The digital ramblings of an analog conjurer
September 29, 2016 NEO-MOVEMENT: LONDON
13TH NOVEMBER, 10:30AM – 5:30PM
Neo-Movement is finally coming to London! I have several new things planned so without doubt this will be the best one yet. Places are limited. It will be taking place in an Art gallery in London, Hackney from 10:30am – 5:30pm on Sunday the 13th of November.
This is a 7hr intense workshop in which attendees will receive a specially produced, brand new set of notes (only available at the workshop), learn loads of devastating effects and techniques, while developing new ways of thinking about and performing magic (quotes below from some magicians who’ve attended). Below is a small sample things being taught:
- The Neo-Movement system.
- My signature Ace Cutting routine.
- How to invisibly locate any four of a kind from a shuffled deck, without apparently touching the cards.
- A impossible coins across which looks like real magic and is simple to do.
- A coin vanish which looks like trick photography; occurring in slow motion above a spectator’s hands.
- An incredibly clean two-card transposition that you’ll immediately start using.
- A Copper/Silver Transposition that happens in a spectator’s hands and uses no duplicate or gimmicked coins.
- Plus much, much more; including many sleights, unpublished effects and new techniques for executing invisible sleight of hand.
“Ben is a great artist and has created a new scene. His philosophy and ability is supernatural. His teaching is clear and irresistible, any critical analysis will totally melt away as he leads you to the land of Oz!”
– Lennart Green
“It would be hard not to state that Ben is one of the best in the world. I have known him for some time and I always hoped he would translate why he is so good into words… and this is exactly what he has done! I am better because of him. Neo-Movement could be the start of a new magic revolution.”
– Rune Klan
“Personally, I feel like my quote is redundant. If you know who Benjamin Earl is, you know what he’s capable of. That in itself should be enough to convince you to spend time training with this mystical being. BUT, if you need more … In my opinion, his skill level, thinking, style and approach is close to unrivalled. A big part of this is his absolute naturalness controlling both props and people. With ‘Neo-Movement’ you are learning his system, allowing you to achieve the same perfection within your own magic.”
– Colin McLeod
“It really should come as no surprise that the greatest sleight-of-hand artist of his generation has also discovered a revolutionary approach to learning and performing magic which changes everything. Yes, everything! One cannot overstate the impact Ben’s system will have on the future of magic – the Neo-Movement ideology really is THE game-changer. Ignore it and you will never fulfil your true potential as a performer; embrace it and you will be transformed. You owe it to yourself and your audiences to attend the N-M Workshop. For future generations it may well be compulsory!”
– Mark Elsdon
“There’s always been an indefinable ‘something’ that separates the great sleight of hand artists from the average ones. Ben Earl has not only defined that ‘something’ but he’s developed a truly unique system that allows you to perform sleight of hand imperceptibly at the highest level. It’s like receiving a download into your brain that leaves you a better magician.”
– Danny Buckler
July 14, 2016 REAL MAGIC
This is a slightly edited version of the original ‘Real Magic’ essay which was first published in This is Not a Box. I could say an awful lot more on this subject, but this essay is just a simple introduction to a much larger conceptual framework (including the concept of ‘The Empty Space’ which was also published in This is Not a Box and here in The Shift). Enjoy.
A new paradigm for conjuring
What do you say when someone seriously asks you how you made something appear or disappear? How you read someone’s mind? If magic is real? Is it just a trick? How you do what you do? Are you stuck for something to say? Do you hide behind false explanations that you think sound more impressive or respectable? Perhaps there are new ways of thinking about these questions that you haven’t considered; a paradigm shift which allows you to recalibrate and reimagine what you are doing by embracing reality and honesty.
In my opinion the first hint of a ‘real’ magician was Chan Canasta. Chan was apparently telling people what he was doing, cultivating an atmosphere of honesty and openness which was deeply compelling. Chan would state that any questions could be asked about his methods and he would explain everything; this was a very powerful theatrical device which immediately made Chan’s performance riveting, regardless of how simple the following effects or how little he actually revealed. Chan would reference what he did as a mixture of abilities or aptitudes including psychology and training which he was devoted to – he didn’t do tricks, he did experiments. Chan was a master of staging, misdirection and psychological control. He performed ‘real magic’; he was honest, deceptive and brilliant.
I’m suggesting an even deeper commitment, not just presentation or ‘patter’ but a comprehensive understanding and identification with the real nature of magic and allowing it to inform your work. Real Magic is defined by the following four assumptions:
1) Understanding that magic is real; it is a dimension of subjective experience.
2) The performance of magic is comprised of real skills and real abilities.
3) Openness, honesty and truth are expressed and nonsense is rejected.
4) Develop language which is congruent with these assumptions.
Embracing these assumptions can inform your magic in new and interesting ways, without losing any deceptive or entertainment value. You will feel a deeper connection to the art and your place in it. If asked, most magicians would probably say that magic doesn’t exist; therefore most of what they are doing might feel like they are faking having powers to create something that isn’t real. Well, I am saying that magic does exist; it exists within the mind of the observer and you make it happen through a variety of real skills. Magic doesn’t exist by suspending the laws of physics; it exists as a dimension of experience under the guidance of a skilled practitioner.
Magic is a rational system which bends or breaks reality for observers; it creates artistic solutions to otherwise impossible problems. This doesn’t happen while fragmented across time and space – like a film – but live; it is immediate and deliberate. You can create false expectations or hallucinations through words, body language and choreography; you can influence, alter and predict how someone will think or act, you can make things appear, disappear or transform. You are able to move unseen between the gaps of someone’s awareness and invisibly alter their perception of reality. You don’t have to pretend to have ‘magic powers’, you actually have them! Embrace reality.
This is what makes magic so incredible: humans have developed a performance art which uses rational principles and real skills to create the experience of something magical, something impossible. A magician is someone who can exploit the fundamental principles of the way human beings relate to and understand the world, for artistic purposes; by using human creativity, ingenuity and skill it’s possible to deceive the most powerful ‘thinking machine’ ever created, causing it to question reality! This is profound because it is real! These real skills converge in many different ways to produce what we call magic (Fig. 1). This fact is more interesting and more beautiful than pretending to have magic powers.
By studying the Model of Magic (Fig. 1), it is possible to create multiple ‘high-level’ ways of thinking about what you are doing. By taking one word from each portion of the model you can make statements about magic which are completely true without revealing anything about methodology. For example, Magic could be described as:
• Creativity, attention and movement.
• Expression, perception and dexterity.
• Presentation, expectation and coordination.
• Showmanship, emotion and practice.
• Composition, intelligence and skill.
• Choreography, rapport and timing.
• Style, time and balance.
These combinations could also be used to describe a coin vanish or a simple card trick. I am not attempting to define what magic is or isn’t, I simply hope that looking at magic in this way will reinvigorate your perspective on the richness that runs through magic at a fundamental level; a plethora of real skills, abilities and principles that can be combined with endless variety. Taking a closer look at the ingredients of magic may recalibrate how you identify with it. Maybe this will open up possibilities for you as a performer, creating new relationships between yourself and an audience, allowing you to inject honesty and openness into your work while avoiding nonsense or pseudo-science.
Reality is what makes magic so wonderful to me. The trick is the tip of the iceberg. It’s the only bit that ever gets seen so don’t pretend it’s the only bit that exists; everything beneath the surface is far more interesting. Take pride in your work and acknowledge reality. You are manipulating experience by using the principles of deception for artistic means; you really are creating magic with real skill. This is a fact. This isn’t a package of pseudo-intellectual hokum designed to make you sound intelligent or new pseudo-poetry to spew in order to make you sound philosophical. This is magic, plain and simple. Therefore developing a better way to think, relate and talk about it, can only be a good thing.
The next time someone asks how you do what you do, tell them. Walk the line between the immersive and the ‘meta’; a way to hide in plain sight, a way to reveal a real magician performing real magic.
June 4, 2016 THE EMPTY SPACE
‘The Empty Space’ is a short essay, originally published in This is Not a Box; it is a philosophical/artistic description of the psychological experience, sometimes referred to as ‘the magic moment’. I’m currently working on an academic paper, to be presented at a conference in 2017, which describes this moment in concrete psychological terms. This is an updated version of the original essay:
THE EMPTY SPACE
Nothingness & Somethingness
The ‘magic moment’ is often described as a moment of wonder or astonishment; however, this only describes a possible reaction after the moment of magic has occurred. If this is the case, what is the moment before wonder, before astonishment? What therefore, is the magic moment? I call it ‘the empty space’; a theoretical dimension of experience.
The empty space is comprised of nothingness, devoid of any meaning or form where the spectator has no sense of time, space or self. The spectator experiences a fracture in the grounded sense of consciousness or reality and instead it is replaced by a disconnection from any sense of context or understanding. That is the magic moment: an empty space, a void in which the spectator dissolves, losing any sense of who or what they are, no thoughts, feeling or action, complete nothingness… a form of paralysis.
Nothingness inherently contains the entire universe. It is where we came from and where we are heading towards; it is the fundamental reality and therefore cannot be contaminated. This nothingness is universal and eternal; it is larger than the individual and so all consuming. Nothingness is simple, powerful and honest, without feeling or definition; it is comparable to Buddhist states of being in which to clear your mind and experience nothingness is the highest ideal, pure Zen. Magic has the ability to force this state upon a spectator for the briefest of moments.
Experiencing the empty space can only last for a few seconds at most. The loss of self and context is what can make the magic moment feel so profound. How long the moment lasts or how long a spectator exists in this state is defined by the exact nature of the relationship between performer and spectator in that particular moment. If a spectator resists before the magic moment, their reaction is largely conscious and they won’t truly enter the empty space and experience nothingness; they will remain on the outside unable to fully experience the magic moment.
Once the magic moment is over, the spectator will leave the nothingness and enter a new space of ‘somethingness’ where meaning, context and understanding begin to develop or reconstruct. It is only when exiting the void that we transform from nothing to something. It is only now that an audience begins to think, feel, wonder in an attempt to understand what has happened; it is now that the spectator may feel excitement, astonishment, amazement or wonder. The spectator may try to understand what has happened in the present by looking for evidence in the past, or they latch on to aspects of the performance to support/explain the feelings felt within the empty space. Regardless, the spectator has emerged transformed, entered into a new space with new feelings, thoughts and emotions. Experiencing nothingness within the empty space and exiting that space to find somethingness is what has transformed the spectator’s experience of reality. Therefore what we think of as magic is the movement between nothingness and somethingness, a movement from absence to substance; nothingness is the magic and somethingness is our reaction to it.
The nothingness is the unconscious, naive and raw stream of the moment, a suspension of time and space; a shared experience of intimacy and openness where no thought, action or emotion is present. The somethingness is the substance with context and meaning, the resulting feelings from engaging cognitive processes and processing the data. However excitable someone’s reaction to magic may be, it is conscious and disconnected from the moment of magic itself; the ‘reaction’ is the moment after magic, it is not the magic moment itself.
So, the art of magic is about using a set of real skills to create absence so that the spectator can create substance for themselves, to create something out of nothing. Our goal is not actually the trick but the construction of a theoretical space, an empty space which has the potential to be transformative. Leaving this space can give a spectator a glimpse of a newly created world and is the highest expression of the art, creating meaning for both spectator and performer.
June 1, 2016 MOVEMENT: MUHAMMAD ALI
Muhammad Ali is probably the greatest boxer of all time, and unquestionably one of the greatest ‘movers’ that boxing has ever seen. His unorthodox movement was so spectacular, that it redefined the sport and popularised a fighting style which has been adopted by current MMA fighters such as Dominick Cruz, T.J Dillashaw and Demetrious Johnson.
So, what made Ali’s movement so good? Well, before you watch the video below, bear in mind that he was 6ft 3 inches tall and 220lbs – a heavyweight! Heavyweights didn’t move like that! His movement made world class opponents look like amateurs; effortlessly slipping in and out of range like a dancer, floating between punches like a ghost while stalking his opponent like a panther.
The video below opens with the title ‘Amazing Speed’, but it should be ‘Amazing Movement’; yes Ali was extremely fast, but it was his movement which allowed his speed to be so effective. Specifically pay attention to his stance, head position, body rolls and slick footwork. However, if you only focus on one thing… watch his head movement; drawing and then slipping punches by millimeters, causing opponents hit nothing but thin air.
Each of Ali’s movements were designed to create false assumptions about space and timing, set-up, interrupt or break patterns of motion, causing opponents to hesitate or overcommit. He was operating on a completely different level, mixing leads and counters with ruthless efficiency to slowly dismantling an opponent’s ‘game’. He made it look easy. The best example of Ali’s ability is displayed in the fight between Ali (Cassius Clay) and Cleveland ‘Big Cat’ Williams (click here), it’s a masterclass in the supreme artistry of Ali… nothing short of poetry in motion.
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hand can’t hit what the eye cant see.”
– Muhammad Ali
Studying Ali is not only an interesting ‘movement case study’ but also an extremely interesting psychological one, however, a breakdown of his ‘psychological game’ is an article for a later date.
– video by Gorilla Productions
May 28, 2016 NEO-MOVEMENT
While lecturing across Norway, Denmark and Sweden, I will be teaching many things, including something particularly special called Neo-Movement:
Neo-Movement is a revolutionary philosophy/technique which dramatically improves the effectiveness of all sleight of hand and misdirection; it develops flow, touch, timing and instinct, in ways that nothing else does. By using specific Neo-Movement drills, all techniques rapidly becomes more natural and more deceptive.
Some Neo-Movement will be taught in the lectures and much more in the workshops. Nothing like this is being taught anywhere in the world and this will be the first time I have ever taught it to larger groups. The game has changed… practice and performance will never be the same again!
When back from Scandinavia, I will try and organise some Neo-Movement workshops in the UK.
May 26, 2016 DECEPTION
Deception is a much maligned subject; it’s importance is undervalued and it’s principles are deeply misunderstood. However, with closer inspection, I’ll show you an amazing subject brimming with intelligence and positive application, influencing the way we think about ourselves, relate to others and perceive our surroundings. In short, deception is everywhere, fundamentally informing the world as we know it.
The Shift will be shining new light on the breadth and depth of this incredible subject across multiple domains, including: crime, advertising, art, war, technology, entertainment, religion, science and the natural world… so stay tuned.
May 24, 2016 REDISCOVERY: BRANDON THE JUGGLER
The Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584), is widely recognised as one of the most important books ever written on the subject of witchcraft. The author, Reginald Scot – a member of British parliament at the time – wrote his defining opus in order to disprove the existence of witchcraft and defend those accused of practising it.
The book also contains a brilliant section on conjuring, which discusses the methods of magicians/conjurers in great detail. Written in 16th century middle English, it is an extremely challenging publication to decode, but for anyone interested in the history of magic, it is essential reading.
This ‘Rediscovery’ series will explore some of the overlooked, unnoticed or forgotten content lurking within the pages of this incredible book.
BRANDON THE JUGGLER
Chapter thirteen contains the little-known account of Brandon the Juggler, a ‘street magician’ who not only seemed to have an eye for theatrical staging but possessed considerable performing moxie.
Described as an “Example of ridiculous woonder”, Brandon would gather a crowd, point to a pigeon sitting on top of a roof and paint/draw a picture of a bird on a nearby wall. He would then remove a knife from his person and repeatedly stab the effigy, the pigeon would fall from the roof… dead as a doornail!
Brandon performed this feat for the King – although it’s hard be certain which King – and so successful was his performance, that he was immediately banned from doing it again; as it was feared that the process could also be to used kill a person; “…and so the life of all men in the hands of a juggler…”.
This was a truly remarkable demonstration which involved considerable preparation, substantial showmanship and skillful timing. The effect is about contrast and power; it connects the real world and a symbolic one, involves distance and height, life and death. Two methods are given – and both are brilliant – however, what’s more interesting is the sheer theatre, staging and clarity of the effect.
– The Discoverie of Witchcraft, Booke XIII, Chapter XIII, Of private confederacie, and of Brandons pigeon, 1584, p. 174-175.
May 22, 2016 LECTURE TOUR: 28TH MAY – 12TH JUNE
I’m about to embark on a series of lectures and workshops across Scandinavia – beginning in Norway and ending in Sweden. I’ll be teaching my approach toward sleight of hand, psychology and movement, through a large amount of published and unpublished material.
The lectures and workshops will be in-depth, intensive events – perfect for those who are serious about getting better. It’s extremely rare for me to teach in this way, so I’m genuinely looking forward to all aspects of the process.
For information about times, dates and locations, please contact Steen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MOVEMENT: IDO PORTAL
I have been studying ‘movement’ for many years. In this series I’ll highlight the the work of several different ‘movement specialists’. Let’s begin with the charismatic Ido Portal.
Ido Portal is one the current leading figures within the world of ‘Movement’. He has transcended his capoeira roots and developed a more flexible, functional style. Recently his popularity has sky-rocketed due to his association with Conor McGregor, thus bringing tremendous attention and renewed interest to modern ‘movement culture’. Ido simply refers to himself as a ‘mover’, and runs his popular MovementX training camps around the world.
Ido’s philosophy is essentially about ‘movement complexity’: Functional movement patterns which flow together creating increased mobility, strength and body sensitivity. This leads to greater flexibility, freedom from systems and instinctive action.
Isolation—> Integration—> Improvisation: Practising movement patterns (isolation), connecting movement patterns together (integration) and letting go of conscious execution (improvisation). This isn’t a fundamentally new method; any discipline requires you to learn basic techniques, then connect those techniques with other techniques, before eventually developing the ability to improvise and adapt. There are also many ‘movement specialists’ who teach functional, fluid movement patterns for increased health, flexibility and awareness. So why is Ido’s approach interesting? Well in short, it’s because of him: his fluid, athletic, capoeira-based style is beautiful to watch and his ‘guru-esque’ teachings are inclusive and charismatic. Slowly, he is transforming into more than just another ‘mover’, he’s becoming a unique counter-cultural brand.
Modern movement is the means and the end, becoming a better ‘mover’ through better ‘movement’. It’s about function not aesthetics, disembodied from any defined style or system; any external benefits/improvements are natural by-products of better movement. As a performer, thinking about movement in this way is very useful – I am not suggesting that you grow a ponytail and start ‘lizard walking’ everywhere – but becoming aware of your movement at a deeper level, and its potential relationship to your craft, can only improve your physical effectiveness and ability to execute.
May 19, 2016 CROUCHING HOFFMAN, HIDDEN ERDNASE
When the Charlier pass was published by Sachs (1877), Hoffmann (1890) and Erdnase (1902), it was known to be an invisible pass, however, the secret of its ‘invisibility’ wasn’t communicated particularly well in print – this therefore caused a misunderstanding to develop about its function and deceptiveness. Over time, it was just perceived as a simple, one-handed cut… the Charlier cut.
Performing the Charlier pass invisibly – without using the free hand/arm as cover – was generally thought be impossible, until Bill Kalush had a brilliant insight while reading an unpublished manuscript (1879) by Marion Speilman.
Since then, I have discovered several other handling’s which have been hiding in plain sight for over a century! I’ll describe these techniques in a future post, until then, if you study Hoffmann and Erdnase very carefully you might find these ‘open secrets’ yourself.