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Bill Guinee

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Reply with quote  #1 

I hear some magicians extol the importance of studying the classics and others deride that material as "old" by which they seem to mean "outdated." But, I don't have much of an idea exactly what it is about the old stuff that magicians particularly like or dislike.

Sometimes, I have heard magicians make the comment that "everyone has seen that trick." I am not sure what they mean by "everyone" but I suspect that they are referring to other magicians. For example, I have never encountered a layman who has seen "Out of this World" performed unless they were watching a repeat performance of mine. I don't include the spouses of magicians in the category of laymen. Perhaps most laymen have seen the cups and balls performed, but I don't have any research to demonstrate whether or not that is the case. So, is the endless search for the new propelled by magicians wanting to fool other magicians?

Personally, I am drawn to the classic effects. Partially this is because I can look up all the variations that other magicians have come up with over the years (though most seem to weaken the original effect in order to make it easier or to needlessly complicate the trick for other magicians). Partially, it may be a belief that classics have survived because they are strong (which I know may not always be the case).

Yesterday, I finished re-reading an old book off my shelf, Lewis Ganson's The Art of Close-Up Magic Vol 1. I think it may be one of the best books on magic that I have read, just full of brilliant ideas and routines. Admittedly, there are problems. I wouldn't even consider using the presentations and patter written in the routines, but I should create my own even from newer books. Some of the props no longer seem recognizable or appropriate. And there are venue problems. For example, there is a lot of stuff that relies on lapping (which I think was based on an even older concept put forth by Hoffman in Modern Magic that the servante is the most useful device for magicians), whereas I stand at tableside. But, the basic ideas are generally excellent.

It does seem to me that often methods have advanced; we have developed new and often improved sleights. But, there are still moves in Erdnase that are pretty wonderful.

This morning, I am working on my Ambitious Card Routine (ancient) and I suddenly realized that Marlo's Misdirection palm (from the 60-year-old Cardician) would be a perfect way into card to envelope (pre-LePaul) effect that precedes the deck switch from a holdout (pre-Houdin).

I am sorry I rambled so long, but I would love to hear your thoughts on the old and the new. What are the values and problems with each?

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Kenneth Lee

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Reply with quote  #2 
Bill, 

I couldn't agree more. I mean no disrespect to anyone, but many magicians seem to believe that new=good. On a different post, I noted that I evaluate a trick based on two factors: practicality (Is it within my current technical range? Can it be performed under the circumstances I most frequently encounter?) and the likelihood that the trick will fool a reasonably intelligent person. 

In light of those factors, it seems to me that the older books still have most of the best magic. You've already identified the one caveat I would add, though: Much of the older material does require some adaptation in order to be practical in common modern venues. That being said, very rarely does a new book come along with even half the usable tricks in it as one can find in the old classics. If you judge the quality of the book by the number of tricks it contains that you actually perform and that actually fool people, then I'm afraid you have to go back at least a few decades to start really hitting the mother lode. Granted, exceptions to this rule do exist, but for the most part, I'd guess that around 90% of the magic that's been published in the past couple of decades is better for impressing other magicians than for amazing and entertaining a lay audience. With the older books, the opposite seems true. I realize my opinion may be unpopular, but I'm glad there's at least one magcian out there who seems to share it. :-)

Kenn
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Mike Powers

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Reply with quote  #3 
As I watched TMF Live over the last couple of days, I took note of the number of references to "older" tricks and ideas. The roots of nearly everything that was shown go back into the past fairly far. Tweaking and combining and handling etc are generally the tweaking and combining and handling of older tricks. There are definitely new sleights and techniques coming out and Cardistry is a totally new branch of magic (or is it juggling?). But so much of what I'm seeing on lectures and books have credits that read deep into the past. 

My observation is that the influence of the "old" on the "new" is huge.

Mike
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RayJ

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Reply with quote  #4 
Very interesting topic Bill.  It is deep and complex.  Seems to me an underlying theme going on is where some assume because many things get better with time, then magic certainly has to follow, right?

I think some of it is mere human nature.  We all go through phases where we rebel against authority to one degree or another and we also go through a phase where we tend to believe our generation knows more or knows better.

Take my youngest dauther, now 20.  Please!  I mean it!  Okay, seriously, she once got into the habit of calling me "boomer" during discussions.  I quickly realized it was a disparaging term meant to diminish my opinion as not current or relevant.  I now forbid the use of the word, at least to my face.  She can call me whatever she wants in private.

So magic is somewhat similar.  Young magicians probably have a built-in bias to believe newer is better.  And why not?  Take cars for example.  Tune-ups generally come now at 100,000 miles.  When was the last time you replaced a muffler?  When I was a kid I swear I lived at the muffler shop.  If Midas relied on muffler sales, they'd be out of business now.  They don't even stock exhaust pipes like they did.  They now are all bent to order, eliminating the hundreds of pipes lining the shop walls.

And that progress spans most of the stuff we use in our daily lives.  Sure, washing machines might not last like the old Kenmores, but they are dirt-cheap in comparison.  And they could be made to last, but few really care.  They just buy a new one.

When my kids learned curse words, they thought they had invented them.  And sex?  I guess they thought mom and dad found them in the cabbage patch after all because we certainly weren't doing THAT!  It's just human nature.

The Woodstock generation and all of its supposed freedom had nothing on ancient Rome.  Not even close.

And so it goes.  It just is.  And magic gets caught up in the same tendencies.

The truth is there is as much new crap as old crap.  And there are some wonderful new effects to compliment wonderful old effects.  The trick is to not discount either, but rather take the good from each category, old and new.

There are some new sleights which complement many older tricks, improving them greatly.  There are new gaffs which open doors previously shut.  Black Art is making somewhat of a come-back for good or bad, you decide.

There are "magical curmudgeons" I'm sure, who believe magic was better way back when, just as there are "young whippersnappers" that might discount a double-lift unless it flies in the air and does a 360 degree flip before landing on the pack. 

It's just human nature.

There's gold in old magic books.  There is also gold in some of the new magic being created.  Those who take the time to mine both sources will likely end up the richest.


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Magic Harry

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Reply with quote  #5 
In reading the comments here I tend to agree with both schools of thought. There is so much new stuff being invented. But in my opinion you can't invent the new without having any background in the old. I always smile at a memory I have of a young boy about 10 or 11 coming into the Denny and Lee magic shop and asking what's new. I said "everything to a kid your age." And I thought to myself not just in magic. You don't have an opinion of what could be new without knowing what's old (what came before).
Denny (Dennis Haney) always said "you can find it in Tarbell". It's even in scripted on his tombstone, "I told you you...IT'S IN TARBELL!"
Old jokes are funny to those who haven't heard them before. Just like the coin produced from the ear of a little kid for the first time. he's struck with awe. 
After reading over my own comments, it looks like i'm leaning more away from the new in favor of the old, so please disregard my opening sentence.
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RayJ

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Reply with quote  #6 
"So, is the endless search for the new propelled by magicians wanting to fool other magicians?"  Quote from Bill G.'s original post

Bill, I don't think there is a single answer to that question.  Certainly, some magicians have made a career out of producing effects that are mainly shown to other magicians.  They travel the world lecturing to other magicians while seldom performing for "real audiences".  

But I think a lot of the "new" stuff is designed mainly to make money.  Not saying there is anything wrong with that, but it seems a lot of stuff that is hitting the market is of very limited use in the real world.  Unless you perform outdoors in darkish conditions wearing specific clothing, etc.  The emphasis seems to be on quick, visual effects.  What you seldom see in the trailers is how you "get into" and "get out of" the effects.  Something Vernon always wondered about.  Sure, some of the stuff looks incredible, but is it really practical.  Will you amuse yourself in front of a mirror for a while and then put it into the dreaded drawer along with other misspent investments?

And what's with the hype about packaging?  Do you really care whether the trick has a box with a magnetic closure?  I guess you do if you are a collector and want to keep the trick in the box.  If I'm honest, the only tricks I have in their original packaging are my Berland Thimbles and some of my wooden Multiplying Billiard Balls.  And that is simply because I don't want the balls damaged in transit.

I know, it is a thing nowadays for people to fawn over the boxes stuff comes in.  I get it, but still I think it is largely unnecessary.
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Socrates

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Reply with quote  #7 
Over the years I have read many books on magic. The old ones stimulated my mind and introduced me to the history of magic. Alongside this I have also read many new books too. For me these are also informative and interesting... sometimes I see old tricks being marketed as new, other times the new is truly innovative and mind-blowing.

Reading stimulates my thought process, and it is beneficial for me to read from all eras. One thing I enjoy is looking at, and learning the variations on magic tricks. Doing so allows us to understand how to solve problems and create new solutions. It also demonstrates how to see the same problem from multiple angles rather than getting stuck in a rut.

My most useful books contain the psychology of magic. Reading about such things helps me to understand that magic is much more than the mechanics of the tricks we perform. Magic itself is a deep art to study and teaches us much about the world we live in and how the human mind works:

"Controlling and directing an audience's perception, attention, and memory are major skills of the magician's craft" - Gary Kurtz

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Paco Nagata

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Reply with quote  #8 
I think that it's a matter of improvement; not a matter of being old or new.

If an "old" trick is improved, maybe the old version would be forgotten.
However, if the "improvement" (popularly known as "variation") is not so improved, the "old" version will never be old!

Regarding certain magical effects that spectators are tired of seeing, it is like movies; a masterpiece movie will be always a masterpiece no matter how tired were you of watching it (ex. "Star War...").
People that have never seen "Professor's Triumph" will always be amazed with it because it's a masterpiece; it is old in time, but never old in quality.
Mozart's music is old in time, but never will be old in quality since nobody has improved it (it's impossible).


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