Michael Gallo's Siamese Coins by Stephen Hobbs

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii July, 1996)

In the previous review, I did not mention that among the contributions to contemporary magic for which we can blame Lou Gallo are the births of his sons, Michael and Joey Gallo, both distinctive magicians in their own rights. Michael Gallo, like his father, is an unheralded talent of the highest order; he is, quite simply, one of the great close-up coin workers of our time. He is, in fact, more than that, because this younger Mr. Gallo—we'll call him Mike here for ease of reference—is an incredibly original creator of all types of close-up magic—card, coin, and general— and is specifically a coin technician of awesome accomplishment. He has also acquired—by deem of pure genetics or paternal instruction, one can only speculate—his father's aforementioned taste for cruelly laying to waste his conjuring peers. If Lou Gallo is a charming pain in the neck, son Michael is, well—okay, you figure it out.

While Mike Gallo's work has occasionally shown itself aboveground—in Michael Ammar's Encore series, and in two one-man issues of Richard's Almanac, as well as other scattered contributions—barely a fraction of his output has been seen by most magicians, especially those outside of Buffalo and the FFFF conventions. So I have mixed feelings about the specific item presented here for review. In some respects, anything from Mike Gallo is worthy of study, and this item is certainly no exception. However, I am troubled by the fact that, for many, this will be their first introduction to Mike's work, and in that case, this release does not begin to do justice to its creator, and in fact, does him something of a disservice.

The Siamese Coin is Mike Gallo's name for a simple but interesting coin feke that provides some unique opportunities for new approaches to coin magic. This is not a gaffed, mechanical prop— like a folding coin or a cigarette-through-quarter— rather it is a passive item, like a copper-silver coin, and might perhaps more accurately be called a feke. Mike has devised a series of fundamental sleights for the use of this item and then expanded that thinking into a host of applications. The 44-page manuscript, ably written as ever by Stephen Hobbs, begins by describing five basic techniques for handling the feke, along with Mike's handling of what is popularly known as the Spider Vanish. There follow twelve additional routines, each more unique and remarkable than the other. For starters, Mike's manner of exploiting the principle of the Siamese Coin brings whole new ways of thinking to classic plots like coins across and coin assemblies. In one of the latter routines, four coins are covered by four cards, but instead of assembling, all four coins immediately vanish. This will fool you badly the first time you see it. But Mike is a connoisseur of sophisticated coin magic, and so here too are handlings of plots long venerated by the hard core of coin aficionados, including John Ramsay's Three Coins in the Hat and the Cylinder and Coins; both the originals and Mike's variants will test the skills of most sleight-of-hand artists (and frankly, Mike has even better and multiple versions of the latter routine which have yet to see print). Mike also provides one of his rare variants of a David Roth plot—the Purse, Coins and Class, a modern masterpiece of prop management. And in Freeze Frame, he presents a unique plot wherein the magician offers to "freeze" the action in the midst of causing a coin to vanish, so that the audience can see the coin in the process of going, but not yet gone. This is a clever concept that combines the Wild Coin plot with the classic Silver Extraction prop.

That may seem like a lot of material to cover in 44 pages, but what enables this accomplishment is the inclusion of a 14-minute video along with the manuscript and the feke (which is, by the way, a bit more difficult to properly manufacture than might appear at first glance, and is well-made in this case with copper "clad" Kennedy halves). But the manuscript will not stand on its own as a complete teaching tool without the accompanying video. This is an interesting experiment, although several recent versions from other sources have left me distinctly unimpressed. Here, the two tools work well together, largely because of Mr. Hobbs' clear writing and the fact that he has given considerable thought to balancing the two media.

Unfortunately, the video is bare-bones, shot primarily of Mike's hands with one camera, enabling the viewer to see the action of the hands and props and little else. The overall production quality of the tape is not good. At times, the angles are not even ideally suited to the deceptiveness of the moves being demonstrated. What's more, I am always troubled by magic presented, even to other magicians, "from the wrists down," with the personality of the performer minimized if not eliminated. The spotty "applause" from some lackadaisical magicians on board tends to further exaggerate the already amateurish and awkward feeling of the entire production. And finally, as I intimated at the start of this review, this tape does not begin to do justice to Mike Gallo. He appears somewhat uncomfortable, perhaps even nervous, under the conditions provided, and that is understandable, lacking an audience and being asked to bang out a great quantity of highly demanding work in a brief period of time. Mike has a habit of speaking quickly, and that is worsened here, no doubt also due to the conditions. Yet I have seen Mike Gallo borrow four quarters from a spectator under the most casual of conditions and proceed to devastate, and thoroughly entertain, a lay audience; I have also seen him demolish some of the finest sleight-of-hand experts of our time. For the moment, we have only a mere fragment of a picture of the magic of Mike Gallo; the complete portrait has yet to be painted.

How much of this somewhat exotic if not always technically demanding magic will actually see the light of day in the hands of students is difficult to appraise. But you will certainly learn a lot from Mike if you pay attention to the details, such as his skillful use of the Ramsay Subtlety, his handling of the Spider Vanish, his elegant use of "controlled lapping" and his clever mixing of techniques, including sleeving. (He is, in this latter regard, one of the most natural and restrained sleevers I've ever seen.) As for the rest of the material, if you can handle the technical demands and smoothly handle the choreography, you will certainly fool most of your magician pals. In fact, the very first thing you should do when you unpack this assemblage of goods is to watch the video; later on, you'll remember how badly it all fooled you the first time you saw it.

5 - 1/2" X 8-1/2" saddle-stitched; 44 pages; illustrated with 52 line drawings; 1996; Publisher: Meir Yedid