Al Schneider Magic by Al Schneider
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii September, 2011)
If Al Schneider had done nothing more in his magical career than invent the trick known as "Matrix," he would have achieved far more than most of us, in that his trick will likely be known to magicians until the end of civilization. But in the 40 years or so since Mr.Schneider and his legendary and influential routine burst onto the magic scene, he has done much more than that,and it is high time that magicians gained access to a substantial collected volume of his work, both old and new.
Among the much-more-than-"Matrix" that has comprised Mr. Schneider's accomplishments is the contribution of a number of useful tools within the theoretical literature of magic. Perhaps the most significant of these pieces was entitled "Six Properties of Deception," which first appeared in Al Schneider on Coins in 1975. This was followed in 1980 by a related piece, "Six Qualities of the Performance," which appeared in Al Schneider on Close-up. I have long been a big fan of both these books, long out of print, along with Al Schneider on Zombie (1981), a thorough text on how to perform Zombie in no kidding close-up conditions.
Only a handful of pages from two of these books (and none from the Zombie text) reappear in the pages of this massive new volume, even though Al Schneider Magic weighs in at more than three pounds. On the theory side, the book begins with probably the two most significant theoretical concepts drawn from "Six Properties of Deception," namely the "Intention of Reality" and the "Intention of magic." These terms, which Mr. Schneider uses an idiosyncratic but extremely useful way once they are under-stood i.e., "apply intention of magic," or "look at the intended com" are terms which I adopted more than 30 years ago and have used and taught students ever since.
"Intention of Magic" has to do with providing the magic moment, the act of performing the magic, and defining the moment in which it occurs. This is a theatrically potent and, I would suggest, essential element of effective magic performance, and Mr. Schneider rightly points out later in the book that leaving out this element not only damages most magic, but specifically in the case of his brainchild,"Matrix," serves as one of the distinct differences between his performance of the plot and how the trick appears in the hands of most other magicians.
"Intention of Reality" is less easily reduced to a simple explanation, but it has to do with the fact that, in Mr.Schneider's words, "During a magic performance, the audience is not aware that some real thing they are observing is not actually real. This is true even though the audience knows that you are not really doing magic."
In order to achieve a magical effect, the audience must genuinely believe that you have, for example, placed a coin in your left hand, when in fact you have secretly retained it in the right via a false transfer. Without absolute conviction in this false reality, the effect and revelation of the ensuing vanish will have little or no impact. How you create this conviction, this belief in the performer's intended reality, is the focus of Mr. Schneider's theory. This is different, as he points out, from mime, or even what we normally regard as theatrical acting (although in my estimation it may relate to a kind of "method acting," in that we are best off not even thinking about the concealed coin, but rather are actually focused on our own temporary reality of the imagined or "intended" coin in the left hand where it was apparently placed).
Following the book's opening theory section (consisting of five chapters), the second section describes fundamental and original sleights with coins, and cups and balls. This includes the Schneider Classic Vanish,probably the best utility vanish extant for ending with a coin in Classic Palm, which is why it has become a standard sleight among experts for more than 30 years. Mr. Schneider is not just a describer of things magical,he is a real teacher, and there is a great difference. It is obvious from his descriptions that, despite his rather colorless and occasionally inelegant prose (the text could have benefited from the guidance of a skilled editor, not to mention a proofreader), nevertheless Mr. Schneider's Instructional skills, along with the hefty quantity of photographs, serve to compensate for these deficits. Clearly the author has personally taught these techniques to many students, and has devised distinctive methods for aiding the pursuit of mastery.
Jumping ahead to Chapter 5, "Wings of Metal" is all about coin magic and transposition effects, with an emphasis on the Coins Across plot. All of these routines are performed on surfaces as opposed to in the hands. The Coins Across variants (which in some cases may involve a single gimmick like a shell or a copper/silver coin) often use one or two odd coins (like a copper or Chinese coin) as a talisman of sorts, which appear to mysteriously "attract" the silver coins. Also included are several versions of "Cross Cards," in which coins travel invisibly from the performer's hands to beneath two crossed playing cards (and include Mr. Schneider's remarkable "Twirl Load").
All of this material effectively represents Mr. Schneider's distinct style of magic, characterized by a minimum of scripted presentation the magic is generally about itself and not much else and a maximum of physical deliberateness, intellectual clarity, and physical precision. This is a far cry from magic that screams of skill through speed and flourish and obvious manipulation; rather this is magic that will leave your audience walking away while shaking their heads in amazement, and saying, "But he didn't do anything!"
It is this aspect of Mr. Schneider's magic which I most appreciate, even though he sometimes relies on sleights which are not always to my personal tastes. The Pop-Up Move with coins, an adaptation of the classic ball move, has probably never been done better than when executed in Mr. Schneider's hands (as can be readily observed on his DVDs or in YouTube clips), and his instructional description is superb. Nevertheless, I have never been inclined to utilize it myself due to its contrived nature; no normal person has ever handled coins in this manner. However, this is not intended as a criticism, because the move is extremely convincing in his hands, but rather simply to make the point that Mr. Schneider's artistic vision and priorities of clarity, apparent simplicity, deliberateness are reflected not only in the construction of his routines but in his choice of techniques, and this style and these techniques may not suit everyone, which is no failing. Method affects effect, and art is all about making choices. Mr. Schneider's interesting variant on the Han Ping Chien Move, which he dubs the Max Al Ping Chen, is similarly slow and deliberate. It is refreshing to read a book that actually does more than describe tricks, and reflects one artist's distinctive point of view.
Part 6 consists entirely of card material, and Mr. Schneider's inclinations here are for simple plots and direct methods. Included are a simplified approach to "Unshuffled" that doesn't require Faro Shuffles; and an idea for personalizing the venerable Insurance Policy.
Part 7 is entitled "My Best," and begins with probably the standout feature of the book, a 40-page entry on Mr. Schneider's neo-classic, "Matrix." Much of this material originally appeared in Genii, and if you really want to understand the subtleties and master the methodology and performance of "Matrix," this is what you must obtain and study at length. Mr. Schneider truly understands his creation, and his approach produces a result quite different than most other versions in most other hands.
This final section also includes "Stargate," Mr. Schneider's pick for his ultimate solution to Coins Across; "Halo," a close-up Linking Rings routine done with common bangle bracelets; "Cone-n-Coin," a two-coin transposition routine that also utilizes a small paper cone; "Osmosis," the visual penetration of three silver dollars from behind a sheer silk handkerchief; and finally, his "LA Street Cups," a practical and direct routine for the Cups and Balls that is designed for easy repetition, such as in table-hopping situations. The climax of this routine uses a principle similar to that of Scotty York's "X-Rated Cups and Balls," using only a single final load, but these two facets serve to provide the routine's practicality and repeatability. Included are a number of original or refined sleights for stealing and loading balls, all of which serve to give his handling a distinct appearance.
Without question I found the book to be an enjoyable and educational read, the typically bare bones pro-values from L&L notwithstanding. The author's approach to credits is, I must note, somewhat eccentric; it's not that he ever attempts to take unfair credit, but simply that he doesn't seem to care much about running down the correct sources with any certainty. In the case of one extreme example, the "thumb flick" move, he remarks that "I still know of no one who uses it nor have I seen it in print," when in fact the technique dates back to T. Nelson Downs's "Free and Unlimited Coinage of Silver" in the 1930s, and over the past few decades has been rediscovered and described by others including Larry Jennings, David Roth, and Paul Gertner. Such quibbles aside, when it comes down to it, it should be abundantly clear by now that these 732 pages comprise a remarkable collection of magic from an important creator and thinker, and thus Al Schneider Magic delivers an abundantly significant contribution to the literature of magic.