APRIL 2015:
SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT CLARITY AND CONFUSION IN MAGIC

Clarity is without a doubt a goal that our magic should aim. Ultimately, clarity means putting things easy to the spectators so they can fully focus and rejoice in the magic and not get lost along the way, just the opposite to confusion. To me is not always clear what we mean when we talk about clarity because there are practically endless ways in which we can confuse our spectators, here are some of them that I have found:

  • Sometimes we speak of lack clarity when we meant visibility. This is kind of the most basic requirement that our magic should have; people have to perceive the things that are happening, and I am not talking only to the actual effect but all stages of a magic act as Ascanio defined them (expository phase, initial situation, magic moment and corroboration). Sometimes we can achieve more clarity (perceptibility) by other means like by sound. This happens in coin magic all the time, it is obvious in routines like “the Miser Dream” or “Kangaroo coins” where the actual effect or its corroboration is enhanced by the clinking, but it happens too in most coin routines where the sound helps to clarify everything. (Sidenote: Although the possibilities of coin magic nowadays are endless, I think one of the flaws on moderns routines is the precisely the lack of sounds)
  • Sometimes the effect is confusing because we actually didn’t give much thought about what effect we are dealing with. A few years back I was playing with an idea, a three card Monte routine with an odd backed card with several phases; it was somewhat clever from the inside but kind of weak from the outside. I had the opportunity to show it to Juan Tamariz and he gently replied me with his popular question, “Which one is the Effect here?” Sure enough I had no idea which it was, and that explained a lot of things…
  • Other times the effect on its own potentially very confusing, many times, because we try to fuse several effects in one and most of the times the result is not very clear. Like “the signed card torn that appears restored at though number and color change its back along the way”. Same way we should care about the Effect we are dealing with we should do it with the Phenomenon (Henning Nelms “Magic and Showmanship”).
  • Other occasions we just ask the spectator to hold too much information in order to understand the effect, and the result is very weak because of the lack of clear contrast between the initial and final situation. For instance a Silver/Copper transposition may be very confusing (even if the method is perfect) if we ask the spectator to keep track of the both coins at the same time because it is just too much (the copper in the right hand and the silver one on the left hand). The solution to overcome I learnt from Gabi too, is simple and brilliant. We should just focus in one coin (the silver one) and only ask the spectator to keep track of it, when the effect happens as the silver one is transformed into a copper coin the rest of the effect explain itself, so in the end it was unnecessary to hold the information of both coins. A good thumb rule is precisely that, in order to avoid confusion reduce the information required to understand the effect at a minimum.
  • Sometimes the effect is clear (on the paper) but we confuse the spectator with the procedures (generally required by the particular method used to accomplish it). Our work is to remove everything superfluous or unnecessary keeping a good balance of economy and clarity (Arturo de Ascanio dixit). A good method not only needs to be clever and deceptive, it must allow clarity.
  • It also happen that what is confusing is the order in which we present the events/actions of a routine to the audience (sometimes the order is motivated by the method). A good order will help the make memorable what we want the audience to remember, forgettable what we don’t, and will give the routine an organic quality. (Another sidenote: On the use of information dosage for dramatic purposes I recommend, as I was recommended, to study the work Alfred Hitchcock in François Truffaut’s book)
  • Sometimes the effect in not cleat because we just forget about the “magical gesture”, as my good friend Jaime Figueroa use to say, “The magical gesture helps to put things in good order”. The magical gesture not only is fictional cause of the magic that happens, it also helps to frame the effect in a particular moment and space so the spectator is prepared to witness it and understand it. Without a magical gesture a magic effect may look as an accident or go unnoticed. I would like to talk about the “3 Fly” and my experience with it but not this time, I just want to point out that I think one of the problems of many “3 Fly” routines (in contrast to “Coins Across” routines) is the lack of “magical gesture”. (Another sidenote: As I learnt from Gabi the magical gesture it is not limited to the classics “wand wave”, “magic snap” or “magic blow”; It could be a word, a gesture, a stare, a silence…)
  • Sometimes what it is confusing is the routining. When some effects are grouped in a routine but each one point in a different direction (phenomenon). For instance, I find the kicker transformation in some versions of Jennings’s “Open Travelers” routine quite confusing, I think people react to the effect but I don’t think they understand very much what happened. In that case the spectators have to put some effort trying to understand what it was what happened preventing them from fully experience the magic (because they their minds are busy at the moment). In the wonderful “Revelation Series” Dai Vernon said that he hated when magicians did thing like making coins appear under cards at the end of a card routine with no motivation whatsoever. “And you just cut to the four aces from a shuffle deck… (Applause) but wait!! Not only that but under each card there is a silver coin!!”
  • Other occasions what we do is twist or pervert a popular effect (among magicians) so it looks new and doesn’t bore us, most of the time our spectators miss the point (comedians call this “bananas on bananas”, jokes about jokes that are funny only for connoisseurs but that laymen miss most of the time)

To finish talking about clarity, here I left you with a video of one of the best and more seasoned professional magicians that I know, Joaquin Matas from Barcelona. He is one of the magicians who motivated me to write about clarity and confusion. It is his beautiful version/handling of Dai Vernon’s Cups and Balls routine (without the last phase for obvious reasons). ENJOY!!

It is very hard to play around with a Vernon’s routine without screwing it all up (see first article of the blog). Joaquin does enhance clarity with his with contributions to the routine and as you can see perform it flawlessly. If you read Spanish you can find all the details of this and many more of his professional routines in his book A fuego lento” by Ediciones Mystica. What I belive it is one of the best books on magic released in the past years.

I just want to point out two things of the routine related to the content of this article

  • Mind how he cares to use the wand as the magical gesture on every effect of the routine. He just don’t forget about it when he doesn’t need it anymore, and he manage to used it in an harmonious way during the whole routine. And it is very important because as he says in the presentation “the wand is the source of the magician’s power in this ancient routine” (the phenomenon is respected during the whole routine).
  • This is just beautiful!! Look how to manage to enhance the clarity of the second phase during the “spectator’s choice” part of the routine by lifting the cup on 2:41. By displaying that ball the spectators will not have to remember what it is under that cup anymore, and they don’t need it to fully experience the upcoming effect. At the end of the effect, all the cups are lifted and everything is showing so the spectator can rejoice in the magic with no further thinking. That addition is brilliant, and the amazing thing is that this time no knuckle busting or fancy gimmicked were needed, “just” the experience, awareness and deep understanding of what is being deal with to know that this cup should be lifted in that particular moment of the routine.

PS: I’m glad I was able to write this article about clarity and confusion in magic without resorting the Professor’s hackneyed phrase “CONFUSION ISN’T MAGIC!!”

Thanks for reading!

Pipo

Rio do Janeiro

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