Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sorcerer Shopping Guide Part III

Today, we're going to be highlighting some novelties from the very kitschy and off-beat Archie McFee. Good for the comedians among you especially.

3-D Glasses
You can do something with these right?

Pirate Coins
Everybody likes pirates, right? Get yourself booked on Talk Like a Pirate Day, do a coin assembly while talking about buried treasure... Hell, this practically writes itself!

Find the Monkey Game
The only time when you can ever say, "Find the monkey!" to a woman without going to prison. I kid, I kid! Something to spice up the usual cups and balls routine or shell game.

Giant Chess Set
Someone please think of a parlor or stage routine for this.

Harry Houdini Action Figure
You know you want one.

Shakespearean Insult Gum
A clever force here could make for a novel prediction or mind reading act.

Mini Tiki Mugs
Another kitschy variation on your cups and balls routine.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Kvlt Kiddie Syndrome and You

I've decided to revisit an old thorn in my side for this topic. But first, that title is probably a bit strange to you, especially the weird spelling of the first word. So before we get started, here's some background.

As some of you know, I love metal. But I have a slight love/hate relationship with a particular sub-genre known as black metal. The style is characterized by lo-fi productions, tremolo picked riffs, blast beat drumming, and phlegmy inhuman vocals. The genre got its initial inspirations in what is sometimes dubbed the first wave of black metal. Bands such as Mercyful Fate and Venom laid the groundwork for a preoccupation with the supernatural, while groups like Celtic Frost and Bathory pushed metal music into a more extreme direction that had never been explored before. Most of these bands would not qualify as black metal today, but were simply an influence on the formation of the genre.

The second wave came from Norway and defined the black metal sound. This was largely the effort of bands such as Immortal, Mayhem and Burzum. What united these bands beyond their sound was a strong anti-mainstream ethos. In addition to recording music that was borderline unlistenable, they dressed themselves in freaky costumes replete with spikes, weapons and ghoulish face paint (commonly referred to as corpsepaint). Their on-stage antics were gory, violent and depraved. The off-stage history of Norway's black metal scene is also littered with crimes including but not limited to church burnings and murder. Word of advice, do not do a Google image search for "dawn of the black hearts." Just trust me on this one.

Anyway, the scene has changed considerably since the early 90's marked the end of the second wave with most of the bands involved splitting up or going through a carousel of line-up changes. But the anti-mainstream attitude persists. Dimmu Borgir are currently the most commercially successful black metal band on earth, and for the most part the black metal community has disowned them.

A few years back, a number of black metal bands sent emails to the wiki Encyclopedia Metallum: the Metal Archives. The site maintains a profile of every metal band on earth listing current line-ups, labels, discographies and other information. These black metal groups however wanted their profiles removed. They said that being on the internet was too mainstream and hurt their credibility in the scene. Predictably the site owners laughed at them, denied the request and called them "kvlt kiddies." The word "kvlt" comes from an inside joke among metalheads, saying that black metal fans won't listen to anything that they can't describe as kvlt, nekro, or tr00. I have yet to meet anyone who uses those words unironically, but there you go.

And finally we come to the punchline of kvlt kiddie syndrome, my own little nickname for the tendency in people, artistic types in particular, to reject everything mainstream as bad and everything underground or unknown as good. Kvlt kiddies don't want to share their table with anyone. In part I think it has to do with the availability of information these days. Just about anything can be found with a simple Google search, for better or worse. Without going into details, let's just say that in the process of researching old B-movies I stumbled across a a sub-genre of pornography that makes it very difficult for me to look at Halloween costumes the same way anymore. Anyway, this availability of information means that any hoarded, inaccessible information becomes more valuable via the scarcity concept. You did read "Influence" didn't you?

Magic kvlt kiddies oppose anything that would make magic more commercially visible, especially the retailers of magic. They most often accompany these protests with doomsday prophecies of what catastrophes will befall us if magic goes mainstream. That one is more unique to magic than most other art forms, actually. It still comes from the selfish desire to not want to have to share your table with anyone else. If you know anyone who is or yourself have ever been part of a fandom of any kind, you see similar behavior in those who decry casual followers of the subject matter as not being "true fans" or some other such nonsense.

This is a problem because in order to preserve objectivity you need to continually rotate in new blood and expose yourself to opinions outside of the "scene." Black metal is having a bit of a slump because of the kvlt kiddie attitude. It's hard to rotate new ideas in and a lot of new bands are just rip-offs of those who came before. It's worth remembering that success and recognition are not a bad thing. Immortal didn't sell out by signing to Nuclear Blast records instead of staying on a tiny label based out of small town in Norway that only had two other bands on the roster. They're still making the same music, they just now have a better budget to work with.

There are a lot of things wrong with the mainstream art and entertainment industry. But if you've ever heard the soundtrack to Juno, then you know that the indie scene isn't much better. It's important not to get caught up in the idea that the two are mutually exclusive. Once you do, you get stuck in a rut and miss the good ideas and opportunities that you should be taking advantage of.

Remember, it is possible to pass kvlt kiddie syndrome to others. But there is treatment available.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sorcerer Shopping Guide Part II

Just a short one today. Only two links. And they aren't especially magical, but there is a point to it.

Great American Days


If you haven't clicked on those links as you're reading this, go do so now. I'll wait.

Done? Good. If you did click those links, you're probably wondering why on earth I sent you to those sites. What do outrageous adventure packages have to do with being a magician? A lot actually. You're a performer creating an experience for an audience. You can't create an experience if you haven't already had one yourself.

The best thing you can do for your magic is to go out and do interesting things. Make some memories. Have an adventure! I'm not so naive as to believe that what happens to a person is what builds character. It's how you feel about it.

So let me ask you: How do you think you'd feel about experiencing a vintage monoplane tour over the English countryside? How would you feel about scuba diving with sharks? Or visiting an authentic ghost town in the Rockies? If all that seems a bit too rich for you, how about a harbor tour of a historic US city? Or ballroom dancing lessons? Or sushi lessons?

The two links above offer all those things. It just depends on where you live. If nothing there is convenient for you, do a Google search on your town and see what sort of interesting experiences there are to be found. Make yourself a better performer by becoming a more interesting person in general. Let a more interesting life be your gift to yourself.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sorcerer Shopping Guide Part I

With the holidays coming up, I thought I'd provide you, my readers, with some new venues to find some props, books, and other sundries to get your creativity going. So break out the wishlist and prepare to find a wealth of new items to completely blow your paycheck (or a relative's paycheck) on. It's what this time of year is all about, right?

Our first featured store in the series is I'd like to highlight a couple of their products and how they might help you.

Bucky Balls
These little guys are rare earth magnets formed into a series of 216 little balls about 5mm in diameter. Magnets have been part of magical methodology for ages. What's interesting about these little guys is their size. They have a good magnetic pull to them, and the tininess makes it very easy to conceal them without suspicion in or on a number of objects. Experiment with a set of these and see where your mind goes from there.

Colored Flame Tea Candles
There are a lot of possibilities here. I have several ideas myself, but I'm sure you can think of more.

Hollow Spy Coins
Given the sort of coin gimmicks already on the market, these seem like a natural next choice. I'm planning to get one of these myself and experiment with flash paper and billets first.

Squishy Shot Glass Set
If you know a routine for producing a full shot glass, this can be integrated with some sponge balls as well if you're performing for an over-21 crowd. That's just off the top of my head though. Being collapsible and portable makes it easy to hide, so there are plenty of other possibilities for the clever magician.

Micro-Spy Remote
Those of you who read The Dresden Files and certain other pieces of genre fiction may recall a tendency for technology to screw up in the presence of magic. I saw this and thought, "Why not?"

DIY Library Kit
I honestly have no idea what I want to do this yet, but I want to do something. Maybe one of you can think of a good routine.

The Zombie Survival Guide
I swear, one day I will make a book test out of this.

Sneaky Uses for Everyday Things
Sneakier Uses for Everyday Things
Sneakiest Uses for Everyday Things
Do I really need to explain this one to you? Technically these are mostly DIY science projects, but a clever magician knows how to use technology to his advantage.

No, it's not particularly magical, but it does look like a good way to keep your hands in good shape if you're into doing knuckle-busting sleight of hand.

There's the first installment in our little holiday guide. There's more coming down the pipeline though, so don't ask your relatives to spend everything in one place.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Control the Playing Field

"Move over here, you'll get a better view."

I recently had to explain this to a young man. In one of his videos he showed himself doing a card trick at a bizarre distance from his audience. He repeatedly insisted he was trying to accommodate people to his sides, though none were visible. As a result, it was very difficult to tell what was going on. It's an all too common mistake of amateur magicians and even some professional ones. They forget that as the performer, you are in control of the situation. At least, you should be.

Robert Greene once wrote in "The 33 Strategies of War," "Instead of trying to dominate the other side's every move, work to define the nature of the relationship itself." Most performances are very reactive to the audience rather than the other way around. How much better would it be if you were in control of the very situation itself so that you needn't worry about the reactions?

This is challenging, but by no means impossible. A big part of it is simply refusing to play on other people's terms. A schoolyard bully will seek out any victim he can, but they all inevitably encounter one who give as good as he gets. My brother was such a case. In grade school, there was one bully who gave him a lot of grief, but two incidents in particular changed that. The first was when the bully tried to pin my brother to a wall, so my brother placed a strong kick in the boy's most open and vulnerable spot: the groin. The second time was at a school recital. The bully was standing behind my brother on the bleachers the student chorus was using, jabbing him in the back of the head through the whole show. At the conclusion, as the students were filing off the bleachers, my brother wheeled around and punched the kid in the chest so hard it actually knocked him down several rows of seats to the stage floor. In front of the whole assembled audience of parents and grandparents and the entire class. After that public humiliation, the little parasite never messed with my brother again.

You don't need to be overly aggressive to get this dynamic going however. It's simply a matter of making sure people understand that you know what you're talking about. You have experience. You have authority. You have expertise. And even if you're not a 20-year veteran of the industry, fake it till you make it. I know some people abhor that phrase, but forget them.

More often it all starts with something simple. "Move over here, you'll get a better view." Those eight words are some of the best in crowd control you'll ever learn. People will accept your word as authority if you establish from the outset that you are the expert.

And example that comes to mind is Mystery Science Theater 3000. When they were first picked up by Comedy Central, then the Comedy Channel, they were flown in and shown the offices where the channel worked. They were trying out a concept of a stage surrounded by offices and cubicles to streamline communication. Joel and crew saw this was a terrible place to work, but knew they couldn't say that out loud. Instead they said things like, "Oh, you're ceilings are only 12 feet high? That'll never work. We have guys in puppet trenches." The bosses at the Comedy Channel had never done anything like MST3K before, so they just took the Best Brains crew's word for it. After a little negotiating, Best Brains set up their own office in their hometown in the Midwest. Away from the main hub of the Comedy Channel, they had more freedom to do as they pleased. And being coastal natives, the bosses only flew in to check on Best Brains a couple times a year. Even then, whenever they arrived, they would rent giant SUVs and only stay for a couple days because they had heard all the jokes about Midwest weather and were terrified of being snowed in.

With that level of autonomy, Best Brains had the freedom to do pretty much whatever they wanted. They had completely gamed the system by changing the playing field. It was no longer about the Comedy Channel trying to do things their way. Now they were suddenly at risk of losing programming their fledgling channel really needed.

This also works on tough spectators. I once had a girl burning my hands. I was running out of things to say and knew that the pacing was going to be ruined if I didn't do something. As I spoke, I kept lowering my hands to about waist level. I trailed off in mid-sentence when I looked at her, then pretended to follow her line of sight. I moved my hands a little as if to follow her gaze to my groin, rolled my eyes, snapped my fingers at her and said, "Hey! My eyes are up here, honey." She blushed, but she was laughing. So was everyone else. I had completely reframed her attitude to the audience. In that off-beat moment when no one was paying attention to my hands, I was able to get the move done. And she was none the wiser.

One of the greatest masters of this principle is Uri Geller. He would move people about however it suited him, always endeavored to appear on his terms and his terms only, and never broke character. The latter especially was useful in affecting the audience-performer dynamic. Every time a spoon bent or a compass moved he had the same attitude of, "I have no idea how this happened, but I'm pretty stoked that it did!"

A less controversial example would be Docc Hilford. When he goes to a party, there are people who will say, "Hey, there's this woman who wants to see some of your mind reading." To which he will reply, "Great. Tell her I'm over at the bar." It's all on his terms.

Learn to start altering the relationship between you and your audience, and you'll never stress out over reactions ever again.