Today’s topics are: Magic in Rome March 2023 (and lots of sub-subjects…)
These are The Magic Memories 117, gone online Sunday, March 26th, 2023, at 0:07h sharp.
All The Magic Memories from 2021, 2022, including the Magic Advent Calendar from 2020 can be found HERE.
Magic in Rome
Rome, the “Eternal City”, is one of the mythical cities on this planet. I had the good fortune of having been there several times in the past, almost always performing and teaching magic in some way. Before going into the details of my most recent visit, I have to tell you two little anecdotes related to Rome.
My First Time in Rome (ca. 1980)
My very first visit to Rome with my wife-to-be Barbara, was purely as a tourist when we both were in our early twenties, and I was still a student of linguistics and literature. Two curious things happened that I remember to this very day.
One evening we were strolling through the historical center of Rome, and came to Piazza Navona, the famous square (which in reality is neither square nor round, but oval, as it was formerly used for horse races). At the time there were lots of artists offering to paint your portrait sitting in various spots on the plaza. One of them was an older man offering to read your future, can’t remember what “technique” (palmistry, tarot cards etc.).
Anyway, believe it or not, in a mix of curiosity, ignorance, naïveté, after-dinner-mood (wine?), or what-have-you, I decided to pay whatever it cost (certainly not much, since still students we didn’t have much money) and get his “advice” on my future.
From what he said I only remember this: “You have a great career as a writer in front of you, it will take a little time, and if you were gay the success would come earlier.” That’s what I remember – funny, eh?
Of course I didn’t believe what he said, but still, it somehow happened. Which reminds me of Nils Bohr who used to keep a horseshoe on the door of his house, which is believed to be an object that guards the house against the evil spirits. A friend, upon seeing the horseshoe on the door of Bohr’s house, asked Bohr as to whether he subscribed to the relevant superstitions. Bohr replied that he didn’t believe in them but he was told that the horseshoe works whether or not one believes in their power.
The other event I remember from that time is that for dinner we went into a Trattoria located on a small street behind the famous Spanish Steps. Barbara and I had a very simple but succulent dinner with Roman specialties. It turned out that this place was a favorite of local artists and intellectuals. As we were the only tourists, we somehow got into a conversation with a few journalists at the next table, and inevitably the conversation turned to what we were doing, which then led to telling them about my passion for magic, especially card magic (I was still an amateur then).
They were immediately full of enthusiasm and asked me to do something for them. As incredible as it sounds, having been quite hot during the day, I did not have anything with me, let alone a deck of cards.
Not to be deterred from this, one of the journalists got up and offered to buy a deck from a shop nearby. However, it was already about 10 pm or so, and most shops were closed. In spite of this, the journalist rushed out, and we waited at least half an hour before he came back with a used deck he had found somewhere. This in itself I will never forget!
And then I started an hour-long session, doing magic with the borrowed deck. Can’t remember what I did, of course, probably all the “classics” I knew, and I also did “Cannibal Cards” (see Card College Volume 3, and for an updated version Card College 3&4 – Personal Instruction).
But the punchline to the story is yet to come! One of the journalists liked us so much, that he offered us to use his flat in Rome while he was abroad on a professional assignment for his newspaper. So, the next day we checked out of the B&B we had, to the dismay of the Italian landlady to whom we offered to pay an extra night, and spend the rest of the week in the beautifully chaotic flat of a Roman journalist, located in downtown Rome.
That’s something you can’t buy with money, only with magic 🙂
How “Il giardino dei giochi segreti” happened
And another one related to Rome:
Most among my readership will be aware of the documentary Il giardino dei giochi segreti, sub-titled in English as The Secret World of Magic (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can see it HERE).
It is the year 2003: Matteo Bellinelli, who then was a director with Swiss-Italian Television, had just finished a documentary on a heavy subject, and was looking for a new topic on a “lighter” vein. As he was walking through Rome he came to Eclectica, a lovely magic shop in the historical center of Rome.
He entered, started to chat with the owner and manifested his interest in the subject, saying he might want to do a documentary on magic and an interesting magician. Whereupon the owner pointed out my Card College books in Italian, saying that I live in Switzerland. Well, Matteo bought the books, came back to Switzerland, called me over the phone, and then one thing led to the other, and in 2004 the 50-minute documentary was produced and aired. Talk about the butterfly effect.
Masterclass on Deck Switches
The main reason for my trip to Rome was a full-day Masterclass on the subject of deck switches. From 10 am to 7 pm, with a few coffee breaks (Italian coffee, of course, which doesn’t compare to anything else in the world, least of all to Starbucks…), and a three-course lunch with local wine… anything below this is considered a sin in Italy, and so close to the Vatican you have to respect religion, and Gastronomy in Italy is a Religion!
A full-day session, such as a Masterclass provides, is by far my favorite teaching format: I only get interested people, because they have to invest money (very little, compared to other disciplines, and somehow you can get that back) and time (much more precious, as you never get that back).
The eleven students and I performed, practiced, discussed techniques, tricks, presentations and theories, all turning around the deck switch and what you can do with it. But obviously a lot of the material taught and many of the ideas were polyvalent, applicably to all of magic, and therefore went far beyond the mere topic of “deck switches”.
Everyone was more than happy, including myself, and I’m the most difficult to satisfy. But there is no doubt that besides private coaching this is the format one learns most. I wish I could do such an event once or twice a month…
For all who couldn’t attend, the next best thing is my book The Art of Switching Decks, that also includes the video lecture I gave at the Genii Convention in Orlando in 2012. The book has seen an unusual success and is now in its fourth printing (instead of the DVD you now receive a download link for the video, making it practical for modern requirements).
Lecture for IBM Ring
On Monday night I gave a lecture for members only of the IBM Ring 204 in Rome.
The lecture’s title was “Excursus magicus” (in Latin to honor Rome, of course…), sub-title, “A roundtrip in the world of magic”. I assembled three topics for which I have three other lectures: One, how to find your own presentation for magic tricks; two, how to study a technique taking Controls as an example; three, criteria and staging of professional magic. I had planned two hours, I did three and a half. Everyone stayed awake and survived 🙂
In my personal opinion lectures should not be misused to sell things (although I perfectly understand the necessity of doing so for my colleagues who do lecture tours and accept to do so at dishonorable fees), but to share knowledge and insights gained by someone who has studied the matter, very much like professors impart lectures and workshops at universities. As a result of this, a lecture needs a specific focus that should be communicated so as to have only interested people in the audience. I have a lecture on “How to Give a Magic Lecture” (what else did you expect?), and the more I think about it, the more I’m led to believe that it could interest more than just a few. We’ll have to leave it for another time, though…
To my great surprise, and as an unforgettable moment of the evening, Silvan attended, yes, the one and only… When entered the room to greet me, he whispered into my ear, “I came only to see you…” And in the break I overheard him saying to President Andrea Turchi, “Giobbi é un grande.” Made my day.
It should not be necessary for me to do so, but if there are newcomers to the magic world who are reading these memories, I should add that Silvan is arguably Italy’s most famous conjuror, I mean of all times, including Giuseppe Pinetti and Bartolomeo Bosco.
In Italy, if you do magic well, people will say to you, “Sei proprio un Silvan – you are really a Silvan.” The name “Silvan” has entered the urban vocabulary, and that’s a feat to behold. This man justifies a big book, and as a matter of fact he has written several, all for the public, most out of print, unfortunately, including an autobiography that is still available (Silvan – La magia della vita. La mia storia.) If you read Italian or want to practice it, you can get it HERE.
In the photo-montage below you can see the two organizers Prof. Dr. Andrea Turchi (bottom left) and Norbert Fazio (center right) who were responsible for bringing me to Rome for these two wonderful events.
Luca d’Agostini on Marked Cards
A participant to both the masterclass and the lecture was Luca d’Agostini, a man of many talents. Among other things he’s quite an expert with playing cards and also a collector. See more HERE.
He gave me his latest offering, a set of lecture notes, which is about to be turned into a book, on the subject of marked cards, “readers” to be more precise. Readers, as opposed to other marking systems, are marked with letters and numbers, e.g., 7D (Seven of Diamonds), so that upon seeing the mark, you instantly know the card’s identity without having to learn an obscure symbolic system.
The notes have only some 30 pages, but are packed with historical, technical and other information, plus feature some really good tricks using readers. The notes come with several transfer sheets that will allow you to make up your own reader deck, an excellent idea.
We hope that Luca will make this publication available in English soon for all of us to enjoy and learn from it.
Alea Jacta Est
Since we’re talking marked cards and Rome, an obvious association are dice, as well as one of the most popular Latin sayings, “alea jacta est – the die has been cast”. Which brings me to my friend Gianfranco Preverino from Varese, Italy.
Gianfranco is not only an accomplished magician, but also quite an expert in gambling matters. He’s currently writing a large book about dice and magic which will hopefully be available also in English soon.
I met Gianfranco for the first time when he came to an event sponsored by the “Silvan Magic Academy” and where I taught for three consecutive days, a total of 16 different lectures, workshops, sessions – never have done anything similar before or after, and it deserves an entire blog (might do sometime in the future…).
Anyway, I fine friendship developed since, and Gianfranco, who had then started magic quite recently, made an exponential career and is today a household name of Italian magic. In May he will be performing for the second time in the Close-up Gallery of the Magic Castle, and if you have a chance you should try to see and meet him.
You can see him do some interesting dice moves HERE – enjoy!
As much as I would like to, neither space nor time allow me to tell you about my touristic and gastronomical adventures around the magic events. With one exception: There is a tourist attraction that is off the beaten path and reminds me of a trick I used to do years ago.
On one of the seven hills of Rome, the Aventine Hill, resides the Villa del Priorato di Malta, and looking through its key-hole from outside you can see the dome of St. Peters’ Basilica, through three states, namely, Malty, Italy and the Vatican. Find all info HERE.
Many years ago I used a Two of Hearts with a blank back, into which I had cut a key-hole that fits nicely between the two pips of the 2H.
Using the Carlyle Business Card Move you can show it on both sides blank. Force the 2H from the deck in use, and have all see the card, except one person whom you ask to stand beside you.
Now show the “Key-hole Card” with its blank side to the audience and ask what they see through the key-hole. They will say nothing, or simply what they see (you, someone else, etc.). Now you could tell the story of the key-hole on the Roman hill, and maintain that similarly some people have the ability to see further than others. Hold the gimmicked card in front of the spectator standing beside you, with the 2H facing him, and ask what he sees through the key-hole. If he’s at all a good sport, he’ll name “The Two of Hearts”!
You could later switch the card for a double-blank card with a key-hole, or the commercially oriented among my readership might even want to make it up as a business card…
I’m also reminded of the following stunt I’ve read about, but have only done once, if memory serves me well: Force three known cards on three spectators (I would force the 4C, 2H and 7D, the first three of Mnemonica, because I can’t remember three cards… but I can remember 52, which some might find is a paradox… but it isn’t, it’s just practical).
Ask the spectators to put their respective cards face up on a chair and to sit on it. Then ask them to open their mouth. Yes, you can see it come, can^t you? You look into each person’s mouth and announce the name of the cards!
Freud would have called this “free association”.
To be done after midnight, and in male company only.
These are The Magic Memories 116, gone online Sunday, March 19th, 2023, at 0:07h sharp.
All The Magic Memories from 2021, 2022, including the Magic Advent Calendar from 2020 can be found HERE.
For earlier information on Paris, check The Magic Memories 94 of OCT 16th 2022.
Following are a few impressions from my most recent visit two weeks ago, which was a short-term decision: My friend Robert Jägerhorn from Finland called and stayed with us for a few days.
Robert is a magic pro, and you might have seen him at a magic convention years ago with his act performing as an airline pilot. However, like many successful professionals, you don’t see him a lot at magic functions… You can learn more about him HERE.
Since Robert had booked his flight back to Finland from Paris, I decided to join him for a few days in my favorite city, Paris, which is a mere 3-hour fast-train-ride from Basel: Leave Basel at 08:34, have lunch in Paris! An artists’s life…
Session With Bebel
We arrived on time on March 1st, at Gare de Lyon, and left our luggage at the hotel. I always take a hotel near the train station, so at arrival and return I can just walk over without having to take the Metro (the subway in Paris) or a taxi, as traffic problems are omnipresent in Paris, let alone when they go on strike, a favorite occupation in France… (they had announced a General Strike on Tuesday, fortunately I left on Sunday).
With beautiful weather we took an almost one-hour walk to Bebel’s favorite restaurant in the 18th arrondissement – Paris is organized in 20 districts, called “arrondissements”. The 18th, “the Montmartre quarter”, is famous for its Basilica of the Sacred Heart (Sacré-Coeur). It is quite touristy, but the Parisians have made a real effort in the past years to upgrade it for the locals, and it is now quite attractive.
When we arrived at the restaurant – “Café Bruant” in rue des Abbesses 59, an unassuming little bistro – I told the waitress we were friends of Bebel waiting for him, and immediately were assigned a larger table for five in a cosy corner, rather than a tiny table of two for tourists 🙂
And there I had a “tartare coupé au couteau”, invariably my first dish when I arrive in Paris; “coupé au couteau” means the meat is cut with a knife rather than letting it through a grinder, a world of difference, like a card trick done by a beginner and an expert.
When Bebel arrived, we immediately started a session that for me lasted until late afternoon, when I had to leave to see my publisher Georges Proust at the “Musé de la magie et curiosité” (see below).
If you are reading this blog, you’ll probably be familiar with Bebel’s work.
He’s a real model for many of us, not just for his talent in magic, which is over-abundant, but also for his modesty, humbleness and kindness.
When I first met him on my first visit to Paris, over thirty years ago, he was a poor and sick kid. But through sheer perseverance and love for magic, he made it, a French version of the American Dream you might say, now being world-famous among magicians, and being able to lead a life with great dignity.
Although he got work on TV and also had his theatre shows, he still goes back to his roots, and on any night with good weather, you can find him performing sitting at a table, under a lamp post near the Metro Mabillon on the sidewalk, next to Boulevard Saint-Germain, from about 9 pm to late into the night.
If you want to see a video of Bebel in his element, early in his career, CLICK HERE.
Bebel and his magic deserve a book, but suffice it here to say that his magic is original, inspired and immaculately performed, without braggadocio, just kind and humble – and his audiences, magicians and laymen alike, love him for that.
If you study his work you’ll find it very visual, organized in short sequences, often redundant in the sense that the same effect is reapeated with variations. I’m not much of a musician, but I can see analogies in the composition of certain musical pieces. (My musician friend Roland Heuer could express this in learned terms.)
This is due to the fact that performing in the street entails an audience which comes and goes, and at any moment should be able to grasp the plot of a trick and its effect. Bebel’s style of performance and the construction of his pieces are designed to satisfy the requirements of this situation at a high artistic level.
All who perform in similar situations, or who do bar or table magic, would greatly benefit from studying his work.
Bebel is working on a book, and we discussed the ins and outs of it, too. He was especially interested to hear how I organize my material and information using Evernote, and I gave him a quick lecture on it – I made a note to come back and offer my know-how and experience for a larger group who seems to be interested in the matter.
The rest of the session was spent with Bebel showing us his latest findings, which are all truly remarkable, and we did a few things for him, too.
To see Bebel perform more, simply go to YouTube and enter “bebel magie”, and you’ll be able to spend the rest of the day (or night) watching him 🙂
Musé de la magie et curiosité
The “Marais”, in the 3rd arrondissement, also called the “Jewish Quarter”, is one of the most attractive for tourists. There you find George Proust’s museum of magic in the rue St. Paul 11, and Dominique Duvivier’s “Double Fond” cafe and magic cabaret (see below).
While Robert and Bebel continued playing the cards, I made my way to George Proust’s museum, a great walk through the boulevards and small streets of Paris, still full of small privately owned shops, although many have been replaced by run-of-the-mill and absolutely uninteresting shops that offer fashion, shoes and other unnecessary things, shops that you find in any big city…
Proust is another who deserves a HUGE book, being one of the important collectors, owner of the “Academie de magie”, a big and innovative magic shop, a publisher of some of the most important books in French, and, and , and…
Together with the late Christian Fechner, he was also responsible for the exhibits on Robert-Houdin in the Robert-Houdin Museum in Blois, always worth a visit (ca. 90 minutes by train from Paris).
Proust is also the publisher of hundreds of books in French, and even two of my books in French (I collected my yearly royalties, which paid for a meal in Paris… no comment).
His latest publication is a 500-plus-pages book, magnificently illustrated with many colored photos on the history of French magic dealers called MARCHANDS DE RÊVES, written by Proust and Philippe Saint-Laurent. This is only volume 1, and several more are in the works.
If you come to Paris, this place is a must-see.
For more information on the opening hours of the museum, the many publications etc. CLICK HERE.
Show at the Double Fond
I had been at Duvivier’s Double Fond before, many years ago, shortly after its opening. I still remember it because I was the only spectator!
Still, they put on the full 75-minute show, and being the only spectator I had to pick cards, shuffle, and eventually work almost as much as the performer, who on that particular night was “Le Nain”.
As you will see, if you go to their webpage, they have several performers, and different shows going on, and it’s not easy to find out who does what and when, and if you do, it might change… so the best thing is to call or write in and ask if you want to see a particular performer or show.
If you are lucky you get to see Gaetan Bloom, David Stone, or the Master himself, the Great Duvivier, possibly together with his daughter Alexandra, who keeps reminding everyone that she fooled P & T, as have hundreds of others.
As for Duvivier, he’s quite a controversial person, and among the Parisian magicians it is not easy to find one who likes him. Nonetheless, it has to be said, that he’s quite a character, does what he does in a unique way, and is certainly what you’d call a “mover and shaker”: He owns Mayette magie, one of France’s first magic shops, has been the editor and publisher of its magic magazine LE MAGICIEN from N°127 to 158, together with Gaetan Bloom and Jean-Jacques Sanvert (the webshop says you can still buy them for € 360,19), owns and runs the Double Fond, and recently has put up a video channel on Internet, as well as a magic school that receives a grant from the state- as the French say: “Il faut le faire – you’ve got to do it.”
Since Robert had never been at the Double Fond, and we only had one evening off, we simply got there before 9 pm, had an acceptable quick dinner at the bistro next door, and easily got in without reservation.
To our surprise the evening’s performer was our friend Boris Wild, who did a double-take when he saw me in the audience – surprise, surprise 🙂
Boris had done this hundreds of times before, so walked through the performance with the consummate ease of a professional, and the 27 spectators in the audience went along splendidly. As part of the show he did his “Kiss Act”, as well as his “Butterfly Act”, both of which you can see if you enter “boris wild kiss act” in YouTube.
It amused me that Boris was using a headset-microphone to speak to the 27 people of whom the one farthest away was less than three meters, but it seems to be one of the theatre’s “policies”. Another such strange “policy” is to have a monitor behind and above the head of the performer, which shows the latter, only smaller than you can see him anyway live.
This said, if you are in Paris, I recommend visiting the Double Fond and see the show, BUT make sure to check their homepage to see if the show is on, and who is performing – if you want to play it safe, call (all info online).
Playing Card Museum
Whatever you do in Paris, make sure to visit the French Playing Card Museum in Issy-les-Moulineaux. Simply take the Metro line 12 to the end station “Marie d’Issy”; try to arrive around noon, so you can have lunch at “Les Colonnes”, a French type Brasserie serving excellent traditional dishes. Robert and I had “Ragout de Joue de boeuf”, similar to “Boeuf Bourguignon”, but with beef cheek, and “Quenelles de chocolat noir aves crème anglaise de pistache”, the latter being worthy of a Michelin-star restaurant. A “café serré” (Espresso) and a “petit Calva” (Calvados, Tamariz’s favorite when he lived in Paris), and we were ready for the museum visit.
I said this before, and will repeat it here: This museum will be interesting to any intelligent person, i.e., a magician’s wife, partner etc. (you’ve got to be very smart to live with a magician…). The place is absolutely enthralling, from the architecture, from the exhibits, and from the didactical manner the exhibits are presented – this is the ultimate challenge for any museum. You’ll need ca. 90 minutes to visit the museum, for me the ideal time, plus 10 minutes for the shop… (never forget the museum shop, as there is ALWAYS something of interest).
BTW: The poster you see in the photo below was designed for the inauguration of the museum by world-famous actor, clown-magician-director Pierre Etaix, a phenomenal talent. Check him out HERE. Speaking of cards: Etaix designed and produced a very attractive deck of cards, not so easy to get – glad I have one 🙂 His biographical work C’EST CA PIERRE ETAIX will be interesting even for those who do not read French, as it is full of photographs and reproductions of his work.
In 2004, when we taped part of the documentary “Il Giardino dei giochi segreti” he came to see my show at the “Musée de la curiosité”, and we had a short conversation afterwards, where he graciously gave me a few ideas for my performance.
At that time I was not aware of what an important person he was, and I wish I had spent more time with him, a truly great artist.
The museum has a small museum shop that used to have a larger offering, but is now quite reduced – what a pity! – nonetheless, I made a find in form of a book about the history of the Joker. Some of the essays contained are truly interesting for us magicians, as they give a deeper insight into the history and symbolism of the Joker. However, it is in French…eh, oui!
Session With Bernard Bilis
A visit to Paris wouldn’t be complete without seeing my good friend Bernard Bilis, who always surprises me with his enthusiasm, his novel findings and his out-worldly skill.
His book is still in the works, as I have already mentioned, and nobody knows better than me what it means to go through all the work before a book hits the market. Bilis’ magic is quite astonishing, original, complex, and full of technical finesse. However, it is not for the faint-hearted…
I sessioned with Bernard after Robert had left for the airport to take his flight back to Finland, but before we fortunately had a copious lunch at one of the Parisian classics, “Le pied de cochon”, literally the pig’s foot, near Les Halles, and after the oysters, which are de rigueur if you eat in Paris, I had a pig’s foot stuffed with foie gras, black truffles and some other mysterious ingredients… I maintain that gastronomy is the perfect analogy for magic… I keep promising to write about it… I will… sometime 🙂
Among the many things, Bernard showed me a wonderful move that has great potential, as it can solve many technical problems of card magic, and when it will be published, it should take the magic world by storm – until then, shhh, it’s a secret 🙂
Another unavoidable appointment when in Paris is having dinner at Yves’, a friend of many years, sharing magic, bread, wine and cigars. I spent the last evening at his home with his charming wife Véronique, we had a fine dinner (Yves is a great chef!), and talked lots of magic.
If you read French, or want to learn it, Yves’ book called Grand livre de cartomagie published a few years ago by Marchand de Trucs and obtainable HERE, will enthrall you.
There would be a few more things to tell, but I have taxed your patience already to the limit, so will stop here.
In the next The Magic Memories 117, I will tell you about my adventures in Rome, the 2Eternal City”, the magic I saw there, the unique meeting with the legendary Silvan, and of course give some hints at how to get around Rome as the Romans do 🙂
These are The Magic Memories 115, gone online Sunday, March 12th, 2023, at 0:07h sharp.
All The Magic Memories from 2021, 2022, including the Magic Advent Calendar from 2020 can be found HERE.
When in Rome Do as the Romans Do
As announced earlier, this week’s The Magic Memories will pause, for I’m in Rome right now, with a Masterclass about deck switches on SUN, 12th and a lecture on MON, 13th, both for the IBM Ring 204 “Il Circolo degli Illusionisti”, ably organized by my good friend Norbert Fazio,the club’s president.
Below is a great souvenir photo, taken in front of the world.famous “Fontana di Trevi”, the one of which it is said that if you throw a coin into, you will return to Rome. I did in 2006, which made me return in 2015, and now again in 2023, proving, of course, that the “magic” works! Nobody will be able to prove the contrary, because you cannot prove a negative, and that’s how superstition and other beliefs are formed and maintained – but that’s another conversation 🙂
Will report next week about my adventures in Paris and Rome 🙂
Today’s topics are: Break for Paris. Masterclass and Lecture in Rome (announcement)
These are The Magic Memories 114, gone online Sunday, March 5th, 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 on my way back from Paris and getting ready for my trip to Rome.
Will tell you more about my two trips and the magic in The Magic Memories 116.
Masterclass and Lecture in Rome
In Rome, on Sunday, 12th March I’ll be holding a full-day masterclass on deck switches, and Monday, 13th March a lecture for the IBM Ring 204 of Rome – if you are in Rome or want to travel to Rome (why not!?), for more information and to register CLICK HERE.
As announced earlier, because of my stay in Rome, The Magic Memories 115 will go on a hiatus, and I’ll be back for The Magic Memories 116, on Sunday, March 16th, as always at 0:007 h sharp.
These are The Magic Memories 113, gone online Sunday, February 26th, 2023, at 0:07h sharp.
All The Magic Memories from 2021, 2022, including the Magic Advent Calendar from 2020 can be found HERE.
German Cardworkshop 2023
I’m back from the German Cardworkshop (CWS) that took place in the beautiful city of Nuremberg, Bavaria, from SUN, FEB 19th to TUE, FEB 21st.
Origin and Organisation
You’ll notice that these are unusual dates, as the CWS is not held on a week-end, as one might expect, but on week-days. The reason is interesting and has to do with the shift in the kind of people who attend.
When the CWS was first held in November 1975, practically all the attendants were amateur magicians. In the photo below taken ten years later, in 1985, and one of the first I was part of, not one single member was working magic professionally.
Even Wolff, Baron von Keyserlingk (seventh from the left in the back row), who later became a successful professional, at that time was still earning his living as an attorney. And I went professional a few years later, in 1988. For years Wolff and I were the only ones.
I call this the “First Period of the CWS”.
You’ll also notice two more things: First, that almost everyone wears a tie, a hint at the formal aspect of the event. Second, the elegant ladies in the front row 🙂
The gathering was also understood as a social event, were several brought their wife, and the wives among themselves formed a community that had as much fun as the men had with discussing “card tricks”. (Interesting to note that to this day, 2023, there has not been one single woman in the CWS, not because it is an all-men gathering by constitution, but because never ever has a woman asked to be part of it – if she had the competence required, she would be welcome.)
Below you can see a group photo of today’s CWS-attendants (FEB 2023).
Interesting to note that now, from the 15 participants, well over half are full-time professionals, and the others very busy amateurs. You’ll also notice the lack of ties, and the missing ladies! This is, btw, the main reason why the meeting shifted to week-days, and during the German Carneval, as nobody gets work in that time…
I call this the “Second Period of the CWS”.
The only ones who are still there are Reinhard Müller (3rd from the left, front row), and myself. Magic Christian (2nd from the left, front row), although an early member of the CWS, did not attend often, as he was very busy professionally, but now, semi-retired, attends often.
In the first few years, the CWS gathered twice a year, but then found its current format, meeting once a year, limited to about 20 attendants, and over a period of three days.
What does it take to attend a CWS?
The CWS is essentially a meritocracy, were people are selected and invited according to merit, skill, knowledge and “social compatibility”.
So, the premier ingredient, if you want to get invited to a CWS, as it is by invitation only, is your over-all competence in the specialty of card magic, be it as an inventor, author, performer, historian, or a combination of all. People can apply by writing to the secretary, and the group then decides if the person gets invited for a first time, and can then stay or not.
Apart from a secretary (Jörg Alexander, 4th from the left, back row), there is no officer, there are no politics, there is no attendance fee (except the cost for drinks & food), and everyone pays his own expenses to travel and stay at a nearby hotel.
Similar to the Card Conference in Escorial (see The Magic Memories 97 of NOV 6th 2022), which served as a model to the CWS, no-one gets paid, but everyone pays his expenses to attend – quite astonishing!
Content and Schedule
Again, similar to Escorial, topics are decided at the end of each CWS for the next year.
In 2023 the topics were:
Universal & General Card
Kaplan, George, The Fine Art of Magic (book)
The topics for 2024 will be:
Frank Garcia (card material in his publications)
Card tricks that prepare or retain a set-up
Multiple Card Revelation
Card Magic of Japan
As you can see, the idea is to have a good mix between tricks, techniques, principles, theory, history.
The first session started around 5 pm on Sunday, and is called “The Personal Minutes”, an idea I had launched years ago, and which should give each one ca. 5 minutes to talk about anything “personal” that would be of interest to the group. This could be some personal achievements during the past year, a favorite book, a practical idea, invention or what have you, or simply the performance of a trick, technique etc.
In my part I gave a few insights into two of the bigger projects I had accomplished during the Pandemic Years, Sharing Secrets and Card College 3&4 – Personal Instruction, as well as briefly talked about a booklet published by Tibor Vargas on card ripping, a relatively exotic subject…
These “Personal Minutes” have proven a great way to break the ice, to start the ball rolling, and to sort of “calibrate” the group.
This is usually followed by a first presentation on one of the subject selected in the previous year; this year it was the first part of “General Card”.
As so often before, Reinhard Müller, a founder member and the “grey eminence” of the CWS, gave a historical introduction into the subject, as he also gave later on the second subject, Kaplan’s book.
“The General Card” is not often performed nowadays, although it was one of the favorite tricks in the repertoire of parlor magicians of the 19th and 20th century: The versions of Hofzinser and Robert-Houdin are legendary.
Certainly, the subject is not very clear to define, as I have already discussed in an essay in my Ask Roberto, there being a confusion of titles and terms along its development since its first appearance in the French literature in the 18th century, and one could even argue that the idea can already be found in Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft, or in an Italian tractate of the 17th century that explains the idea of the “Tossed-out Deck”. If you are interested, you can find my essay of the subject from my Ask Roberto, HERE courtesy of lybrary.com and myself 🙂
In the past years the event has taken place in Stephan Kirschbaum’s “Wundermanufaktur”, a bijou of a small theater, that he has now been running successfully for the past ten years (learn more HERE).
Stephan is a great host, as he proved once again on this night, as he had hired a caterer who provided fine cocktails, wine, beer, and food for everyone, and after a most satisfying dinner we continued the talks about the “General Card”.
After that, well, it’s “open magic night”…
The next day we went into the second big subject, with various presenters talking about the various chapters in Kaplan’s book.
To study a book is always a rewarding undertaking, as you can discuss historical aspects, of course lots of tricks, techniques and lots more.
Kaplan’s book, published in 1948, and one of Juan Tamariz’s most recommended books, was an important book in its time, and it is still full of very good material.
The first part, which deals in detail with the short card and its applications, shows how a subject can be taken and studied. This alone is a great lesson, let alone the practical techniques, ruses, and tricks with it.
The second and largest part of the book is filled with tricks that do show the author’s concern for professional details, practical methods and affective presentations.
And the last part, which was not discussed here, as it has nothing to do with cards, deals with how to file material and construct an act – very interesting, I might add…
I will never forget, when as a twenty-year-old, I visited with Juan Tamariz, staying a week at his home at Lope de Rueda 3, and he took me to a show he did in a “pub”, actually a type of Spanish Café Theatre, in a town by the name of Guadalajara (very funny name to pronounce, and of obvious Arab origin, remembering that he Arabs stayed in Spain until the 16th century, the Alhambra in Granada being their last bastion, and that during their 800-year stay have left a lot of their amazing culture). If you ask me what was the most memorable show I’ve ever seen, then it would have to be this one. I can only remember two tricks he did: One was his mental slate routine described in The Magic Way, the other one was “The Lie Detector” from Kaplan’s The Fine Art of Magic.
Never before and never afterwards have I laughed so hard and so much, yet, been totally astonished. Later, I have tried this trick myself, with good success, but of course never as much as Tamariz had on that night.
Within this subject, I did a short presentation on the controversy created by Dai Vernon, who in his “The Vernon Touch” of July 1971 said that Kaplan has lifted most of the material in the book from Sam Horowitz.
In between the bigger subjects there is always room for other shorter talks on any subject, as long as it relates to magic in general, of course, and if possible to card magic.
This year we had Thomas Fraps with a short presentation on “Movies & Magic”, showing how plots and techniques from movie-making can be transported when conceiving and scripting magic tricks.
And Mirko Ferrantini, who’s an expert in all types of wallets, gave his third (!) presentation on his favorite subject, enlightening us on further applications of wallets in card magic.
Similar to “normal” conventions at least 50% of the fun is during the breaks between the formal presentations, the shorter and longer breaks, the lunches and dinners, which are usually spent together, but small groups are formed here and there, and very personal conversations are conducted.
The Tuesday Public Close-up Gala
In former times, when the gents wore ties and the ladies attended, and when the CWS was held on week-ends, Saturday evening was the “Gala Evening”, which started with a lovely Champagne cocktail, followed by a formal dinner with a set menu, and finally culminated with practically all the attendants performing in the legendary “Cardworkshop Close-up Gala”, the audience consisting of the ladies (!) and those not performing at the moment. For many, this was the absolute highlight of the gathering.
In the “Second Period” of the CWS, when the ties disappeared and the ladies vanished, it all changed. To the better or to the worse, I can’t say, but I’m certainly happy that I’m now one of the very few who lived in both “Periods”.
Now the CWS ends around noon on Tuesday, some leave, and some spend the afternoon together, private-sessioning, until the evening, when a paying audience of 40 guest enters the “Wundermanufaktur”, first being served cocktails and finger-food (as part of the ticket price!), and then, at around 8 pm, the “Cardworkshop All-Star-Gala” starts.
For the next almost three hours, with a break for more drinks and dessert finger-food, most of the attendants of the CWS perform to an enthusiastic audience, that already buys their tickets after the gala for the next year!
All in all it can be said that everyone was more than happy to meet again face-to-face, after the CWS 2021 and 2022 had been cancelled due to the Pandemic, and the “magic vintage” was a good one, not the best, but a good one 🙂
Wish you all a very successful week!
PS: Next week I’ll be in Paris, and the week after in Rome, with lecture and masterclass, so The Magic Memories will have to pause twice, but in exchange I might be able to tell you something of interest on my return… sorry not to be able to chat with you for two weeks, but happy that work picks up, at least a little, compared to b.P. (before Pandemic).
Today’s topics are: Waiting for Cardworkshop Report
These are The Magic Memories 112, gone online Sunday, February 19th, 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 at the German Cardworkshop
As you are reading this (provided you do so on Sunday morning, 19th February ’23), I am on my way to the German Cardworkshop in Nuremberg; this is why today’s The Magic Memories go on a one-week hiatus. I’ll be back next week with a hopefully interesting report about the activities.
Meanwhile, here are a few photos from past Cardworkshops.
Below shows one of my earliest attendances, in 1985, when most brought along their wife. Unfortunately several in the photo have passed away.
Today’s topics are: Repdigit 111; More on the Schnapszahl 111; Match Puzzle; I’m feeling lucky.
These are The Magic Memories 111, gone online Sunday, February 12th, 2023, at 0:07h sharp.
All The Magic Memories from 2021, 2022, including the Magic Advent Calendar from 2020 can be found HERE.
A repdigit is a multi digit number with all digits identical, and today we are at number 111 of The Magic Memories!
I strongly assume that most in our audience have never really bothered about the concept, let alone heard the terminus technicus “repdigit” (“Schnapszahl” in German, a funny term!), which is why it makes for a possibly captivating Prologue (I capitalize “Prologue as well as “Epilogue” because I consider them as much a technical term as Double Lift or Overhand Shuffle, which are also capitalized – see Sharing Secrets, “Prologue and Epilogue”, p. 88/89).
I say “possibly captivating” because it will only be so if properly introduced, argued and finally meaningfully linked to some kind of performance piece.
So, it might not be so smart to start by asking, “Who knows what a repdigit is?”, because you are telling them how ignorant they are, and that’s not what they want to hear, although it is of course true, because we all are ignorant about most things in life, and in that sense, you might say, it would be a philosophical thing to do 🙂
This, by the way, shows how close magic and philosophy are, as magic, like philosophy, shakes one’s apparent certainties. For those of you who have Card College 3&4 – Personal Instruction, the videos, watch “Philosophical Aces” in “Lesson 29: False Display Counts 2”, the second trick at the end of the lesson; it has nothing to do with our repdigit, but with the affinity of magic and philosophy.
Therefore, you need to think about how to introduce the subject in a clever way. A good way nowadays is to simply do a little search on Internet, maybe starting with Wikipedia HERE. As you’ll see this takes you into as many directions as you want to go.
If you like, you can now explore this further.
More on the Schnapszahl 111
What could possibly be so special about the number “111”?
More than meets the eye, and magic is the perfect metaphor that shows us that we look, but we don’t see, and therefore should take a closer look at things.
Here we go: 111…
… can be written with four fours:
… is a “palindromic number”, as it is the same forward and backward, but also a “strobogrammatic number”, because it is the same when read upside-down, and in a mirror, I might add, which opens up some “magical” possibilities )lateral thought: How many “mirror” digits, numbers letters and words in the Latin alphabet are there? Ha…)
… the spelling of 111 in words is “one hundred eleven”, and thus it is an “aban number” as well as an “iban number”.
… is an “evil number”, because the sum of its binary digits (1101111) is even (that’s not a pun, but an actual mathematical curiosity, see HERE)
… is a “semiprime”, which means that it is the product of two primes (3 and 37).
… is an “interprime number” beause it is at equal distance from the previous prime (109) and the next prime (113).
… is a “nude number” because it is divisible by every one of its digits and also a “Zuckerman number” because it is divisible by the product of its digits.
… and finally, it is the “magic constant”magic constant of a 6 × 6 magic square (if you wish you can explore this HERE).
BONUS: 111 contains the number 11, which of course is a number you can do a few astonishing things with…
And where did I find all of this? Easy, as I mentioned above, search Internet, e.g., HERE, and you’ll also find the explanation of all those funny terms most of us do not understand:-)
Take three matches the same size and place them in a row – you get the number 111, what else did you except?
Now, with them create four equilateral triangles (see solution in The Magic Memories 112), without breaking, splitting or otherwise changing their shape.
As I’ve mentioned in various entries in Secret Agenda, Hidden Agenda, and Secret Twitter, these “match puzzles” are a lovely introduction into a magic piece (a Prologue); simply find a good connection, obviously.
Also, use some of those long matches to light cigars – some of them are quite beautiful and make a nice “trip” for these puzzles.
I’m Feeling Lucky
Inspired by Goggle’s search option “I’m feeling lucky!”, may I suggest that you take three, five, or – why not – ten of your favorite magic books, or any magic books for that matter, from your library, open them at page 111, and then practice the item on that page. That’s actually such a good idea (it occurred to me as I’m writing), that I’ll do it myself right now!
P – A – U – S – E
OK I’m back, and here are the three books I picked, and the items on this pages:
“Speller Transition” (p. 110-11), Super Subtle Card Miracles by Frank Garcia (suggestion: Instead of spelling THIS – IS – MY – CARD, which is a bit lengthy, have him do a Down-under Deal – for this the selection must start out 2nd from top in the five-card packet)
“Teleport”, (p. 106 – 111), Worlds Beyond by Paul Curry
“Bertram’s Ace Trick”, (p. 111 – 113), Tricks With Cards by Prof. Hoffmann
What has all of this got to do with our repdigit 111?
Well, not much, really, but I hope you’ll find it a fun exercise 🙂
(That was actually so much fun, I might go back to my library and do this with the remaining 3’497 books… on second thought, maybe not…).
PS: Don’t forget to enter “111” in Denis Behr’s Archives… you never know what you get 🙂
PPS: I had 111 ideas to share, but thought four should suffice. Why four? As my over-talented friend Dani DaOrtiz would say, “Why not?”
Today’s topics are: Card magic is the poetry of magic; Note on Behr’s Conjuring Archive; More on Stage fright (Rupert Howard Course PDF); Diamonds of Performance by Christian Bischof
These are The Magic Memories 110, gone online Sunday, February 5th, 2023, at 0:07h sharp.
All The Magic Memories from 2021, 2022, including the Magic Advent Calendar from 2020 can be found HERE.
Poetry of Magic
Johann Nepomuk Hofzinser (1806 – 1875) maintained that “card magic is the poetry of magic”.
As far as I know, he never explicitly explained why he thought this was so, but one day in the summer of 2011, and in a burst of poetry, I wrote about it in my Genii column “The Genii Session”, where I tried to explore the question: If you care (re-)reading it, CLICK HERE.
I’ll reproduce the English translation of Goethe’s timelessly beautiful poem The Sorcerer’s Apprentice below, just like that… maybe that from reading it you can extrapolate why card magic is the poetry of magic… If you have a good theory, let me know and I’ll publish it in an upcoming The Magic Memories.
And it might serve the younger among my readers, who maybe believe that The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is by Walt Disney… but no, it is by Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von… 🙂
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
By Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1779, translation by Edwin Zeydel, 1955)
That old sorcerer has vanished
And for once has gone away!
Spirits called by him, now banished,
My commands shall soon obey.
Every step and saying
That he used, I know,
And with sprites obeying
My arts I will show.
Flow, flow onward
Spare not any
Ever streaming fully downward
Toward the pool in current gushing.
Come, old broomstick, you are needed,
Take these rags and wrap them round you!
Long my orders you have heeded,
By my wishes now I’ve bound you.
Have two legs and stand,
And a head for you.
Run, and in your hand
Hold a bucket too.
Flow, flow onward
Spare not any
Ever streaming fully downward
Toward the pool in current gushing.
See him, toward the shore he’s racing
There, he’s at the stream already,
Back like lightning he is chasing,
Pouring water fast and steady.
Once again he hastens!
How the water spills,
How the water basins
Brimming full he fills!
Stop now, hear me!
Of your treasure
We have gotten!
Ah, I see it, dear me, dear me.
Master’s word I have forgotten!
Ah, the word with which the master
Makes the broom a broom once more!
Ah, he runs and fetches faster!
Be a broomstick as before!
Ever new the torrents
That by him are fed,
Ah, a hundred currents
Pour upon my head!
No, no longer
Can I please him,
I will seize him!
That is spiteful!
My misgivings grow the stronger.
What a mien, his eyes how frightful!
Brood of hell, you’re not a mortal!
Shall the entire house go under?
Over threshold over portal
Streams of water rush and thunder.
Broom accurst and mean,
Who will have his will,
Stick that you have been,
Once again stand still!
Can I never, Broom, appease you?
I will seize you,
Hold and whack you,
And your ancient wood
With a whetted axe I’ll crack you.
He returns, more water dragging!
Now I’ll throw myself upon you!
Soon, 0 goblin, you’ll be sagging.
Crash! The sharp axe has undone you.
What a good blow, truly!
There, he’s split, I see.
Hope now rises newly,
And my breathing’s free.
Woe betide me!
Both halves scurry
In a hurry,
Rise like towers
There beside me.
Help me, help, eternal powers!
Off they run, till wet and wetter
Hall and steps immersed are Iying.
What a flood that naught can fetter!
Lord and master, hear me crying! –
Ah, he comes excited.
Sir, my need is sore.
Spirits that I’ve cited
My commands ignore.
“To the lonely
Hear your doom.
As a spirit
When he wills, your master only
Calls you, then ’tis time to hear it.”
On Behr’s Conjuring Archive
I get quite a bit of requests and questions concerning sources and the “is my invention original…” type of question, which I cannot answer all, of course. I then refer most of them to Behr’s Conjuring Archive.
Recently Denis Behr wrote in with advice on how to better search in his Conjuring Archive.
Assume you look for “back-palm”: If you enter the term as-is into the search field you’ll obtain 18 entries (as of FEB 4th, 2023).
Denis suggests that going to the “Categories” item in the top menu bar, and there either enter “back palm” (without hyphen), or even better click through the very well established taxonomy (Cards –> Sleights –> Palming –> Back Palm). The latter will successfully take you to 93 (instead of 18) entries.
Take note, and try it with a few of your own terms to instill the information (see Sharing Secrets, “To Practice and Instill a Theory”, p. 11).
More on Stage Fright
I’ve written several times about what we call “stage fright”, which really is a kind of “negative nervousness” – meaning unnecessary and undesirable – before and sometimes during a performance. However, to a certain degree it is necessary and part of the success – what sounds like a contradiction is a complex matter.
Nonetheless, it can be conquered.
In most of my coaching sessions, when someone performs just for me, this is one of the first subjects we discuss, as almost everyone is overly nervous. I then always say, “Don’t worry, this is exactly what I want to see.”
Recently I stumbled over a short text that is part of the little-known Rupert Howard Course in Magic. The first edition is from 1931, no less, at about the same time the Tarbell Course in Magic started. (As always find more info on the Internet, e.g., HERE.)
Admittedly, it is a bit simplistic, and when in the introduction they write “Broadly speaking, stage fright only attacks the beginner”, they couldn’t be more wrong, as this is a problem that bothers even seasoned professionals… and I know several who take medication, or worse drugs and alcohol. All of this is unnecessary if you bother to now about how to master the beast.
However, there is one excellent thought and piece of advice which is worth the whole article.
For a quick read of the Rupert Howard Course text, CLICK HERE.
I’ve known Christian Bischof since he was in his teens, started out with my books, among others, and visited several times, hungry for knowledge, ambitious and talented.
He’s now been a successful and respected professional performer here in Switzerland and Germany for several years, built a house, raised a family (with two kids and a wife!), planted a tree in his garden, and now wrote his first book (actually two).
I remember that René Lavand told me this is what you have to do in order to be a “real man” (many years ago on his visit at my home in Muttenz – see photo below).
Last week Christian sent me his “debut work”, and what a debut it is: A magnificent two-volume, hardbound book printed in four colors, actually two books!
They come in a Collector’s Edition and in a Standard Edition, the latter at a very reasonable price.
Briefly: A beautifully produced book, written with passion and expertise. A book that will make you think.
Christian has created a webpage of its own that describes the book and its content better than I could.
Today’s topics are: Cat College – Grosse Katzenschule; The Long And the Short of It; Better Late Than Never; Card College Playing Cards – One-way Card Trick: On Reviews, Critique, Reports and Other Opinions; Last words (for today…)
These are The Magic Memories 109, gone online Sunday, January 29th, 2023, at 0:07h sharp.
All The Magic Memories from 2021, 2022, including the Magic Advent Calendar from 2020 can be found HERE.
“In life there are important things, and there are less important things.” I remember this was an opening line Eugene Burger used, but I forget what performance piece it went with. The “less important” things are sometimes referred to as “trivia”.
After last week’s lengthy report on the Session, which brought in quite a bit of positive feedback for which I thank all who took the time to write in, this week is a bit “lighter” (reminds me of something…), and shorter, with some “trivia”.
Cat College – Grosse Katzenschule
This week my young friends Lorenz Schär and Tino Plaz visited with me, and we spent a very pleasant afternoon and evening with lots of stimulating, good magic, and of course a dinner to match the affair. A forth party joined us to pick cards… (see photo below).
These two chaps, who could be my sons, are very talented, each one in his own way, and I can only recommend that you occasionally arrange get-togethers with various generations, as this keeps the old young, and makes the young wiser, an ideal synergy.
BTW: You will hear more from these two young men, as I predict a bright magical future for them, although they’ve already embarked on it a few years ago.
Lorenz, for instance, has published a book in English, Cards Against Reality, and you can get it HERE. Tino has some projects of his own underway, and you will hear from him soon.
The Long And the Short of It
I just received an order from Spain, and here is the address (for privacy I changed names and numbers but kept the exact length):
Francisco Suarez Ciranol Conejo
Avda Segundo de Carlos, 9, 5-A
34482 Las Palmas De Gran Canaria
(107 characters incl. spaces)
Another order from the USA received a few days earlier looked like this (again, for privacy, I kept the length but changed the rest):
Main Str. 5
84043 Ark (UT)
(38 characters incl. spaces)
Isn’t this a great mirror of the differences in culture? I love those differences, I really do 🙂
An amusing comparative study between the US-American and the Spanish culture can be made by reading Asterix in Spain and Asterix and the Great Crossing. In the rare instance that you should never have heard or read of the Asterix and Obelix comic books, please drop everything and order the first volume, Asterix the Gaul. You will probably want to order and read all the others, too 🙂 Le Monde lists it as one of the one hundred most memorable books of the 20th century…
I remember one of the last American magic convention I had been to before the Pandemic we had a sandwich and a cup of coffee for lunch. At a recent Spanish convention, where they give you at least two hours lunch break, we started with a few tapas (olives, anchovies, gambas) and an aperitif (a Vermouth, which is back en vogue), followed by a little salmon tartare as a starter with a glass of Albariño, a cold soup (no wine with a soup), a Boeuf Bourguignon with a glass of Rioja Reserva, a cheese with a Sherry, and then a little dessert with a Pedro Ximenez, an espresso with an Orujo (the Spanish Grappa), and maybe a cigar if there is time and place.
Isn’t this difference remarkable?
And it could make for a lovely presentational hook: Have a card selected and find it in a quick and visual way. Say that this is the American way. Then explain that you are now going to show the same trick, but in the manner they would do it in France or Spain. Come up with at least a five-minute routine where a chosen card is found once or in several ways (maybe: first on top, then reversed, then in the cards case, and to end in your wallet?).
Whether you like it or not, fact is that presentational ideas are waiting everywhere, and this one came just from reading a lengthy address in Spain that gave me a good laugh!
Better Late Than Never
A few weeks ago I received an email, remarkable on various levels, and I simply have to tell you about it. I asked the person in question if I may do so in my The Magic Memories, and he agreed, but I’ll keep his name a secret 🙂
His first email to me read:
Dear Mr. Giobbi
I am an amateurs, working on card magic for myself. When I started, I went to YouTube for a couple years then discovered and bought several of your work from some outfits for $10-$20. Your teaching has been a tremendously uplifting in all areas.
I owe you $500 as a small token of appreciation . Wire transfer is the easiest, Paypal works if you wish.
Thank you again,
Dear Mr. X,
Thank you for your message, this is truly extraordinary.
When I was a student (over 40 years ago!), I photocopied magic books that were out of print or that I couldn’t afford (no Internet then). Later, when they were back in print and I could afford them, I bought them all in original, to thank the authors.
Now you’re doing the same thing – but we must be the only ones, as I had never anyone else do what you’re doing.
If I may, I will tell this story on my blog (without mentioning your name nor company, of course), if you don’t mind.
Also, may I send you something physical to show my appreciation, e.g., my book Secret Agenda, if you don’t have it (it is one of my favorites), or maybe a set of my Card College Playing Cards? For this I need an address.
Here is my bank account info:
In favor of: Roberto Giobbi, Schlossbergstrasse 5, 4132 Muttenz, Schweiz
Will let you know when it worked.
All the best,
The $ 500 arrived into my account within a few days.
This is even more remarkable in that this person is the head of an important company, so it takes twice as much courage to do what he did, I think.
Anyway, this is a beautiful gesture, and it is the first time that anyone has done this to me.
So, just in case anyone reading this has bought some pirated PDFs or videos of my publications, and wants to clear his or her conscience and receive my absolution, you can send me an email through the “Contact” on my webshop, or send wine, liquor, cigars or anything considered unhealthy to the address above 🙂
BTW: I case you are concerned about my health, I remind you that Doug Henning (1947 – 2000), who meditated several hours per day, lived on an Ayurveda diet, practiced sports, and led a life that is considered through and through healthy, lived to be 53, while Dai Vernon (1894 – 1992), who drank liquor regularly, smoked cigarettes and later cigars on a daily basis, and did almost everything considered to be unhealthy, lived to be 98 of age, almost twice as long as Henning.
Long ago I decided I want to live to be 98…
Card College Playing Cards – One-way Card Trick
I remind you that the Card College Playing Cards have a very subtle one-way back design: Absolutely not obvious and virtually impossible to detect, but easily recognizable from a normal distance for those in the know. You can even see it in a hand-fan, in a tabled ribbon-spread, or when you spread the cards between your hands. More info on the cards and how to get them HERE.
I suggest you open two notes in your notebook, paper or electronic, one with “One-way Back Principles”, the other with “Tricks With One-way Back Cards”.
In the January 2023 issue of Genii David Britland describes a trick that puts the one-way back characteristics of a deck to excellent use. If you subscribe to Genii – and I recommend you do as I do (no pun intended) – you’ll find it on p. 54, titled “Take it or Leave it”.
On Reviews, Critique, Reports and Other Opinions
As a response to my report on the Session in The Magic Memories 108, Toni Cachadiña from Barcelona wrote:
I found this article by Roberto excellent. It honestly describes the circumstances at the Session with knowledge, freshness and clarity, at all time being respectful towards everyone, but giving an in-depth comment based on his great experience of many years, and with integrity, on the good and not so good things. Interesting, not as the convention reports in most magic magazines, were everything is said to be perfect, excellent and very magical, something that hardly matches the truth. You have to be objective, clear, and tell it as it is, because this will be for the betterment of magic, and it will be better received by the audience. Thank you Roberto.
I take note that each time I write something “critical” I get a lot more reactions than with other writings.
I remember that when in my Genii column “The Genii Session” I wrote about Robert-Houdin’s infamous quote of the magician being an actor playing the role of a magician, a “critical” even “controversial” article, and maintained that a magician is not an actor, and that “acting” (in the sense of the professional actor) could be detrimental to good magic, it caused what they nowadays call a “shit storm”. (If you would like to read that article from 2010 you find it HERE. Also see “Be Yourself” in Sharing Secrets (p. 26) for more thoughts on the subject.)
And when I wrote restaurant reviews for a newspaper here in Switzerland – I did this for almost two years – the only one that received a lot of comments was one where I negatively commented on a restaurant. For those among you who “collect” the Giobbi stuff, HERE is the PDF with the collected restaurant reviews – In German, natürlich 🙂
It seems that the slogan “only bad news are good news” is not such a cliché after all…
It reminds me of when George Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950), who always refused to write book reviews, was forced into writing one by circumstances.
Since he didn’t like the book, he wrote:
“This book is good and original. But the original part is not good, and the good part is not original.”
I know of a few magic books to which his would apply, too, but I’ll keep my mouth shut on this one…
Years ago, in the past millennium (!), Christian Scherer, who was then the editor of the Swiss magic magazine Hokus Pokus, asked me if I would consider writing book reviews.
I was then reminded of the famous literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki (1920 – 2013) who once said that if you write badly about an author’s book, you will have him as an enemy for the rest of your life. Indeed, after he wrote a critical review about Heinrich Böll’s book Fürsorgliche Belagerung (1979). Böll, a Nobel Prize Winner in literature (1972), didn’t talk to Reich-Ranicki for a long time.
So, I initially refused, but after some kind pressure I agreed to review only the books I liked 🙂
I did so for about a year, with a dozen books or so, until one day I reviewed a good book, and wrote very well about it, with the exception of one single sentence, which was not negative, it simply was not “hurrah, hurrah, hurrah”. Promptly the author wrote back, taking exception to this one single phrase, ignoring the rest, and started to argue and bring up excuses for having written what I did not glorify.
Then and there I decided that this was my last book review and to never again waste my time for such things (unless I was paid for, but this doesn’t happen in the world of magic magazines, or only rarely…).
After all, in magic we are a “family”, which I feel is a good thing, but in some instances it is not.
Final Thoughts (for today…)
This Saturday morning I started out by wanting to write a short blog with a few bits of trivia.
On rereading it late in the evening before sending it online, it turns out some of it is not so trivial after all.
Which reminds me of what Max Maven (I miss you!) said about Dai Vernon (I miss you, too!) in The Spirit of Magic, the documentary about Dai Vernon (watch it HERE), “What he said and did was never trivial.”
It’s a great motto to live by, at least it is worth trying.
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).
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 🙂
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:
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.
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.
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…).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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…
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 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…
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!
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.
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.
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!
Here are a few ideas to think about:
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 (!).
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.
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…).
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.
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