Friday, July 12, 2013


   Magicians love theory, and it seems that Spanish magicians love it even more. If you take a look at the international magic scene you will discover that Spain, and the Latin culture, develop their theories about the art of magic to a greater extent than most. In lectures, articles, books, master classes, internet forums... and even in a casual conversation between two magicians, you will find not only discussions about the most suitable technique in the context of a routine, but also discussions of theoretical issues, applications, and the validity of said theories.

   This is probably a result of master Ascanio's influence, and the development of the Escuela Magica de Madrid, whose circular letter has, for more than 30 year, been eminently theoretical.

   The importance of Arturo de Ascanio's theories cannot be denied. But as others have previously noted, Ascanio did not “invent” them in a vacuum. His theoretical conceptions came from watching other magicians perform (primarily, Fred Kaps who Ascanio considered to be the perfect performer). Ascanio gave names to existing but previously undefined concepts that, while already being instinctively used, were hard to define. Thanks to Arturo’s work we can now apply a “parenthesis of forgetfulness”, avoid an “anti-contrast parenthesis”, and take advantage of the “tube effect”, not only by instinct, but on a conscious level.

   And that is the greatness of Ascanio's works: The use of theory as a tool. Theory must be born from performing, analyzing your performance, and then returning to theory. If it doesn’t, it is easy to fall into the trap of merely senseless pondering.

   But there's something that worries me. In my opinion, an excess of theory, or, should I say, an exaggeration of its importance, creates the opposite effect. On the one hand, some of the younger magicians (including me) sometimes dare to make theories about some aspects of magic when we still lack years (not only in terms of experience, but also yet to reach maturity). Besides, when theory becomes the foundation of our magic, rather than just one more tool, it creates a rigidity in the way one performs, thinks, creates and values. And, at the same time, I see some people overreacting in a negative way when they realize that theory, isn't always perfect. In the latter case, we can sometimes find articles and opinions that discuss, attack, and sometimes it seems that they even try to destroy the theoretical foundations on which we've based our work many years ago.

   The notion of “theoretical relativism” is something that I thought of, at an internal level, when I witnessed, or participated in discussions about theory, and someone defended a trivial theory, as fiercely as if his life depended on it, or as if the idea was an unmovable pillar on which rested the very existence of magic. Or sometimes, the opposite occured, and someone stated that a well-established theory, used and proved for centuries, was no longer valid, and that magicians should discard it if we wanted our art to develop and reach a new level of depth and meaning.

   Curiously, most of the time, the people presenting those arguments had only been practicing magic for a few years, and/or were never able to articulate a practical use for the theories they defended.  So they failed to provide any evidence that might have convinced others that their ideas were valid.

   Most of the times, my opinion was that some parts of their ideas were right, but it is difficult to try to present a “universal truth” in these kind of discussions, because in magic there is no absolute truth about what the audience should see or think.

   I think Alex Elmsley might have been a precursor of this “theoretical relativism” idea. He wrote an article in which he compared the trick to a patient, and theory to the remedy for its illness. “But a person goes to the doctor only when he's ill, and only then the search for the right remedy begins”. If a doctor gave every medicine in the world to a new patient, in order to keep him healthy, he would probably kill him.

   The lesson of this this essay is to be aware of how the different theoretical concepts of magic can be applied to an actual performance. However, when I start working on a trick, I begin mainly from intuition. Theory vs. intuition? Are those concepts opposite? Actually the truth is the opposite one, as probably the seed for Ascanio's theories was is wonderful intuition. It is the same for Gabi's concepts, Bob Neale's classifications, and Tamariz's theory of false solutions.

   Because what usually happens, when you create by intuition, is that you unconsciously apply all of the theory you know. If you detect a problem in your creation then, as Elmsley proposed, it is time to try to find a remedy in theory. But if theory goes against your intuition, I think that, when in doubt, it's better to follow the latter. Follow what's inside you, even when it makes you question your theoretical base, and makes you feel unsure. But, if there's something that I am completely confident about is what I feel when I am performing a trick. And, if something works for me, I'd rather not change it. I will have plenty of time to determine why it works, and maybe, after several years of experimentation, and drawing conclusions, I will find a new theory myself.

   That is why I warn you to be careful when reading the articles on theory included in this book. They are nothing more than my opinions, and the consequences of my own experiences and my mentor's teachings.

   When I began studying music, I found several handbooks about creating harmony. They taught almost-mathematical concepts for a method that made that any melody you played on a piano sound “well The problem was that sometimes I wouldn't follow the handbook’s methods, but I would still get a good sound - even though I was not following the established rules. A friend of mine, a viola player, told me, while recording one of my pieces with his string quartet: “I hope you know what you're doing! This chord doesn't match the harmony!”  I almost felt guilty for liking what I heard. Could it be that I had no musical talent? Was I wasting all of the basic principles of polyphony?

   Years later, I was relieved when as I studied the works of a master who is considered by many to be the best author of music handbooks in the world: Walter Piston, famous for his books on orchestration and harmony. In one of them, he stated: “The rules presented in this harmony handbook are not unchangeable principles that can't be avoided, but mere guiding rules deducted from the works of composers during more than 4 centuries. I will not tell you how to do things, just how they have been done so far”.

   I always try to follow his advice.

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