A War Fought with Playing Cards

Holger Steigerwald has pointed fellow magic historians towards an interesting piece of academic research on 17th century English playing cards. It was written and published as a diploma thesis (in German) by Florian Völkerer at the University of Vienna in 2018. Its title can be translated as “Playing with Memories. On the Exploitation of the Spanish Armada on 17th Century English Playing Cards.” It is available for download in PDF format here.

Völkerer Playing Card Spanish Armada

Here’s the English abstract from the author:

The thesis deals with a set of english playing cards from 1679 depicting the events of the Spanish Armada. After a number of supplementary investigations it attempts to identify the narrative conveyed by the cards, as well as to address the probable reasons why this narrative was constructed in a specific manner. Main results are that the production and distribution of the cards appears to be closely linked to the english exclusion crisis, during which the cards where part of the anglican propaganda-effort against the catholic James II. The narrative therefore serves as an historical argument in the political debate and is consequently constructed in a distinctly anti-catholic manner. While staying close to the facts for most of the time, it differs from our current knowledge about the Spanish Armada mainly in overemphasizing the impact of the actual fighting (and therefore of the english fleet) on the eventual outcome of the events. Furthermore, the role of individual actors is put into focus, to the extent that the whole campaign appears almost as a personal squabble between Elizabeth I. and the pope. Thereby the historical events are used as an allegorical depiction of the struggle of anglican England against a counter reformatory catholicism led and controlled by the pope, while the depiction of Elizabeth I. serves as a stark contrast to James II. The playing cards investigated in this thesis therefore show exemplary how historical narratives can be shaped and used to construct arguments in contemporary political debates.


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Layers of Layers of Bosch

Since listening to Dr. Steffen Taut‘s fascinating talk on recent research findings about Jheronimus Bosch‘s (?) famous painting, The Juggler, at the latest EMHC, I have spent quite a bit of time on the wonderful website of the Bosch Project, and I’d urge you to check it out, too!

It takes a moment to load the huge amount of data, but then they will guide you inch by inch into and through the surreal world of Bosch. These data do not only give you the Bosch paintings in amazing detail and scan quality; in the interactive section, they also feature the underdrawings made visible through infrared and X-rays, so you can compare drafts and finalizations, various styles, etc.

Bosch1

Here are some examples what the screen image looks like when you play around with the various visible layers of the painting:

Bosch2_halbBosch7_halbhalb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now have a look at some of the fine details. I actually doubt that you could see and identify them so well when standing before the original painting in the museum of Saint-Germain-en-Laye!

By the way, I have always marveled at the modern red hat of the woman spectator on the left. Doesn’t it look like a 20th century creation?!

Bosch9_Faces

Here’s the detail of the cut-purse in action. Note how well you can see the shining tip of the blade.

Bosch8_Dieb

More details, discoveries and thoughts on this painting to come!


 

Die Stiftung Zauberkunst lädt ein

StiftZK

Ein Update von Uwe Schenk und Michael Sondermeyer:

Einladung zum Stiftungstag am 16.11.19

Am 3. November 2018 wurde die Stiftung Zauberkunst im Zentrum für Zauberkunst in Appelhülsen gegründet. Ein Jahr später möchten wir interessierte, engagierte, neugierige und kritische Menschen einladen, mit uns über die weitere Entwicklung und die Zukunft der Stiftung zu beraten. Dazu laden wir am 16.11.19 zu unserem ersten Stiftungstag ein.

Der Stiftungstag wird am Samstag, dem 16.11.19 stattfinden. Da viele Teilnehmer eine weite Anreise haben werden, gibt es die Möglichkeit, schon ab Freitag Nachmittag ins Zentrum für Zauberkunst zu kommen, und auch am Sonntag Vormittag ist das Zentrum geöffnet.

Ob und wie diese Zeiten schon für Gespräche, Arbeitsgruppen oder noch für die Vorbereitung genutzt werden, entscheidet jeder selbst. Wir gehen davon aus, dass viele Teilnehmer schon früher anreisen, so dass sich auf jeden Fall die Gelegenheit zum Austausch und dem Zusammensein mit Zauberfreunden ergibt.

Am Samstag wird es zum Einstieg einen kurzen Bericht über das erste Jahr der Stiftung geben. Danach soll in Kleingruppen an verschiedenen Themen gearbeitet werden, die für die Zukunft der Stiftung von Bedeutung sind. Zurzeit sind AGs zu folgenden Themen geplant:

  • Ist Zaubern Kunst?
  • Ideen zur Ausbildung von Zauberkünstlern
  • Inventarisierung und Dokumentation der Sammlung
  • Finanzierung der Stiftung (u.a. der Förderverein)
  • Räumlichkeiten der Stiftung
  • Mögliche weitere Aufgaben und Tätigkeiten der Stiftung

Die Liste kann gerne um weitere interessante Fragestellungen erweitert werden.

Wir freuen uns über jeden, der sich an diesen Diskussionen beteiligen möchte. Die Stiftungsgründung hatte ja vor allem den Zweck, eine Zukunft für die Sammlung und das Dokumentationszentrum zu ermöglichen – losgelöst von unseren Personen. Von daher wünschen wir uns eine möglichst große Beteiligung an den weiteren Planungen … und dann auch an deren Umsetzungen.

Wir hoffen auf viele Teilnehmer und Teilnehmerinnen und freuen uns auf einen anregenden und spannenden Tag!

Michael Sondermeyer und Uwe Schenk

Auf der Website zum Stiftungstag gibt es weitere Informationen zur Organisation, zu den Themen und die Möglichkeit zur Anmeldung.
Ich bin dabei!

An Interview with Hans Klok

Hans Klok
“There’s no place like Vegas in the world”

 

Hi, Hans! About six weeks into your new show at the Excalibur in Las Vegas, how has it been going so far? Has the show already been worked in well?

Hans Klok: We are definitely proud of the show we are performing here. We took enough time to produce it already in Europe, and the results are extremely rewarding. It is running smoothly and the reviews are fantastic. It was my dream for many years to come back here to Las Vegas and we are settling down very well.

On Instagram you have already posted a number of photos with magic and other celebrities… So how have you been received by the magic community on your return to Vegas?

I have always felt very welcome by the magic community here in Vegas, especially by Siegfried & Roy, who have always been my great inspiration. They have been to our show recently and were very enthusiastic and excited for me, as was my dear friend Criss Angel when he was here. Lance Burton has also been a good friend of mine for many years and it was fabulous for us to catch up again.

Who is your main audience, and how are the fill rates of the showroom doing?

We are having great response from audiences from all over the world. Las Vegas is obviously a huge tourist magnet for all nationalities. We are filling the room nicely with a multitude of international visitors, but on saying that, our main audience still seems to be Americans, people from Germany and of course the Dutch.

You deliver about 50 illusions in 70 minutes, which is an amazing feat. So what‘s your smallest trick in the show, and what‘s your biggest illusion?

The smallest trick is the Floating Light Bulb, which has a gigantic effect on the audience. I am proud to have the permission from the Blackstone Family to be the only illusionist today who is allowed to perform this miracle world-wide.

I guess the largest illusion is the Eclipse, in which I produce three lovely assistants from nowhere. And I really love the Suspended Animation from John Taylor, which is one of the best illusions created in the last 20 years.

At age 50 now, is it getting harder to stay „the fastest magician in the world?“ How do you maintain your fitness level outside of the show?

If you are passionate enough about anything that you do, you can remain at the top of your profession for as long as this passion drives you. When I am performing, I feel ageless. So I guess that being the fastest magician in the world is still going to be my label for a long time. And going to the gym every day and swimming a few laps in my pool every evening helps as well.

KlokBillb
Instagram screenshot from Hans Klok a few days before his premiere in Las Vegas

You have three sentences for a good pitch. Why should families visit your show, and why should magicians also take notice?

To sum it up in one sentence: Apart from my performance being a tornado of illusions, this show is also a tribute to some of the greatest magicians and illusionists of all time, so the audience get to re-live such great moments through the history of magic, for example the mysterious Floating Light Bulb from Harry Blackstone and not to forget the fabulous Moretti Sword Box.

In a recent portrait of yours in de Volkskrant you said that, on the one hand, everything in Vegas is „fake and plastics,“ on the other hand it feels very much like a special place for you. Why is that?

Hey, that’s Las Vegas. There is no place like this in the world!

Heel erg bedankt for taking the time to answer my questions, und weiterhin alles Gute, Hans!

(Interview: Jan Isenbart)


Watch the TV trailer for the new show here:

Visit Hans Klok’s website and get tickets for his show at the Excalibur Hotel & Casino (starting at 44,95 $) here.

Read more interviews with magic celebrities in English and German on ZZZAUBER  here.


 

The Definite German Magic Bibliography

A moment of silent awe and admiration, please.

40 years in the making, here it finally is: THE Bibliography of German magic books and other publications until 1945, Almost 700 pages, more than 3,000 entries, thorough, and heavy as hell!

Big kudos to Volker Huber and Christian Theiß for making this happen!

I have already started to identify the exact editions of some books in my collection. Can’t wait to dig in deeper on the weekend!

Biblio2

The first edition of this masterpiece is limited to 300 copies. You may want to check it out here.


 

A Long Lost Hofzinser Portrait

I have received questions on the long lost Johann Nepomuk Hofzinser portrait which had been lost over time and which miraculously resurfaced only weeks ago. Until very recently, it had been hanging in a private home in Gmunden for the last 100 years!

The portrait was painted in 1846 by Johann Matthäus Aigner, a well-known portraitist in his time, famous for his delicate style, and displayed for the first time in an art exhibition the following year. Hofzinser was proud to have it on display in his parlor where he held his famous magic soirees.

This great colorful reproduction comes from the full program of the 8th European Magic History Conference 2019 in Vienna, which you can download here. It includes some more information by Hofzinser expert and collector Magic Christian, who also hosted the recent EMHC.

Hofzinser Portrait Aigner

Here you can see Magic Christian, the enthusiastic new owner of the huge painting, proudly revealing it in the opening session of the conference. It was offered to him by a woman who had inherited it, just a few weeks before the EMHC. How very fitting!

Wien11_Hofzinser_MC

You can read my full personal report from the 8th European Magic History Conference 2019 and see some more photos here.


 

Frühe Kartenzauber-Psychologie (2)

“Forcieren der Karten”

Während die Volte nur durch stete Übung erlernt werden kann, gehört zum Forcieren einer Karte erstens, gleich wie bei der Volte, grosse Übung, dann kommt es aber auch noch auf eine undefinierbare individuelle Auffassung des Ganzen an. Es muss vom Künstler ein gewisser unbemerkbarer Zwang ausgehen, so dass eine Person gerade die vom Künstler gewünschte Karte wählt oder zieht. Hierbei muss den Künstler nun im Wesentlichsten seine eigene Beredsamkeit unterstützen, ja, er muss den oder die Zuschauer quasi fascinieren. — Für Bühnenkünstler ist dies nicht allzuschwer, da bei diesen noch zu viele Äusserlichkeiten als unterstützende Momente hinzukommen; schwerer ist es schon im Salon; am schwersten aber im guten Freundeskreise, da hier jeder conventionelle Zwang aufhört und Zwischenfragen an den Vortragenden gethan werden, denen derselbe dann natürlich kleine ausweichende Scherze entgegenhalten muss.

F.W. Conradi, Der moderne Kartenkünstler (1896), S. 9

Mehr frühe Kartenpsychologie gibt es hier!


 

An Interview with Michael Close

Close_q
“If you happen to fool Penn & Teller, that’s a bonus”

 

Hi Michael! When and how did you get involved with Penn & Teller: Fool Us as a magic consultant?

Michael Close: I met Penn & Teller about thirty years ago; I had been friends with Johnny Thompson since the mid 1970s. When I moved out to Las Vegas from Indiana in 1998, Johnny suggested that I join him in working with Penn & Teller on their stage show and television projects. This I did for twelve years, until I moved away from Vegas in 2010.

Johnny and I had the same mentor, a man named Harry Riser, who was one of the best magicians of the twentieth century. Consequently, Johnny and I looked at conjuring the same way. We worked well together.

The first season of Fool Us was shot in England. I was not a part of that season. When the show moved to Las Vegas for the second season, Johnny, Penn, and Teller suggested to the producers that I come on board as a second magic consultant. I have worked on seasons two through six.

And after the sad loss of Johnny Thompson, were you the only magical consultant on the show?

Johnny collapsed and was taken to the hospital at the end of the first full day of rehearsal for season six in Las Vegas. He never left the hospital, consequently I did the entire sixth season by myself. I have no idea if the producers will add another consultant for season seven, if there is a season seven.

In your opinion, what does it take for a performer and a routine to be “ready” for the show?

There are two aspects to this question. If you mean, “ready” to send in an audition video, it helps if you have an interesting or novel presentation and a strong effect. If you mean, “ready” to perform on the show–that is, you’ve been accepted by the producers–, then you want a tight routine, with any imperfections smoothed out.

I understand that the premise “You try to fool us–we try to catch you!” creates the necessary element of conflict of the show, but how much focus should the performer actually put on the aspect of fooling Penn & Teller?

The reason to come on Fool Us is that it puts you, your brand, and your magic in front of millions of viewers. If you happen to fool them, that’s a bonus. But it should not be the only reason you want to be on the show.

We all have egos, creative magicians have plenty of ego. We want the effects we create to fool our peers. But that can overshadow the real benefits of being on the show. Penn & Teller are extremely knowledgeable magicians. They have figured out acts that I thought were going to fool them. If you don’t fool them, I wouldn’t feel bad about that.

There have been some discussions why or whether this act or that actually fooled them or not. How detailed or full do the explanations have to be? Are you the judge?

During the time Alyson (Hannigan) interviews the performer, Penn & Teller discuss the act, working out possible methods. On television, this lasts about forty-five seconds. During the taping it can last up to five minutes, maybe more. This is also true of Penn’s conversation with the performer. It is almost always edited down for the sake of time.

In previous seasons, Johnny Thompson was the judge if there were any questions about whether the performer fooled them. In season six, I was the judge. As I have told magicians privately and at convention appearances, if you ever wondered, ‘Did that act really fool them?’ there is probably a story behind it. Penn sometimes recounts these stories on his podcast.

In season six, this aspect of the show–whether or not Penn&Teller were fooled–ran smoothly. If they said they were fooled, they were fooled. If they said they weren’t fooled, they weren’t fooled.

Close Alyson Penn2
Michael Close backstage with Alyson Hannigan and Penn Jillette

Please describe your process of working with the signed acts until their performance. What are your main goals and your major contribution in that process?

I wear many hats during pre-production and during the two weeks we record the show in Las Vegas. During pre-production I evaluate every act the producers are considering. I make notes of the effect performed, what I think the method is, whether or not I am fooled, if there will be time problems when the act is too long, if there will be problems shooting the routine on the Penn & Teller stage when the act uses, for example, small props or a large number of spectators, and if I spot any technical–that is, magic technique-problems that need to be fixed. I also begin to make notes on what “secret words” Penn could use in his discussion with the performer.

Once the producers make their decisions, I go back to my notes to see how I can help. Many times, my help isn’t necessary. If the act is a professional who has done the routine a thousand times, probably any glitches have been worked out. Sometimes I discover small suggestions that help. I pass those suggestions along via email or phone calls.

For some performers, I need to offer more help, working with script, blocking, and technique. With some of the young performers I work on stage presence and delivering patter so it is clear and understandable. This I most often do over Skype, and it works out well. Something I work on most often with all performers is helping cut their acts down to fit the five-minute time limit. This is always challenging.

At which point before production do you want to “tick off” an act?

The most important thing is that these consultations happen as early as possible. My goal is to have everything worked out before the performer arrives in Vegas. I have discovered the hard way that trying to learn a new technique or action two days before you record the act is difficult. When the performer hits the stage, nerves happen. The new information disappears and muscle memory takes over. This happens with even the most experienced performers. It is best to have everything worked out early.

So what does your production schedule look like then?

In the two weeks the production crew and the performers are in Las Vegas, we record sixty-two magicians and thirteen Penn & Teller routines. This year we also recorded an April Fool Us Day special and a Christmas special.

I am responsible for watching a performer’s initial rehearsal with the director, assistant director, executive producers, and property master, the camera rehearsal, shot on stage the day of the performance, and the performance taping. If anyone needs extra help, I try schedule time for that. For the two weeks of taping, I work sixteen-hour days.

Close and Teller Season Six
Michael Close on stage with Teller

Could you comment briefly on working with some of the recent performers I have spoken to, like Tom Stone, Wolfgang Moser, Pit Hartling, and Axel Hecklau?

I am always delighted when a professional performer agrees to appear on Fool Us. As I mentioned, they make my job easy. Sometimes it is not so easy to convince them to come on the show, and I understand this. I saw Tom Stone do the Quantum Logic routine at a convention in Lund, Sweden, in the fall last year, and I thought it was great. It took a bit of arm twisting to get him to agree to do the show. I’m so glad he did, and he was great to work with. I had high hopes he would fool Penn & Teller with this. But, regardless, it was a great spot!

Beyond that, I also enjoy discussing magic with people like Tom, Pit, and Axel. Pit and I spent some time on Skype working on his two-deck matching routine. For me, the pleasure is that I also learn things during the process. These guys are not just excellent magicians, they are also really smart people.

I did not know Wolfgang and Harry before they came on the show. Wolfgang did a terrific job and was a delight to work with. He and I had a lot of back-and-forth on this routine, mainly because he had to tighten it up considerably for television and in particular for the time constraints Fool Us imposes. When he performs this on cruise ships and other venues, he brings up twenty people and the routine is lengthy, so it was no small task for him to reconfigure it. I applaud him for his effort.

A special question on the Feel Box, invented by Boretti back in the 1990s, co-improved and performed by Harry Keaton: Was this trick really new for you, or had you or Penn & Teller seen a version of it before?

The Feel Box was new to me and also new to Penn & Teller. The only problem I had when I watched Harry’s audition video was it was in German, so I was unclear on exactly what effect he was going for. But I thought the trick was really great.

Final question: Where can performers apply for Fool Us, and what do they need to bring?

As of today, we have not officially received any word from the network whether there will be a season seven. So, doing anything at this time would be premature. However, if your readers would like to get prepared, they should record a demo video of the routine they want to submit. This can be in a real performance situation in front of an audience, or a casual video with friends or family helping. Regardless, it should be a full performance, with a rehearsed script. The key is the five-minute time limit. Also remember, Fool Us does not allow preshow or the use of stooges.

My Fool Us email address is fuclose@gmail.com. If you are interested in being on the show, drop me an email on October 1, and I’ll let you know the status of the show.

Thank you so much, Michael, for your time and for sharing so many details. Let’s hope for season seven then!

(Interview: Jan Isenbart)


Besides his job as a magic consultant, Michael Close is a world-famous card magician, a busy teacher, lecturer, musician, and magic author. His latest book, The T.O.M. Epiphany, came out just a few weeks ago and deals with strategies for turning tricks into miracles. He also publishes an extensive monthly newsletter and podcast interviews for subscribers. Check out his website here.


Addendum October 3, 2019:

As Michael has disclosed on the Genii Forum, Penn & Teller: Fool Us has been renewed for a seventh season. I look forward to it!


 

Magic Heinrich Does the Trick (15)

The other day, my eager apprentice, Heinrich the Magic Hare, learned about the interplay of inspiration and transpiration (to quote Thomas Edison): Putting a deck of cards into a bottle looks like an impossible thing, and it takes just a glance to admire it, but “half of eternity” (as we say in German) to get the #%§!% thing in!

HHImpBottle