I was recently interviewed about how:
However, it relates very well to what we can learn from the dynamo phone in bottle trick. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:
Would you say tricks that involve contemporary technologies and thinking such as mobile phones have become more popular than other traditional forms of close magic?
Dominic Reyes: Although contemporary technologies have grown in popularity over the last few years, it’s still a very small niche within magic. Their main use still tends to be in the field of mentalism as that is often more information and communication focused. Sleight of hand still retains it’s core importance in most magicians acts.
However, in recent years, tricks with spectators mobile phones have become popular with ‘street magicians’ spurred on by the magic tricks of TV magicians such as Dynamo. The dominant market for tech items remains the high end working professionals that will order specific equipment for a trick. The tech is not explicit, but used as part of the method rather than a presentation or story telling tool.
Would you say their appeal is down to their ability to culturally engage with current modes of thinking in society?
Dominic Reyes: To some extend, yes. The performance of magic, or rather the good performance of magic is just as much about connecting with people as the tricks themselves. The method used is second to the effect produced and observed by the spectators. Technology gives a performer a short cut in the method, but does not help with the social element of the performance. The interaction with the spectator, the emotional context of the trick or how the spectator relates to the impossible events that are presented to them.
Within a magic trick, there are two levels of action occurring. The evident actions (The magic the spectator see’s) and the non evident actions (The secret method of the trick). Current technology is mainly used in the non evident actions of the trick, and as such, is kept secret from the spectators.
An exception to this, are tricks that use a spectators own devices. Twisting a spectators mobile phone or transforming it into another object. The device tends to be used as an object for transformation. In that sense, the magician aims to culturally engage the spectator by using an everyday object of importance to that person. It’s interesting to note that using a spectators smart phone is VERY engaging. This may suggest that the item is regarded by them as an extension of their identity.
There are some tricks that directly use the spectators device, such as making a card value appear on the screen or being able to mind read their lock pin. However, data from The Merchant of Magic suggests they are most popular with magic hobbyists rather than working professionals. Possibly this may be due to the growing understanding within spectators of the possibilities to manipulate these devices. Magicians often disregard tricks like that, as they tend to subconsciously infer the magical abilities are coming from the device rather than the magician.
In a world now increasingly mediated through the machine – our phones, the Internet etc. To what extent would you say that tricks that involve such technologies aim to play with our hopes, dreams and fears of these devices?
Dominic Reyes: People understand that tech can be manipulated and this knowledge will increase over time. A greater value for a magician is in the perceived value of the item to the owner, their reliance on it and its use as a form of communication with their social group. The most popular tricks will involve playing with those feelings, by vanishing or transforming the item that has a personal meaning to the spectator.
A good example of this is the most famous TV dynamo phone in bottle trick – Dynamo – Magician Impossible putting a borrowed phone inside a bottle. The trick is psychologically powerful. You have transformation into an impossible object as the dominant visual effect, but there is another context and meaning being expressed. The phone and by implication, the spectators contact with their social group, is removed from them, locked inside a glass bottle. Its use has been restricted by the magician using magic. Locking another persons phone in a glass bottle, could also communicate the fear of being removed from your place in society and your social group. Social exclusion a primary fear for humans, and although only expressed on a subconscious level, it’s a powerful psychological force. Dynamo increased this feeling (on purpose) during the presentation, but causing the phone to ring. The phone calls out to be answered, but the owner is powerless to answer the call. That conditioned response to your phone ringing heightens the effect. Viewers can identify with that feeling expressed in the dynamo phone in bottle trick on a subconscious level. Magic tricks that take a primal fear or desire, and manipulate it, get great reactions. Magicians can use this knowledge in many of the tricks they have already performed. A tweak to the presentation, can dramatically change the impact of the trick.
You could also argue that smart phones, can be used as a social aid for a performer. A popular trend at the moment is for close-up magicians to ask spectators to pull out their phones and video the magic he or she is showing. This often gets posted to YouTube and is great publicity for the magician. In this way the magician is using the social power of the device and the spectators social network.
Do you think tricks that involve cutting edge technology that suspend belief and unsettle ones general understanding of the real help society define an understanding of the boundaries of the reality?
Dominic Reyes: There are many sources for this in popular culture. Since the stone age, man has used storytelling to challenge what people believe to be the boundaries of reality. Technology is really just another word for tools that are new. The cave men had their own technology, in the form of 2 dimensional drawings and the use of pigments in cave paintings. The latest tech became the written word, now we use film and video. It’s all group communication, wrapped up in the trappings of the times. Magic is simply another form of story telling. Just like the special effects of a movie or a theatre play, but presented as reality. I think by the time people watch a magic performance, they have already been socialized in many respects. TV and bedtime stories have already tackled that role during childhood development.
However, it may be interesting to research studies performed on first contact tribes in Africa, and their experiences with photography and radios. There are some very interesting results..
What do you think the future holds for magic and magicians particularly in relation to how they might adapt to create tricks that reflect this change in society? Whats next after mobile phone tricks?
Dominic Reyes: In magic, the same tricks repeat over and over again through the centuries, the props used to dress them up change and adapt, but the magic remains constant. Magicians will simply adapt the same effects to suit the objects their spectators find commonplace yet value greatly.
The dynamo phone in bottle trick will soon become obsolete. I would say that mobile phones already have their writing on the wall. As we move towards technologies such AR and VR, the concept of a personal phone as a distinct object, will be regarded as historical. Technology is always becoming smaller and smaller, and as it does this, it seems to be moving closer to the skin. One reason for this, is the slow merge of function away from individual devices.
My watch, camera, PDA, walkman and phone all become one item. The goal seems to be to reduce the need to switch attention between multiple devices as much as possible. The natural progression of this is, in my opinion, moving access to data directly to the eye. Google glass may only be a transition device, but I think a technology like it, will be the next step and presents magicians with a great opportunity. Augmented reality = controllable perception, a magicians dream come true!
In magic, the same tricks repeat over and over again through the centuries, the props used to dress them up change and adapt, but the magic remains constant. Magicians will simply adapt the same effects to suit the objects their spectators value and find commonplace.