It was only a matter of time before Apple’s animated emojis – animojis – crossed over from silly video meme fodder into the world of magic. Paul Vu has worked some truly impressive video editing tricks to insert animojis into a video so that they appear to be reacting to his gimmicks. I think the alien is my favorite. Or the robot. Oh, they’re all pretty amazing, just watch the whole thing.
Vu isn’t just a wizard with video editing and a smartphone. He’s also just as capable of blowing your mind with just a couple of Rubik’s Cubes.
Magic tricks with technology are a curiously difficult genre—not in reference to the physical skill required to perform them, but the decision-making process in material selection. Technology is inherently magical and depending on an audience’s understanding of its abilities and limitations, presentations can be diminished to simple tech toys. There is a fine line, and if crossed, the piece becomes insignificant.
This hypothesis crafts a question: what level of technology has your audience been exposed to? The answer will narrow the scope of available tricks and testing with audiences will cement the winners.
I have two favorite tech tricks: an app that reveals one of 75 outs through your voicemail greeting after a participant calls your phone number, and another that generates a virtual coin (or other object) on your screen that you can interact with. (The products are “iPredict Pro” by Greg Rostami and “Card2Phone” by Jakob Halskov, respectively.) They both have the potential to fool and amaze audiences, but most likely not the same audience.
The former is genius software engineering combined with smart magical thinking,and the latter merges traditional sleight of hand techniques with modest tech additions. Typically, I will perform the first routine for “techies” and the second for late adopters. This judgment is built upon each audience’s familiarity with standard tech.
Tech enthusiasts are acquainted with everything a phone can and cannot do. In the voicemail revelation, they recognize that you must rummage through the device’s settings to switch a voicemail message, and the generic address book (which the app is cleverly disguised as) seemingly has no relation. Because of this, the magic is believable.
My 82-year-old grandma, on the other hand, would be unimpressed. Not knowing much about a smartphone’s capabilities, she can easily retreat to the most obvious (but wildly abridged) solution of technology doing the heavy lifting. She would be more amused with the coin transforming to a virtual copy; she is comfortable with pocket change, and the tech addition is an amusing plot.
This creates a common misconception: tech tricks are not magical to audiences. They are very magical, but each trick has a more defined audience than average. I portrayed the extreme opposites with the above examples, but a happy medium exists for any audience. Tiptoeing to the edge of the line—being cautious not to step over—is the beginning of a fun journey.
This month’s contributor, James Conti, has always been passionate about the performing arts—music, drama, and magic. The 17-year-old from Perth,Western Australia, began practicing magic as a tool to increase his confidence, and this grew into a now seven-year-long obsession.
You might have recently heard his name discussed among the community; his debut product “Risen” was released last March. This Rising Card variant received exceedingly positive reviews, and in James’s words, he is “stoked by the response.” (For my less slang-friendly readers, “stoked” is a synonym for “thrilled.” Add this to your vocabulary to instantly gain street credibility.) James is finishing high school this year and his future involves a continuing focus on all realms of the performing arts. He has more product releases planned, and if the first was any indication, his new contributions will be exciting.
Effect: A participant plays her favorite jam on her iPhone speakers—loud enough for the entire audience to hear. The device sits in the center of the group, untouched by the magician and surrounding muggles. Everyone falls silent and listens to the music. The performer closes his eyes and commands, “Silence.” On that mark, the song stops. The participant retrieves her phone and will never discover the tasty tech trickery.
Setup: You must fiddle with the participant’s iPhone before performing. This can be completed long before the demonstration, and distancing the presentation from the setup is more impactful. I quickly execute the secret steps within the context of any other trick with a borrowed iPhone. I then introduce time misdirection with my infamous “10 Fly,” an enlarged handling of “Three Fly” (fig.1). Lastly, when ready to show off this month’s mystery, the audience will forget the performer interacted with the borrowed phone.
Open the native clock app on a borrowed iPhone. In the Timer tab, press “When Timer Ends” (fig.2). Scroll to the bottom of the list and select “Stop Playing” (fig.3). The number of minutes you set on the timer is entirely reliant on the amount of time needed for your tricks. I set the timer for five minutes (fig.4).
Press the home button to leave the clock app.
You have instructed the device to silence any music when the timer ends in five minutes. This is a little-known iPhone feature and, combined with time misdirection, this setting acts as a deceptive magic method.
To most accurately time this performance, I set a second timer on my own device for 15 seconds less than the first. (In this example, set the second timer for four minutes and 45 seconds.) You can use any timer on your phone, watch, or other gadget. I prefer for my phone to vibrate in my pocket, signaling when 15 seconds remain on the participant’s timer.
Performance: When around two minutes remain on your timer, instruct the owner of the prepared iPhone to open the native music app and play any song aloud. The audience circles around the device; the phone is in full view and untouched. When your timer triggers, you have 15 seconds to declare, “Silence.”
Notes: This is an unusual trick because it primarily fools the ears, not the eyes. I perform in casual settings, and this creates a somewhat surreal environment: a group of participants forms a circle around a singular iPhone and the entire audience is silent while listening to the music. When paired with more interactive pieces, this deviation in ambiance is a welcomed treat.
If you enjoy this plot, I marketed a gadget that silences any music player (not limited to Apple devices!) in 2011. “The Silencer” (DVD with gimmicks) can be purchased from your favorite magic store for $34.95.
This article first appeared in the July 2017 issue of Genii Magazine.