Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Updates - Blogging in '08

Bibliophiles Delight
Well , I've been a little remiss posting over Christmas and New Year, but I've got my focus back. Having been tied up with study for so long, I treated myself to a heap of new books, and have been distracted while I immersed myself in them.

I'm a bibliophile from way back, and it was a relief to throw myself into the fray with books that weren't tied to research. There were and are books like Hofstadter's I am a Strange Loop, Wiseman's Quirkology, the latest entries in the Temeraire, Dresden Files, and Discworld series. On the other hand, this is a magic blog, and certainly I went nuts adding to my magic library.

I spent time happily reading new releases such as Peter McCabe's Scripting Magic, and Tobias Beckwith's Beyond Deception. I read reprints of books that I somehow missed the first time around, such as Kaufman's Five by Five Japan, and Racherbaumer's A Class by Himself: The Legacy of Don Alan. Yesterday Magic Inc's reprint of Marlo's Revolutionary Card Technique arrived for me, and I will probably order the reprint of Steranko on Cards in due course, also from Magic Inc. I've been enjoying Miracle Factory books such as Benson by Starlight and the Miracle Ways of Al Baker. I'm also hoping to see The Kingdom of Red turn up any day now.
I think you can see how easily I became disracted...On the other hand, I will review some of these on the blog. Expect to see A review of McCabe's Scripting Magic very soon.
More on Creepy Clowns.
When I speculated in a previous post about the creepiness of clowns and attributed it to the Valley Effect, the only evidence I had that clowns might be perceived in such a way was anecdotal. Now it seems that a study by University of Sheffield (UK) researchers on 250 hospitalised children between four and 16 reveals that most of the children disliked clowns, and many, even the older ones, found them frightening. Assuming the results are true, it might be worthwhile considering ways of making clowns a little less odd in ways that might frighten children.
Magic Wife Swap.
Well that sounds kinkier than it actually is. The TV show Wife Swap apparently has an episode involving a couple who are performing magicians. I was just wondering if anybody knew whether or not said episode had screened in Australia yet.
Be Seeing You,

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Book Review - The Ostrich Factor

Title: The Ostrich Factor - A Practice Guide for Magicians.

Author: Gerald Edmundson

Publisher: Self-published (2004)

Format: Plastic ring bound paperback, U.S. letter size pages (slightly longer than A4).

Where do you get it?: From the author - (who is happy to autograph it for you)

The book's reference to being a practice guide may mislead some prospective buyers. This is in many ways a performance guide. It improves your ability to perform by integrating all the aspects of performance that a magician should be aware of into all aspects of preparation for performance. Rather than approaching the topic of performance directly, the writer ensures that you consider and include in your planning and practice all those things that he suggests are required for successful performance. This is no high-faluting' theory, but an immensely well thought out and practical approach to performance preparation. This is a book that is meant to be applied to your aproach to magic.

So what is this "Ostrich Factor" that he speaks of? This refers to magicians that put their head in the sand, failing to recognise the need to apply a conscious approach to various aspects of their craft. The suggested approach should avoid the pitfalls of failing to adequately address certain aspects of performance.

Edmundson takes you through all the aspects of a successful magic trick or act from the very beginning where all you have is a visualisation of what you want to see in your performance to the very end where you actually perform in a structured manner. He suggests approaches to learning the apropriate sleight of hand moves, until you build up the trick, and eventually the routine or act. At each stage you are led to carefully consider and integrate the aspects of performance that are required.

So what are these aspects of performance I keep referring to? As well as the actual techniques used, he asks you to integrate such aspects as attention control (Think of Tommy Wonder doing his cups and balls), use of misdirection, blocking of movement (Think of the works of Bob Fitch and Jeff McBride in this area), scripting and use of patter, rhythm, and a whole lot of other things such as practicing cues for audience reaction. Then he brings it all together and shows how you develop your entire act from these beginnings, with tips on many practice techniques.

This book will be of no interest to those that want to learn a quick trick, and see no use spending time developing decent presentations. For those interested in serious self-development in the craft, then this book is highly recommended.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Robots and Gollums and Clowns, Oh My....

Clowns are funny. Clowns are entertaining. Everybody loves clowns, don't they?

I think most people do, yet there are those that find them creepy. Disturbing even. Small children may initially react with terror to a clown before they learn that the clown is just a funny man. I'm reminded of Seinfeld's Kramer and his aversion to clowns. I think of the creepy clowns in fiction, such as the clown in Stephen King's It.

So what gives. Why do clowns so easily give rise to the creep factor?. I don't know - not for sure, but I recently read an article in New Scientist that seemed to raise some possibilities. It was talking about the creep factor in the character of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies, which they referred to as the gollum effect. It refers to the fact that people are more creeped out by human like creatures rather then non-human creatures. It is like the twisted humanity is disturbing on some level.

This is an area of some investigation by robotics researchersinterested in human-robot interaction. These researchers call it "The uncanny valley" effect. Robots that are clearly robots do not seem disturbing to the average person, but the closer they come to simulating human features, the more likely they are to seem disturbing. They think that this causes a breach of expectations in the mirror neurons of the brain - the appearance of humanlike characteristics in something that is less than human jarring on the mind.

It is suggested that this is an innate reaction to the detection of infectious disease. A diseased person seems less then human - the characteristics of their disease jar on the expectations of humanity, causing an avoidance reaction, which would probably be a wise move on the part of primitive persons, who would thereby avoid infection.

This brings us back to clowns, humans who act in aberrant ways, and appear different to regular humans. Could it be that adverse reactions to clowns in some people and small children is caused by the same process? Just a bit of speculation, but something to think about.

Be seeing you,
Escherwolf (who has nothing against clowns).

Friday, 30 November 2007

Working the Chain Gang

Ever had trouble learning a routine that has many steps? Ever considered learning it in steps by learning the last step first? Sounds kind of freaky doesn't it, yet...

Psychologists have studied various techniques for teaching complex tasks to developmentally disabled persons who otherwise have trouble learning. They see the steps in a task as a chain of actions with stimulus-response links. What they try to achieve is to make a given action step or its result a stimulus to the next action in the chain.

There are three ways of teaching a chain. The first is probably the most intuitive, and the one usually defaulted to by persons who are not developmentally disabled. This method is called Total Task Presentation. The learner attempts to do all the steps in sequence from beginning to end until the task is mastered.

The second method is Forward Chaining, in which the learner masters the first step completely, then proceeds to the second step, and so on. In this way, the sequence of steps is built up gradually from first to last as each step is mastered.

The final method is Backward Chaining, in which the chain is still divided into simple steps, but the last step is learnt first. Once mastered, the second to last step is taught. This allows the student to automatically flow onto the end of the task, using the end state of the second to last state as the stimulus for the response of the last step. The routine is progressively built up from last to first, so that by the time the first step is being mastered, all the other steps should follow automatically as a series of linked stimulus-response actions.

Now, I am not advocating that any particular method of learning by chains should be used. What I'm suggesting is that if you are stuck on learning a magic sequence, trying a different method of chaining may help you to make progress. It pays to understand not just what you wish to accomplish, but the different methods by which you might accomplish it.

Be seeing you,

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

I'm Back ....

Apologies for my long absence - I was tied up completing a Uni Thesis, and it basically devoured my life. Now it is done and past, and I am just getting myself restarted after a short period of post thesis collapse.

Anyway, for better or worse, I'm back to the blog. I've been enjoying catching up on my reading (I'm about 420 pages into Benson by Starlight, a superb book that I will probably discuss in some future blog, and I have The Ostrich Factor waiting on the coffee table for my attention).

My intention is to post at least once a week, and also to add a few things to the blog, like RSS feeds and perhaps some photos.

Watch this space - it's not dead yet.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Mirrors of the Magician's Soul.

Magic, like most performance arts, relies on communication with an audience. Apart from voice and gestures, perhaps the most important communication tool of the magician is...the eyes. This is true even more so for closeup magic then it is for stage, and I've always felt that television performances of magic are marred by the inability of the performer to make direct eye contact with the audience.

Possibly the best treatise on the use of eyes in magic that I've ever come across is by none other than Juan Tamariz in his "The Five Points in Magic" (Eyes are the very first point he writes about). He speaks of the importance of that visual connection to the audience, and suggests that the magician should imagine that his eyes are connected to the audiences by threads which should never be broken. That eye contact should be maintained. He isn't saying that you should stare at them until they become uncomfortable, or that you cannot look away, just that that visual conection to and from the audience must be maintained.

The eyes can communicate, and Tamariz suggested looking at just your eyes in the mirror with the rest of the face blocked off to see just what kind of expressions and emotions can be shown by just the eyes. Eyes can express all sorts of emotions, whether soft, kind, angry, sinister, threatening, welcoming, confused, sad, friendly and so on. Eyes are how you can express your humanity.

Likewise, observing your audience's eyes can give you clues to how they are responding to the magic. You can see how attentive they are, whether their gaze is where you want it to be, their emotional state, and what their level of interest is. People might try to fake reactions, but the eyes generally give things away.

Now that idea of watching where an audience's gaze is is very important. It's not so much about misdirecting. It's more about, as the late Tommy Wonder used to say, attention direction, making sure that the audience is not only looking where you want them to, but also controlling their level of focus on that point. One of the ways you do this is by the use of your own eyes. Generally, where you look is where the audience will look (assuming that they are engaged in the performance), and how intensely you look is a cue to how mush the audience should focus their attention.

Here's another point, this time courtesy of Bob Fitch (as spoken of by Eugene Burger in the Chicago Visions booklet). You should finish a thought before moving your eyes. Finish a sentence while maintaining a focus on somebody, and then move your eyes. This is how you can convey sincerity. Constantly moving your eyes while doing things or speaking to someone will create an effect of shiftyness.

Here's another tip about eyes. Generally pupils become wider due to two different stimulii. One, low light (due to the need to capture more of the available light). Two, high interest. Interest level of your audiences can be partially gauged by how large their pupils are. This is why dinner by candlelight is so effective for lovers - the low light enhances the appearance of interest in their counterpart by widening the pupil.

Mentalists these days seem to be using NLP more and more these days. NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) also teaches about eye accessing cues. They are worth a look, and certainly they feel intuitively right, but their actual veracity is still under dispute in academic circles.

So what are eye accessing cues? Basically the NLP people argue that your eye movements reflect how you are accessing memories. By observing what kind of directions the eyes go, you can infer what sensory modality they are accessing, and whether or not the memory is being recalled or constructed. Theoretically, you can also detect deception.

So here is how it works. If the eyes go up, they are in a visual modality. If they are in the middle plane, then they are accessing an auditory modality. If they look down, then they are in a kinesthetic modality, thinking or re-experiencing feelings. If, as you look at them, their eyes are to the left, then they are engaging their imagination to construct a 'memory' in whatever modality the vertical direction indicates. If they look to the right, then they are attempting to recall actual memories. This is where claims of deception detection come in, If you ask someone where they have been, and their eyes go up and to the right, then they are trying to recall an actual remembered image of where they have been. If their eyes go up and to the left, then they are attempting to construct an image of someplace that they haven't actually been.

So that's the basics of NLP eye accessing cues, but there is a great deal more about eyes in the NLP literature.

In any case, I see that that is enough for one post, so with a glint in my eye, I'll sign off.
Be seeing you,

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Update on site - New Blogs added.

Just a quick entry today - but I will have a new topic soon.

I've added some new blog links to the list - If you like the Surrealist work of Rene Magritte, I recommend you check out "Tricks and Optical Illusions".

I also decided to try a new template - The green was making me go ...well, green. Not a good colour on me.

I've decided that occassionally I'll throw in some blog entries on things that matter to me on a personal level. A little bit of self-revelation if you will. Don't worry though, Magic will still be the main topic of the blog.

Let me know if you like the new look, and also if you like or hate the idea of me straying from magic every now again to discuss things in my personal background. If you'd rather I kept behind the screen as it were, let me know.

Be seeing you...