Ultima Okito and the Addendum, that included a set of DVDs with Dr. Albo commenting many of the pieces of apparatus depicted and described in his magnificient books.

When I opened the book, I was stunned to read the following dedication:

Inscription by Dr. Robert Albo to Roberto Giobbi

“Greatly exaggerated” (as they write in some illustrations…) you might say, and yes, it is, as no-one can compare to Dai Vernon, BUT it was certainly one of the most flattering compliments I ever received 🙂

You can get a glimpse of the eleven-volume set dedicated to Albo’s classical apparatus HERE.

The reason I’m writing all this is as an introduction to the following contribution, which comes courtesy of Dr. Albo and me: In his books he did not only write about the apparatus in his collection and their history, but occasionally had other texts like the one you are about to read, and which is by nobody less than Fu-Manchu (David Bamberg), Okito’s son. To this day Tamariz maintains that Fu-Manchu’s show was the best of its kind he had ever seen…

The text is a bit lengthy and unedited (it seems to me…), but contains some thought-provoking ideas you might or might not agree with. A good read for the present Holiday Season. To read the PDF CLICK HERE.

Commented Table of Contents

In old books the titles used to be lengthy and describe the effect – what a good idea!

As an example, in Decremps’ Testament de Jérome Sharp a title says that “four spectators each choose a card, that their are then divined by the performer, who subsequently takes one of the four cards and changes it into each of the other three cards”.

You’ll recognize an early version of “Everybody’s Card”, a more sophisticated version of which can be found in Robert-Houdin’s book Comment on Devient Sorcier (Conjuring and Magic) under the title of “Les métamorphoses”, p. 241 (“The Metamorphoses”, p. 245).

From: Decremps, Testament de Jérome Sharp (1989)

I think this is a good idea to be adopted by any modern author. To see an example from my own Card College Light CLICK HERE.

At Strotmann’s Magic Lounge

As announced per last week’s The Magic Memories 102, here is a short report about my visit to Thorsten Strotmann’s Magic Lounge in Stuttgart, together with Barbara and out friends Ikuko and Roland Heuer, who organized the visit as a surprise to Thorsten, in order to avoid that he’d invite us, as he’s been a friend for many years. These are still difficult times for any professional performer, especially for those who run a complex operation as Thorsten and his wife Claudia do, so I want them to get the money they deserve.

As far as I can remember I met Thorsten for the first time about twenty years ago at a Trade Show in my hometown of Basel, one of the few Trade Shows I’ve done in Switzerland, most of them having been abroad (Paris, Vienna, Milan, Frankfurt, Hannover, to mention just a few).

This was a Trade Show on logistics, not as big as Comdex in Las Vegas , or CeBit in Hannover, but still with well over two hundred companies presenting their services and products in several large halls.

Well, talk about coincidence, there were only two companies who had “entertainment” at their stand, and they were one next to the other! Thorsten and I couldn’t believe it… neither did those who had booked us 🙂

Anyway, we hit it off from the first day, found a way to alternate our shows and make occasional jokes about each other’s companies, and the two companies we worked for ended up having not one, but two magicians that attracted a lot of traffic. The CEO of the company who had hired me, even thought about booking the two of us for his next Trade Show.

Well, fortunately for me, shortly after this event, there was a major economic crisis that hit the world market, can’t remember if it was the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy or something else, so that was my last Trade Show, and after that I would defer any inquiries for Trade Shows to professional colleagues.

Certainly, Trade Shows do pay an indecent amount of money, and in a certain sense are very flattering, since major companies trust you with an important part of their target audience marketing strategies, but artistically I always found it nerve-wrecking and soul-eating… I wrote a lengthy essay about the subject for a German magazine years ago, and maybe I can get this translated for you as an offering in one of the upcoming The Magic Memories – talk about this later…

Back to Strotmann’s Magic Lounge 🙂

What is possibly the most amazing thing to most who have never heard of it, is the fact that he has created a theatre that takes 199 (one-nine-nine) spectators, who pay an average of about $ 80 to witness what is essentially a close-up show. Below you can see the theatre from the performer’s view. A close-up table “appears” in the performing area, which has also a hydraulic system by which a platform rises up!

Strotmann’s Close-up Theatre

Before and after the show, as well as in the ca. 25-minute intermission, a beautiful curtain separates the theatre from the bar and lounge area, where customers can have drinks and light snacks.

Intermission at Strotmann’s Magic Lounge

In spite of its size, the theatre offers real-world close-up conditions – below you can see Thorsten getting ready to perform his final piece, Tamariz’s “Coincidencia Total” from Sonata, a favorite of several top pros, among others also of Steve Cohen, who I’ve seen close his show with the same trick. The trick, by the way, certainly deserves this position, as it is a hell of an effect, however, it is very difficult to do well… and Thorsten’s rendition of it would make Tamariz proud of him 🙂

Thorsten Strotmann in Close-up

As for the show I can only say that it was excellent in all aspects.

I especially appreciated Thorsten’s humbleness and humanity, so far away from the typical “Las-Vegas-Show-Hype-Style” and the “hey-how-is-everyone-doing-bragadoccio” style that Europeans dislike.

The show had many spontaneous moments that made it feel fresh, although the connoisseur would recognize that he had done that show hundreds of times to get the technique and timing so perfectly down. What I personally like is when the text doesn’t sound scripted, something which is difficult to attain, especially if you script your show – a big issue that deserves a lengthier discussion we’ll leave for another occasion 🙂

Without going into more details of the tricks performed, I must say that I also truly liked the fact that he did a lot of real good, classic magic, without hurrying through it, but also without too much chatter, still, taking the time to make each trick meaningful by giving it a presentational theme (Prologue & Epilogue!).

This is one of the problems of theatre performers who need to come up with a new program about every two or three years: They run out of material, and have to fill in by telling lengthy stories that most of the time are far-fetched and cumbersome, at least that’s how it feels to me; they then sell it as “poetic” or “theatrical”. This is also why I stay away from those “Mental Magic Shows” (with few exceptions!), where – to paraphrase my friend Helge Thun – there is a lot of talk, and at the end it’s right!

For more information, show schedules, how to get there etc. CLICK HERE.

Close-up at its best!

Genii Review of Card College 3&4 – Personal Instruction

The paper version of the October-November double issue of Genii arrived, and with it Joe M. Turner’s review of my Card College 3&4 – Personal Instruction video course representing volumes 3 and 4 of my Card College books. If you haven’t already en it, you can read it by CLICKING HERE.

The review is a really positive one, and brought in several orders (necessary for our livelihood in these times with very little shows), still, I think the product deserves a few more… (so, if you can help, and you have it, and like it, tell your friends, please). The final thoughts of the review warrants everyone’s attention, in my opinion. In Mr. Turner’s own words:

In the remaining space I will return to an issue to which I alluded earlier. That issue, frankly, is the perception of value and cost as it relates to large projects like these.

I know it will bother some and sound like hyperbole to others, but I think this collection is infuriatingly underpriced based on the value it contains.

These files contain 22 hours of instruction covering over 150 techniques and nearly 50 tricks, not to mention the theoretical and philosophical discussions. When you consider that a single downloadable trick might cost $10 on average, then even with a discount this collection should be priced on the order of hundreds of dollars, or hundreds of euros. What is going on? I think one problem is that long-term exposure to too much less valuable, less thoughtful, less well produced, but lower-priced product has conditioned many people to stop thinking about anything the minute they see a price point higher than $30. Many of the same people complaining that $80 is too much for 50 tricks and 150 techniques will spend $20 for three tricks and a PDF, then spend $20 more the next day or week, and $20 more the day after that. There is a big difference between “consuming magic content” and “investing in your magical growth and development.” True, magic shops depend in some measure on the former, but anyone reading this column is capable of thinking more about the latter.

Another problem, well known and yet to be solved, is the issue of piracy. It is inevitable that someone will buy this content and it will appear on a pirate website for pennies. The shame of piracy is that creators like Mr. Giobbi and others have to underprice their product not because of honest questions of supply and demand, but to try to price it low enough that piracy represents less of a discount. In blunt terms, creators have to forego money they rightly should have earned for their creativity and productivity by underpricing their output sufficiently to bribe enough of us in the magic community to buy honestly instead of dishonestly. If complaining about high prices because we can’t save up for a while for important purchases isn’t a shameful enough cultural commentary, the idea that we must be bribed not to steal is even worse. It is a moral travesty that this collection is priced under $200, much less under $100.

No comment.

Wish everyone an excellent week!

All the best,

Roberto Giobbi

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The Magic Memories (102)

Hello everyone!

Today’s topics are: Snow In Muttenz; “Old” Stuff – An Impromptu Trick; Rules in Art; Preview to Strotmann’s Magic Lounge; A Professional’s Travel Advice

These are The Magic Memories 102, gone online Sunday, December 11th, 2022, at 0:07h sharp.

Snow in Muttenz

I’m about to leave for a show tonight, fortunately near by, BUT yesterday it started snowing, and below is how it looks from my studio, at the top of the house.

In the near background you can see the town of Muttenz, in the far background beneath the mist, France, and a bit to the right Germany, all seen from Switzerland.

Due to snowfall I need to leave earlier, so these Magic Memories will have to be shorter – I’ll catch up next week, hopefully 🙂

A View from my Magic Studio – 10th DEC 2022

“Old” Stuff – An Impromptu Trick

In one of his lecture notes Gaetan Bloom, one of the most creative people in our specialty, writes the following:

…the more I try to find new things, the more I discover that almost everything has already been invented by old masters.

So, in one word, if you want to find new tricks… read old books… A gold mine of ideas is in there.”

I couldn’t agree more, even though not having even a fraction of Gaetan’s inventive genius.

I ran across these lines as I was sorting out a huge pile of old lecture notes and pamphlets, mostly “minor” publications that had a low run, so reached only few.

In one of them, Trickkiste Nr. 6 by Jochen Zmeck, a famous performer and prolific author from the former German Democratic Republic (talk about misnomers…), and whom I had the pleasure of meeting once when he gave a lecture at our magic club in Basel many years ago, is the following idea (my own rendition of a German text):

The performer tears three pieces of paper from a newspaper, rolls each into a ball, and then places them on the table.

He next asks the guests at the table – say five or seven – to each hand you a personal object: These are then placed on the table in a row (e.g., a watch, a key, a ring etc.).

A female spectator is asked to choose anyone of the visible objects, a male spectator to choose one of the three paper balls.

Let’s assume the lady chooses a finger ring. Next the gentleman chooses one of the three balls of paper, which, upon being opened, reveals… a finger ring! The other paper balls are, obviously, empty.

Method?

The Conjuror’s Choice! Twice!

I think that’s a neat “impromptu” piece we might try after-dinner on the occasion of the upcoming festive days 🙂 Seriously, try it, as I think this will produce a very favorable reaction.

Rules in Art

Can there be rules in any art? Here is what I wrote in Sharing Secrets (p. 128):

Although it is true that there are no rules in Art, it is also true that, to learn a discipline, regardless of what type, following certain guidelines will make the process easier. Inspired by Henri Decremps (1746-1826), who in 1786 published his thirteen “Principes généraux – General Principles” in his landmark Testament de Jérôme Sharp, and which would influence the future of magic, we have reviewed this advice, based on our own experience as a professional performer, author and teacher, with the hope that it may lead the aspiring magician to success. Once you have reached the degree of master of magic, you can safely break any of these rules, but until then we are confident that for once thirteen will be a lucky number for you.

To save you the time to look them up in the book – as a reader of this blog you certainly own a legal, printed copy 🙂 – CLICK HERE to read the PDF.

Below are the 24 Rules of Magic as formulated by Maskelyne and Devant in their classic Our Magic (2nd revised and enlarged edition, Fleming Book Co., USA 1946):
(1) Never set aside any accepted rule, unless it is absolutely necessary to do so for some clearly defined reason.
(2) Always endeavor to form an accurate conception of the point of view most likely to be adopted by a disinterested spectator.
(3) Avoid complexity of procedure, and never tax either the patience or the memory of the audience.
(4) Never produce two simultaneous effects, and let no effect be obscured by any subsidiary distraction.
(5) Let each magical act represent a complete, distinct, and separate entity; compromising of nothing beyond one continuous chain of essential details, leading to one definite effect.
(6) Let every accessory and incidental detail be kept well “within the picture,” and in harmony with the general impression which is intended to be conveyed.
(7) Let nothing occur without an apparently substantial cause, and let every potential cause produce some apparently consequent effect.
(8) Always remember that avoidable defects are incapable of justification.
(9) Always remember that a plea of justification is ordinarily an acknowledgement of error, and consequently demands every possible reparation.
(10) Cut your coat according to your cloth, but spare no pains in the cutting, or your procedure cannot be justified.
(11) Always remember that a notable surprise is incapable of repetition; and that the repetition of an effect, of any kind whatever, cannot create surprise.
(12) A minor conception ordinarily demands the cumulative effect of repetition; a conception important in itself should usually create a distinct surprise.
(13) The simultaneous presentation of two independent feats is permissible when one of them is associated with cumulative effect and the other in a final surprise.
(14) Unless good reason can be shown, never explain, UPON THE STAGE, precisely what you are about to accomplish.
(15) When presenting an effect of pure transition, the first and most important essential is the avoidance of every possible cause of distraction.
(16) When an effect of transition ends with a sudden revelation or surprise, the course of the transition should be punctuated by actions or sounds leading up to and accentuating the final impression.
(17) In every effect of pure transition, the beginning and end of the process involved should be distinctly indicated by some coincident occurrence.
(18) In each presentation, the procedure should lead up to culminating point of interest, at which point the magical effect should be produced and after which nothing magically interesting should occur.
(19) When a presentation includes a number of effects in series, the final effect should represent a true climax, and its predecessors successive steps whereby that climax is reached.
(20) When Magic and Drama are combined in one presentation, the stage procedure should primarily be governed by Dramatic requirements of the case, rather than the normal principles of Art in Magic.
(21) When, in a combination of the two arts, the primary requirements of drama have been satisfied, all subsidiary details of procedure should be dictated by the normal principles of Art in Magic.
(22) No magician should ever present, in public, any magical feat in which the procedure cannot be, or has not been, adapted to his own personal characteristics and abilities.
(23) Never attempt, in public, anything that cannot be performed with the utmost ease in private.
(24) Never present in public any performance which has not been most perfectly rehearsed—first in detail, and finally as a whole.

Wish everyone an excellent week!

Festive food for thought.

Preview to Strotmann’s Magic Lounge

I’m just back from a short trip to Stuttgart and will tell you a bit more in the upcoming The Magic Memories (103): A visit at Thorsten Strotmann’s Magic Lounge, an exceptional “Close-up” theatre that takes 199 seats, yes, close-up for 199, no typo…

Thorsten and Roberto at Strotmann’s Magic Lounge

… and how Barbara personalizes her Orimotos now: Orimoto is a book where every page is hand-cut to result in a relief motif (my definition…).

Barbara’s Orimoto for “Roland”

A Professional’s Travel Advice

After my “Giro d’Italia” report (see The Magic Memories 100) I was asked if I had more travel tips to give for travelers.

Yes, I do, check to make sure you don’t pack the cat, as at airport security they don’t let live animals through…

Jimmy, the Cat, in the bag!

 

All back issues of The Magic Memories can be found HERE.

Chat again next Sunday – until then take care and do good magic 🙂

All the best,

Roberto Giobbi

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The Magic Memories (101)

Hello everyone!

Today’s topics are: Looking for Erdnase; Card Illustration Tool; Remembering Volker Huber

These are The Magic Memories 101, gone online Sunday, December 4th, 2022, at 0:07h sharp.

Thank you to all who sent in comments about last week’s post about my “Giro d’Italia”, apparently my travel notes find the favor of some, and so I’ll keep posting them, provided I get to travel…

Looking for Erdnase

The Expert at the Card Table – Looking for Erdnase is a documentary-drama (2022,  84 Min.) by German director Hans-Joachim Brucherseifer (the film is in english). Currently it is available in a streaming format only, but will hopefully also be released as a commercial DVD later for us who collect such things.

Looking for Erdnase

A few weeks ago we asked and were granted permission by the director to show the movie at our magic club in Basel: We paid €40 for this, and you could do the same for your club, as it is an unusual and worthwhile activity.

I gave a short introduction to set it into the historical context for those not so familiar with the book, then we showed the film (with popcorn and drinks :-), and after a short break I would answer questions and demonstrate various contents, techniques and effects.

Before you read further you might want to take the two and a half minutes necessary to watch the official trailer; to do so CLICK HERE .

A Classic of the Magic Literature

If you are interested in my introductory remarks to the movie, read on: There is no doubt that the book The Expert at the Card Table (Chicago 1902), briefly referred to as Erdnase, is a Classic of the magical literature, and nothing and nobody will ever take away this status from the book and his (her?) anonymous author. There are multiple reasons for this.

Erdnase marks the definite shift of the supremacy in the technical literature from the Old World to the New World.

Starting with Erdnase a large part of the important and influential literature comes from the USA (Sphinx magazine, Tarbell Course in Magic, Art of Magic, Greater Magic etc.), although several landmark books keep coming from European authors (d’Hotel, Conradi, Fischer, Willmann, Goldston, Maskelyne, Gaultier etc.).

Although there had been books of relative importance published in the USA before 1902, several of these were from European authors, such as the US-editions of Sach’s Sleight-of-hand, or some of Professor Hoffman’s works. Others, such as Roterberg’s New Era Card Tricks (1897) where greatly influenced by European sources (August Roterberg, as the name suggests, was of German descent, born in Hamburg, during the time of Carl Willmann, who published important and influential books and magazines during that time…).

But assuming that Erdnase was written by an US-author (who knows, maybe not…), for its details descriptions, the originality and quality of the content – techniques, tricks, presentations and theories – it clearly marks a turning point.

This can be understood by the illustrations: The first artwork trying to visualize the abstract descriptions, especially of sleight-of-hand, were woodcuts, and rather crude. These can be seen in the publications of the 15th, 16th, 17th, and up to the 18th century.

Decremps on Palming (1789)

A better rendering occurred with the advent of copper etchings such as can be seen in the publications of Conradi, Hoffmann etc. However, the authors lacked the degree of insights into the subtleties of technical handling to provide the engraver with adequate hand models.

Hoffman on the Top Change

Additionally, photos have been used to facilitate the learning of book contents: One of the very first to make good use of it was C. Lang Neil in his landmark book The Modern Conjuror (1903). The photos show Charles Bertram and Mademoiselle Patrice (the author’s wife) perform in a Parlor setting, the preferred performance mode of the time – there is a guy out there who wrote a whole book just on card magic for parlor and stage 🙂 Photos are indeed very good to show how the performer stands and his body language and facial expression, but are usually inferior to depict hand-details.

Charles Bertram in C. Lang Neils’ Modern Conjuror

In Erdnase, however, we find simple but very accurate hand-made drawings that depict with baffling precision the degree of detail necessary to master the sleight correctly.

At some point in the research of the anonymous author, Martin Gardner was able to locate the man who made the drawings for Erdnase, and to get him to attend a magic convention, where even stars of magic, such as Dai Vernon, brought their copies to have signed by M. D. Smith. The latter, unfortunately, due to his age and the fact that over four decades had elapsed since he had done the drawings, was unable to provide any clues that would allow the disclosure of who the author of Erdnase was.

Erdnase on the Injog

Erdnase is possibly the only magic book to have generated such a large amount of secondary literature, i.e., works about the book Erdnase.

As a matter of fact, I am not able right now to name any other book other than those by Hofzinser and Robert-Houdin that have generated secondary literature at all, at least not in that number. That’s quite an achievement, most of it, thought, admittedly due to the anonymity of the author. This latter aspect is in my opinion the key factor that keeps Erdnase in the front row up to this very day, as I do not think the pure content deserves this status (see below for my reasoning on this).

Also, the anonymous author of Erdnase has brought about several biographies (!), which sounds like a paradox: How can you write a biography about someone you don’t know?

In Erdnase we find one of the first attempts to establish a coherent terminology of card magic (although it lacks the maps of hands and the deck, something which I consider basic, but it was not until Card College 1992 that this was done in detail). Although in Erdnase we find what I think is a good and practical terminology, not all made it into the vocabulary of future authors of magic books on card magic. On the contrary, it is a sign of immaturity that most authors keep reinventing their own terms, or use such redundant terms as “long side” instead of simple “side” (a side is long, the other one is the end, and it isn’t short either). And then there have been some ridiculous terms that were created seemingly out of nowhere, such as “Biddle Grip”, as if Mr. Biddle had invented holding a deck by its ends… I know, this is a favorite quibble of mine 🙂

In my introduction I also mentioned and showed various editions in English and other languages, as well as videos and books on Erdnase.

Unnecessary for the Beginner

The question most will obviously ask is: Do I need to read Erdnase?

My short answer is: No – you can become world champion of card magic and the highest paid performer in the universe without even knowing that Erdnase exists.

The long answer is a bit more complicated, as everything in life…

There is nothing in Erdnase, not one single idea, technique, trick or presentation that you can’t either find in another more modern book, and better explained and illustrated at that, or that addresses a problem that cannot be resolved with another approach, be it technical or presentational, explained in the modern literature (including magazines, lectures, videos, podcasts).

I would even go so far as to say that in the fist five to ten years you’d better stay away from Erdnase, as it might confuse and discourage you. There are much better sources to get to black-belt level with cards!

Now, once you’ve spent your 10’000 hours, or about ten years, practicing card magic every day, that’s when you might start to get an interest into the higher spheres of magic: history, biographies, theory.

This is also when studying the ancient, hidden sources of magic can give you additional insights, produce valuable connections between pieces of information which up to then were scattered units in the infinite universe of magic, especially in the galaxy of card magic. You will start to create interfaces and recognize hitherto invisible networks and patterns, and cross-reference seemingly unrelated topics.

And suddenly the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts in which you were swimming around aimlessly during the first ten years.

To my understanding there are two factors that keep Erdnase topical.

First, many experts still talk about the book in the highest tones. Yes, it still is a good book, but in the meantime there are much better books on every aspect covered in Erdnase: Hugard & Braue, Vernon, Marlo, Forte, Tamariz, Ascanio, to mention just a few luminaries. I guess, that many of these experts – and they do have my full admiration and respect – simply need a belief system, like many human beings need that in other areas of life (politics, economy, religion, etc.)

Second, the author is not known. I would bet my first edition of Erdnase (which I still need to find…) that the moment the author becomes known, 96.45% of the fascination will vanish like a cheap brand of margarine on a hot summer day, to paraphrase Paul Harris (who owes nothing of his genius to Erdnase). Just imagine for a moment that someone can conclusively prove that, e.g., Charles Bertram (with the aid of Charlier) was the author. So what? Puff – dream over, time to get up.

Of course this raises the question if, in order to become proficient in magic, you need to have read all those “Classics” by Ozanam, Guyot, Decremps, Ponsin, Sachs, Goldston, Hoffman etc.

What is your opinion?

I’ll give you a clue: I have not read any of these from cover to cover, although I own them all and have looked into them here and there. But I have read Hofzinser, Bertram, Maskelyne and Robert-Houdin from A to Z, several times.

Why? (Clue: Some authors are academics, others real performers…).

To Sum it up

Anyone interested in card magic, and in Erdnase in particular, will enjoy watching this documentary-movie.

At some point the director might listen to the feedback he’ll certainly receive, mostly positive, I hope, but still do what Jay Marshall always answered to performers who asked him for advice on how to improve their act: “Cut, cut, cut.” The 90 minutes cut down to 75 minutes will make this a better film, especially getting rid of redundant and irrelevant scenes towards the end.

Reminder: All of this is purely my personal opinion 🙂

Card Illustration Tool

Chris Wasshuber from library.com just sent a mail discussing a programme he devised that allows you to make drawings depicting playing cards: Fans, Spreads, etc. Very useful, it seems to me.

The tool is free to use for anyone, provided you credit Chris and his lybrary.com (“library” is misspelled on purpose as “lybrary” – I assume because the domaine name was already taken).

If you want to know more about this, CLICK HERE.

Remembering Volker Huber (1941 – 2022)

The sad news came in of Volker Huber passing on December 1st. He was one of the most important collectors and historians in our specialty.

I had the good fortune of meeting him on several occasions, with extensive dinners and “sobre-mesas”, the chatter after dinner, at the dinner table – an important tradition of the Old Wold that unfortunately got lost in the New World, where the waiter brings you the check before you even finish your Espresso, a culture shock for any European crossing for the first time the Atlantic.

On two occasions I visited with Volker at his home near Frankfurt. He had bought TWO houses, because one was not enough to host his extensive collection, which went from magnificent paintings, sculptures, books, props to what have you, obviously all related to magic, and all of the highest caliber. My estimate is that his collection is worth close to ten million Dollars.

However, the most remarkable thing about all this to me was that Volker could tell me something about every and each of the exhibits in his collection, its provenience, how he got it, what role it played in the context of magic history etc. This is, in my opinion, the most important thing when you collect. I mean, any idiot with lots of money could have bought what Volker had, but to know what Volker knew, well, that’s another conversation.

I am by no definition of the term a collector, but meeting him taught me to look at these “old things” differently. He was a true gentleman and a great, great connoisseur, and I will miss him, and so will the magic world.

When I visited with him he showed me his complete Hofzinser collection, which is breathtaking. To me, of course, the most impressive thing was to see decks of cards and tricks cards originally used by Hofzinser himself, and being able to touch and handle them. I wish a spark of Hofzinser’s genius could have sprung over to me 🙂 Anyway, what a treat.

I then had the privilege of spending hours in his eclectic library, handling and reading (perusing) those old books, some of which I had only heard of.

At some point in our conversations I told Volker I wanted to make a study of the history of card magic. Volker was very enthusiastic about and agreed that a serious study would only have a chance if it was limited to an area of magic, such as card magic. And he was willing to let me use his library as much as I wanted, which shows just part of his incredible generosity.

I have started to summarize the content of dozens of old magic books in Italian, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese and English, being in the fortunate position of reading these languages, but need to do a lot more. Clearly, this is a project that needs several years of research and writing time, and since it will hardly be a commercial success, but I need to make a living from my work, there is only a slim change that this will ever by accomplished, at least not by me…

It is to be greatly regretted that in 2022 we still have no organization nor foundation that would provide the funds, infrastructure and logistics necessary to put such a project into practice. I’ll leave it at this, for the moment…

In the photo below you can see Volker Huber standing among the other participants of the German History Conference that took place in Vienna (Austria) in summer 2015.

Magic Christian (do you find him in the photo?) had organized a visit to the oldest playing card manufactory in Vienna, Piatnik, for whom he has created so many wonderful special decks, including a three-deck-box of Hofzinser Magic Cards (I have a still sealed extra set to sell at $ 100 including shipping worldwide, if anyone is interested).

History Conference Vienna 2015

If you would like to know more about Volker, a bit about his life and a few of his achievements, Wittus Witt has made up a special issue of his Magische Welt (16 pages) with some lovely photos and worthwhile information to be freely downloaded – for the PDF in English CLICK HERE (on the same page there is also the original German version if you prefer).

Wish everyone an excellent week!

All the best,

Roberto Giobbi

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The Magic Memories (100)

Hello everyone!

Today’s topics are: 100th Anniversary comments; Giro d’Italia 2022.

These are The Magic Memories 100, gone online Sunday, November 27th, 2022, at 0:07h sharp.

100th Anniversary

Officially, this is issue # 100 of The Magic Memories, with issue # 1 having started on SUN, 3rd JAN 2021, but a real count shows that the idea of these “blogs” already began on 10th JAN 2019 as Secret Newsletter. These were a combination of advertising a few new products and short essays on various subjects that are still of interest, in my opinion.

That’s how it all started 10th JAN 2019

So, if you want to look them up, and maybe extract the pure information (there is a lot!) and make a new PDF of it, go ahead – CLICK HERE: And you may share it, of course.

Actually, if someone does the work and wants to share it, please send the finished PDF to me, and then I’ll upload it in an upcoming The Magic Memories for all to access (with your name).

However, between the Secret Newsletter and The Magic Memories was still another hefty item, The Magic Advent Calendar 2020, were I posted a substantial item every day from DEC 1st to 24th, with PDFs and video clips – you can still access those for free by CLICKING HERE, or if you want to show your support and say “Thank you” you can buy the collected PDF by CLICKING HERE – I just lowered the price from 24 to 10 to make this really easy and affordable 🙂

Anyway, here we go with a report on my ten-day Italian Tour, and then we’ll see how far I’ll get…

Giro d’Italia 2022

During all my professional life my philosophy has been: Never perform the same day you travel, and stay at least one extra day in any place you go to.

As a matter of fact, for practically every show I’ve done around the world, in the most beautiful cities and places, I convinced those who booked me to pay for two nights – occasionally, if the place was of particular interest, I would add a third night that I would cover myself.

I remember asking my dear and missed friend Daryl once if he had been to Florence, and his answer was “Oh, yes!”. And Rome, Madrid, Paris, London, all cities I had been, too, and he answered, “Oh, yes” each time – he had actually done a “World Lecture Tour” that had taken him virtually around the world. But when I asked him what he had seen on these occasions, he explained, “Not much. I usually came in in the afternoon, went to the hotel, prepared the lecture, was picked up for an early dinner, did the lecture, was taken back to the hotel, and next morning took off for the next city, one city a day most of the time.”

I decided then and there that I would never do that, and recommend anyone who plans to do magic professionally to do likewise, as there is more to life than magic, as Ascanio used to remind us youngsters when we sat around a good table with him handling cards instead of enjoying the meal.

Daryl and Roberto, Muttenz 1997

Having said that, this trip broke this rule several times, reminding me that Art does not follow any rule, which is something Groucho Marx had to know when he uttered this epochal wisdom: “I have my principles, but if they don’t fit, I have others.”

Lugano

THU, 10th NOV, I hit the road and drove from Muttenz to Lugano, in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland, bordering to Italy.

With nine different events ahead – shows, lectures, masterclass – I admit having been a bit apprehensive about it. After all, I have – like many of us – performed very little in the past two and a half years, something that had never happened in the past 35 years of my professional life. Anyone performing knows that practicing and rehearsing is just not the same than standing in front of a real audience – all those nuances of how to stand, look, pause, deliver punch lines etc. can only be learned by combining intelligent practice with real-world performing.

Add to this that I was going to perform and lecture all in Italian. Although Italian, by linguistic definition, is my native language, I rarely use it, as at home we speak Swiss-German, and German has become the language I speak best. As an aside, you might be surprised to learn that Switzerland, with only eight millions inhabitants in a relatively small area, has four official languages and cultures. German, French, Italian and Romansh. And we all get along quite well… possibly this is Switzerland’s most important message to the world 🙂 Maybe the secret is like that of all good magic: Do the right things, and do things right.

Anyway, as I was driving down I was more nervous than usual. And rereading my own essay on the subject (CLICK HERE) did not help much… But then I reminded myself in what an incredibly privileged situation I am: I have been able to turn my hobby into a profession, actually living what Confucius had said over 2’500 years ago: “If you do what you love doing, you’ll never have to work in your life.” This is what I have been doing since 1988 when I turned professional. In all these years I have not done anything else than magic to spend my days and earn my life, not just for me, but also for my family: a wife, children, a house, a car – in Zorba’s words “the complete catastrophe”, which was not so bad after all 🙂

I’m neither a dreamer nor particularly romantic, but rather down-to-earth. Nonetheless, I’m fully aware of the poetry contained in my life when I think that as a child and youngster I was reading these magic tricks, imagining how it would feel to be a magician who could do all these wonderful things, and how they must look for the audience, and had to admit that I am doing exactly that, right now, living my passion, transferring it to my audiences, sharing my experience and knowledge and not keeping it all to myself, through my performances and books and videos, and honestly paying taxes to contribute to my country’s welfare. Meanwhile, I’ve come to believe that the Meaning of Life, the Trinity of Life, resides in finding your talent, developing it to its best, and to then share it with others.

I have neglected to put these thoughts into my above-mentioned essay on how to master nervousness. But as I pondered these questions while driving the burden literally fell from my shoulders, and I was also reminded what Cato the Elder had told his son as they discussed speaking in front of an audience: Rem tene, verba sequentur – if you master your topic, the words will follow.

I can honestly say that I have dedicated the past forty years of my life to the study and performance of magic, never putting fame or money first, but love of magic before anything else, the rest having somehow followed in various proportions that allowed me and my family to live a happy and satisfying life. Not so bad, after all 🙂 My nervousness vanished like a mirage on the hot desert sand, to paraphrase Albert Goshman 🙂

Lake Lugano with view of the Alps

The almost three-hour car drive flew by on these thoughts, and below you can see the view from the lovely hotel I stayed in, which looks like an island in the Mediterranean, but is a village in the hills of Lugano. I arrived early, had a proper lunch in a “Grotto”, the equivalent of a Bistrot in this region, checked out the performance location (see below), and still had time to walk around the beautiful city of Lugano (see photo above) for a few hours enjoying a late Cappuccino (only tourists have a Cappuccino after 11 in the morning… but I was a tourist, so…). Back to the hotel, Siesta (with capital “S” and part of my “success ritual”), and then off to the event, with the show starting at around 10 pm.

Comano above Lugano

The show in front of 60 people in Lugano went well, although I had to draw on all my experience and authority to obtain a setting that would result in a satisfying performance. The room was long and rectangular with eight tables one next to the other, without the possibility of special lighting nor microphone, a truly sub-optimal situation that would have caused great aggravation to less experienced performers.

I politely explained the situation and made them change the orientation of the tables, and just before the show started I had the host move the guests from the two extremes of the room to the center, some sitting, some standing. This resulted in a compact audience configuration that could hear and see well. Furthermore I quickly adapted my tricks substituting a strong mental effect (conceptional) with the Linking Rings (visual), and together with my Rope Routine as an opener, the Card Stab as a closer and the message cut from a large paper as an encore (Kirigami) I had the ideal act for the situation.

The magical phrase to use in such cases and to make even difficult customers listen to you is: “In my professional experience of many years…” Take note.

Lecture at CLAM , Milan

Milan is just a good hour’s drive from Lugano, so I was at the Hotel Sunflower (where the “European Close-up Magic Symposium” organized by Giacomo Bertini had taken place for several years) and was able to enjoy the full afternoon as a tourist in Milan with weather and temperature like in spring.

Below you can see the breathtaking beauty of the world-famous Cathedral of Milan. Needless to say that visiting Milan is a top priority if you ever travel to Italy. The specialty is “Cotoletta alla Milanese”, which I had at “Brunello” said to have the best in town – it certainly was good (white wine recommended over red as its acidity balances out the slight fat in the veal and fried bread-crumbs).

Milan is a city that still boast lots of privately owned shops and not only the big brands you can find anywhere and which are everywhere the same.

Il Duomo di Milano

In the evening I gave an almost 3-hour lecture on Stand-up Card Magic at CLAM (Club Arte Magica). President Jordan (Giordano Riccò) who had welcomed me before several times to his club, was the perfect host. We started the lecture at 9:30 pm and it lasted to almost midnight.

Jordan said they had not had such a large turnout in a long time – the room had ca. 60 seats, and some had to stand. I take it as a success that all stayed until the end, and beyond to take photos and sign books: Twelve of my seventeen books are translated in Italian, so I’m the Italian author with the largest number of magic books 🙂

CLAM is the club I have possibly given the most lectures over the past forty-plus years, having been “discovered” early in my career by the then President Ottorino Bai. I have since made many wonderful friends in Milan but won’t name them here for fear of missing one or two!

Busca and Dronero

The next day was arguably the toughest of my tour: I had to travel about four hours by car to the village of Busca, a small hour from the world-famous city of Alba, which is known for its white truffles. CLICK HERE to see how a large white truffle is auctioned off at 184’000 Euro (over US $ 190’000).

At Busca the local magic club BLINK! – tag line: “The happiest magic club in the world” – had organized a show at the local theatre, which was sold out at its 150 seats.

This was the event I was most afraid of, as I’m not a theatre magician, although I have done hundreds of corporate shows before even larger audiences, but the expectations of theatre-going audiences are different and would warrant a lengthy essay of its own which I’m not doing now 🙂

Briefly: The show started with the short performance of four club members, and I then did a small hours, resulting in a ca. 80-minute event which I can say without exaggerating was enthusiastically received – and everyone was happy, even I was!

My “act” was: Rope Routine (Shigeo Tagaki), Exit (Thomas Vité), Tutti Frutti (Roberto Giobbi), Card Stab (Roberto Giobbi), Kirigami (unknown).

On hold were Linking Rings (Dai Vernon and Richard Ross) and The Red Card (Roberto Giobbi), which I did not perform, as the show was already running late (in Italy they start the shows at 9 pm, this one started at 9:15 pm).

If you like to practice your Italian and read a short review of the show and see some action photos, CLICK HERE.

And to watch a 20-second-clip of the show CLICK HERE.

Roberto at Teatro Civico Busca performing “Tutti Frutti”

The next day was supposed to be a “morning lecture” – it ended up being a full-day masterclass starting at 10 am and ending after 6 pm, with a lovely lunch break in-between… and if you say “lunch-break” in Italy you mean a two-hour lunch with aperitivo, four courses, wine, coffee and lots of amicable chatter about magic and life. This was exhausting, but it is exactly the way I like it!

Lecture in the morning and session in the afternoon at Blink

In the evening I undertook the one-hour drive to Cherasco to visit and stay with my good friend Don Silvio Mantelli, a Salesian priest, who has a magic theatre, a magic museum and one of the largest magic libraries in the world with well over 10’000 titles, not counting the hundreds of magazines in countless languages. I reported about Don Silvio and my experience in earlier The Magic Memories and let you find them…

MON, TUE & WED were days off, which I spent in the library studying, discussing magic with my friend Marco Aimone, and sharing a few meals, the Italian way… no comment 🙂 The highlight being the yearly truffle lunch at Tre Re in Castellamonte.

Chef Roberto Marchello preparing the best Zabaglione in the world

Livorno

Next stop was Livorno, a lovely port city on the Ligurian Sea on the western coast of Tuscany. Although all regions in Italy have something extraordinary to offer, Tuscany seems to have the ideal balance between the sea, hills, magnificent cities like Florence, Siena, Volterra, Pisa, even some a bit too “touristic” like San Giminiano, but still worth visiting, and, naturalmente, stellar food and some of the best wines in the world.

On the way to Livorno I made a 30-minute stop at the city of Recco, right at the coast of the Mediterranean, and the place of choice for many retired North-Italians in the cold months of January and February as the climate is mild with lovely weather. If you have a “travel notebook” make a note to go there, in virtually any bakery, and buy a “Focaccia di Recco” which is the most simple and delicious Focaccia on this planet. As the “Guide Michelin” would say: “Worth a stop” (and even a detour).

Lecture at “La corte dei miracoli”, Livorno

I had to get up at six in the morning in order to arrive in Livorno just in time to have their specialty for lunch, Cacciucco, a fish and seafood soup reminiscent of Bouillabaisse, but with an identity of its own. Luciano Donzella and Francesco Fontanelli were my gracious and generous hosts.

I spent the late afternoon until the lecture at Luciano’s splendid home discussing magic and admiring his impressive collection. Luciano is a journalist by profession with some remarkable books to his credit, and the president of the club called “la corte dei miracoli”, the court of miracles, nothing less!

Indeed, their club location is a small theatre, with fully equipped stage, where I gave my lecture on Stand-up Card Magic to a full house. Again, it ran until almost midnight, and the audience was most appreciative to say the least.

Florence

Next morning I left Livorno and reached Florence after a short ride to meet my good friend and publisher Francesco Maria Mugnai, of Florence Art Edizioni fame, who has been of great help in publishing and printing my German books as well as my latest literary effort, Sharing Secrets.

As a little thank you I invited him to the legendary “Bistecca alla Fiorentina“, for lunch, with a worthy Brunello di Montalcino, one of the great Tuscan wines. (BTW: I’m just back from Berne, Switzerland, where such a piece weighting over three pounds costs over three times as much and is half as good – now you do the math…and it reminds me of what Vernon once said to his friend Tony Giorgio in jest: “Tony, if you were only half as good as you think you are, that would still be twice as good as you really are!”).

After coffee – in my opinion the best in the world is in Italy – and a Grappa, of course, a short Siesta (Spain’s most important contribution to a healthy lifestyle), I gave another almost three-hour lecture to a group of about 30 people. The topic I choose for them, since they had already seen my lecture on Stand-up Card Magic a few years earlier (I have a standing invitation in Florence…), was “How to find original presentations” (this is now number 63 in a series of original lectures…).

As so often it ended up being a mixed lecture, as I have long since stopped adhering to a strict curriculum: I consider magic a complex and infinite universe, and everything connects to many other topics. Therefore, although following a guiding thread, I also mention ideas and concepts on how to practice, how to take notes, how to prepare and construct an act, how to handle difficult audience members, how to deal with nervousness, and a myriad of other relevant topics.

From Ascanio I learned that a lecture must never have a commercial purpose, at least not as its top priority, but rather be structured like a university lecture and discuss a subject in an academic way, without ever losing the connection to the real, professional performing world. Like a good book, I believe that after a good lecture the audience must leave knowing more than before, having been given information and an experience which goes beyond what has been said and done. I’m glad that the feedback I received confirmed that I am successful in doing this most of the time.

The following day was a rainy day, so unfortunately I could not enjoy the city of Florence, one of the most remarkable in the world, but fortunately could get together with a few of my friends for another memorable dinner.

Below you can see, from left to right: Alessandro Daloisio, an inspired amateur magician, student of Paolo Morelli (see The Magic Memories 75), Giacomo Bertini, organizer of the European Close-up Symposium and author of System of Amazement, Francesco Di Luciano, a lawyer by trade, who translated Erdnase into Italian, transcribed the complete Revelations video tapes (!) and other prodigies, as well as Francesco Maria Mugnai, Italy’s foremost publisher of magic books and an accomplished theatre performer. So, you see, I keep good company 🙂

Alex Daloisio, Giacomo Bertini, Francesco Di Luciano, me, Francesco Maria Mugnai

Milano e Ciao Bella Italia

Finally, the last day arrived. Magician extraordinaire Hernan Maccagno from Buenos Aires had just completed his lecture tour through a few Italian cities and met me in Florence, from where we drove together to Milan. The conversations we had would make an interesting book!

In the evening I did a very special private show for just 12 people whose identity I’m not supposed to disclose, suffice it to say that it was exclusive company…

I did my “act” as can be seen on my Penguin project “The Act”, plus a few extra items, and Hernan did, as an encore, his very original Cups & Balls Routine, and I hope that you get to see it at some point, as it is truly astounding.

Next morning we hit the road, and after a five-hour plus trip arrived at my home in Muttenz, near Basel, where Hernan did his excellent lecture to an intimate group of only 5 people. This is really a shame, as he would have deserved a full house, but attendance at lectures has dramatically dropped in the past years (not to speak of Corona, of course), and we are seriously thinking about dropping the tradition of having from five to six lecturers a year, a tradition that I started about forty years ago, when we used to have forty or so attendants!

Arrivederci!

I hope today’s The Magic Memories are not too long (yes, they are…), but, to paraphrase Blaise Pascal (1623 – 1662): “I did not have time to write a shorter one.”

Wish everyone an excellent week and hope to see you back in seven days (always on Sundays, always at 0:07 o’clock)!

All the best,

Roberto Giobbi

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The Magic Memories (99)

Hello everyone!

Today’s topics are: More Italian memories (photos).

These are The Magic Memories 99, gone online Sunday, November 20th, 2022, at 0:07h sharp.

La Dolce Vita in Italia (Episode II)

I’m still touring Italy, almost finished as you’re reading this, and back home on Monday, 21st November to translate Hernan Maccagno’s great lecture in Basel.

Meanwhile, here are a few more reminiscences from my Italian travels in the past – I could certainly write a book about my magical adventures there!

Lecturing on Secret Agenda at CADM Torino 2016
…after a Masterclass with Juan Tamariz and me (Torino 2019)
Dinner with Silvan (ca. 1995)
A friendly table in Italy: Juan, Carmen, Roberto, Aurelio, Vanni (ca. 1990)

Remember to check back here for The Magic Memories (100) – The Anniversary Edition, on SUN, 27th November!

Wish everyone an excellent week!

All the best,

Roberto Giobbi