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Mnemonica: Symphony in Mnemonic Major (Bewitched Music II) by Juan Tamariz

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii September, 2004)


Most any card enthusiast today knows that the memorized deck is the defining trend of fin de siècle card magic. Twenty years ago the undercurrent was quietly developing in the hands of Spanish maestro Juan Tamariz. I distinctly recall watching him perform at the Fechter's close-up convention in 1990, presenting a routine that is described in the pages of Mnemonica. Despite the sophisticated company at the 4F gathering, I believe only a few recognized that the method was in fact a stack. On this side of the pond, Simon Aronson was beginning to publish stack material in his April, 1973 one-man issue of Kabbala, following up with tricks in his 1978 Card Ideas of Simon Aronson, and then finally with the release of his stack in the 1979 pamphlet, A Stack to Remember. Mr. Aronson has subsequently re-released all of that material as well as having continued to publish on the subject.

Meanwhile, Michael Close, a 1990 convert to the Aronson stack, was also fooling magicians badly with his approach. In 1996, Mr. Close published stack material in Workers 5 (reviewed October 1996), including the influential essay entitled "Jazzin," which brought the improvisational aspect of the stack to the attention of many (this reader included). In 1997, Martin Joyal's The Six-Hour Memorized Deck (reviewed September 1997) saw print and helped feed the frenzy. By this time, Sr. Tamariz's work was becoming increasingly visible around the magic world. The "Spanish School" of card magic, from Spain to South America, is steeped in the Tamariz Mnemonica stack, as can be seen for example in Rene Lavand's Mysteries of My Life (reviewed March 1999).

Bit by bit, details of Sr. Tamariz's own stack, the Mnemonica, began to leak out, as the talk began to reach a buzz of killer bee proportions. The stack itself was pictured on a videotape in which a memdeck trick was explained, but the rumors of its many features were not detailed. Then in 2000, at the FISM convention in Portugal, Mr. Tamariz released a two-volume set of books, Sinfonia en Mnemónica Mayor ("Symphony in Mnemonic Major"), published by Producciones Magicas Tamariz. The Mnemonica books were noted as the second installment in Sr. Tamariz's "Bewitched Music" series, of which his highly regarded Sonata was considered Volume 1. When his next book, Flamenco, is released by Hermetic Press (no publication date available as yet), it will be Volume III. (And speaking of being eagerly awaited: Flamenco will be similar in content to Sonata, primarily containing close-up magic (including a section of material of particular use for television and radio); most of the contents are comprised of card magic (not relying upon the stack), along with a few routines with coins and color-changing knives.)

The two volumes of Sinfonia en Mnemónica Mayor have now been combined into a single volume by Hermetic Press. Tamariz colleague Rafael Benatar has translated the text into English. Along the way, most of the Spanish spelling-related items have been creatively adapted to English application. For the record, three tricks were lost in translation: two spelling effects that were impossible to rescue, and one gambling trick based upon a card game unique to Spain. However, some new photographs have been added, there are additions to historical and bibliographic credits and details, and the book has been painstakingly edited. Although I have not seen a final version, the details indicate that this will be a beautiful volume, as Hermetic Press has gone out of its way to create a distinctive package worthy of its contents, including a three-piece cloth cover and numerous clever and charming design details. Given that the original set sold for $100, the asking price for this new single-volume version seems nothing short of a bargain.

But what of the contents? In short, this is a must-have book—no, it is the must-have book for anyone interested in the memorized deck. Whether you are only thinking about beginning to learn a stack, or you are a veteran memdecker who has had the Nikola stack under his mental belt for 30 years, Symphony in Mnemonic Major is the book you simply must obtain in order to take your work to the next level—whatever next level it is that you may be ready for.

The book consists of eight chapters plus an extensive six-part section of appendices and a 40-page annotated bibliography. Chapter One provides a brief history of the memorized deck. Italian magician and historian Vanni Bossi has recently traced the arithmetical deck (i.e., the concept behind what we know popularly as the Si Stebbins system) back to a book by the Italian Horatio Galasso published in 1593! A Spanish author, Gaspar Cardoso de Sequeira, expanded substantially on the concept in a 1612 text. (I also recommend the useful background discussion of the memorized deck which Martin Joyal provides in his book.)

Chapter Two presents us with the details of Tamariz's Mnemonica, providing the order along with three methods of arriving at it, including how to get from new-deck order into the Mnemonica order by using Faros and also a method without relying on Faros. The specific properties of the Tamariz stack are outlined, including this fact that it can be reached from new deck order, and that it can be converted to Stay-Stack order (more on this shortly). But as they say in the Ginsu Knife commercials: Wait, there's more! You can slice and dice the minds of your audiences with additional features including: "... all the tricks for a memorized deck; all the tricks using Stay-Stack; 'Super Poker;' Any Poker Hand Called For,' the production of the whole suits of Hearts, Spades or Clubs; Ariston's routine using the whole Diamond suit; the routine of lucky coincidences; two stories told by the cards; the mental spelling of 10 cards; a series of 15 cards for a divination of three thought-of cards; rummy, poker, bridge and blackjack demonstrations; a version of 'The Vernon Poker Demonstration'; other productions and spellings for the Aces, Kings, Queens and Jacks, spelling to several selected cards, the four Deuces, colors, suits, values, etc. And finally: It is set from a new-deck order. It can be converted to Stay-Stack order. You can finish with the whole deck in order."

You mean ... that's it? As the author concludes: "Incredible but true."

Chapter Three includes a remarkable range of five approaches to memorizing the stack, beginning with a surprising "auditory method" in which you record the names of the cards in order on tape, singing them in some sort of simple melodic fashion, four cards to each musical strain. (The author suggests that you precede this by locking the door, "to prevent your family from shipping you to the nearest psychiatric ward.") The author states that if you utilize the entire creative array of methods he provides in a single, admittedly demanding and lengthy day, "it will be practically impossible for you to forget a single card the next day." He then provides a clever "security method" dodge that will help you out of emergencies in the early days of use if you happen to forget something. Thus he claims that any serious student can begin to perform memorized deck effects within days of one's first attempts to learn it—and of course, with use, greater mastery is automatically achieved.

Notwithstanding that, as mentioned, that first day will be a long and taxing one, nevertheless I do think the author is not being unduly optimistic. It will require commitment to achieve such results, but of course, with a bit less commitment all is not lost, rather it will simply take a while longer. When I first learned the stack I used the traditional method of mnemonic word associations, and it was a joyless process that took me about five weeks. Since then I have taught the stack to students using a raw muscle approach, of simply memorizing the stack in groups of 10 cards at a time, which certainly works and also seems to take about four or five weeks. I do think that the learning systems that Sr. Tamariz has devised are likely not only to be effective, but probably less painful than the traditional alternatives, and I would recommend them to any new stu-dent trying to memorize a stack.

I will also briefly address here two points that have also been said elsewhere by others: a stack is highly recommended over a "system," and "knowing" a stack doesn't simply meaning memorizing an order. Systems are arrangements in which you can arithmetically compute the identity of a card following that of a known card, i.e., a key card. You don't have to know the order of 52 cards, you only need to know the system by which the cards are arithmetically arranged—a code of sorts. You can also of course determine a sequence of any quantity of cards in correct order (and hope that the order will not be detected, which is a risk for example if the suits cycle repeatedly as they do in Si Stebbins. More sophisticated systems, like that of Richard Osterlind, avoid this.). Systems are much easier to learn, because you are learning a formula, not a more or less random string of 52 cards.

A memorized deck gives you command of every card in the pack at any instant. Of course, the degree of mastery varies with the range of skills and mental facility you have, but what is difficult to grasp for those who have no experience with the memorized deck is how it really works in an expert user's head. With a system, one needs to perform some kind of mental calculation to determine the identity of any unknown card, even a card one card away from a known key. Much more calculation is required to determine cards at any further distance, until eventually that becomes impractical and ineffective. With a memorized deck, there is no calculation required to make these kinds of determinations, or far less as you get further away from a known card or further involved in more sophisticated applications. If I hear a card named, I don't make any effort to determine a number, I simply know it, while I also immediately get a picture of the card and the cards surrounding it in my mind. I simply see it—the card, and the cards surrounding it. I can call off cards in order as fast as I can speak them (not that you would generally be called upon to do so, except in a pseudo-memory demonstration). Someone with complete mastery of a system may be able to duplicate that last feat, but if I asked him how far away the Ace of Clubs is from the Ace of Hearts, or how far from the top the Ace of Hearts is if the Seven of Clubs is on the bottom, he's lost. My recommendation: If you're just using the principle as little more than a key card, in order to determine the identity of from one-to-three cards for one or two tricks, then you might save yourself some effort if you use a sys-tem. But for anything else and even for those limited applications, it would also be my preference—learn a stack. Which one? I'll come back to that.

To return to the Symphony, Chapter Four begins to describe "Specific Tricks for Mnemonica," with a chapter addressing the Stay-Stack element. Stay-Stack, devised by Rusduck Russell Duck, who also edited The Carcliste) in 1957, is a mirror stack; that is, the 1st and 52nd cards are paired; the 2nd and 51st cards are paired; and so on, until you reach the center of the deck, at which point the 26th and 27th cards are paired. Stay-stack provides many opportunities for interesting tricks, including poker deals, bridge deals, matching tricks, and the like, and there are many others, beyond those provided here, to be found in the literature, however, the tricks in this chapter depend on the particular order of the Mnemonica stay-stack.

This is the point where it is necessary to address the sub-ject of stack-dependence. Some tricks are stack dependent, meaning that they are specific to one stack only and will not work with other arrangements. Some tricks are stack independent, meaning they can be done with any stack, as long as you have memorized the order. Hence there are tricks specific to the Aronson stack, for example, which will not work with the Mnemonica, or in this case, Chapter Five—"Specific Tricks with the Mnemonica Order"—provides 15 tricks that depend upon the specific order of the Mnemonica stack that will not work with any other. So if you are a user of some other stack, this is a chapter which you will not be able to put to use. For those who adopt the Mnemonica, however, there are instructions here for how to deal any complete suit; many spelling approaches, including the spelling of a thought-of card, as well as any named card throughout the deck; gambling demonstrations including "Any Poker Hand Called For"; a rummy exhibition; a blackjack exhibition; a version of the Vernon Poker Deal; a poker demo for eight players; plus several additional tricks. There is a lot of material packed into this 40-page section.

Chapter Six provides "Tricks With the Whole Stack," which begins to explore the substantial quantity of stack-independent material in the book. The author begins by discussing the divination of a card or cards, the fundamental memdeck effect. There is much more to come, but as he points out earlier in his introduction, "It has always been said that, though the memorized deck opens the door to outstanding effects, these were limited to two basic mental premises: divination and prediction. I have therefore devoted my best efforts toward searching for a wide variety of effects. You'll find color effects, visual effects, rising cards, gambling demonstrations, coincidences, locations, productions, vanishes, color changes, transpositions and card stories. All this in addition to many plots, some of them very novel, for divinations and predictions." But even with this first entry, the author's deep thinking about conjuring presents itself front and center, in a progressive five-part divination routine that begins with the magician naming a selected card, then naming a pocketed card, then naming a card with your back turned, then naming cards taken by two different spectators, and finally naming a group of cards. Numerous small touches of psychology and performance are provided, for as the author states elsewhere in the text, "I don't think anyone will ever be able to stress the importance of these psychological, or behavioral, subtleties too strongly. I find them more deceptive than the most exquisite manipulative methods or the most ingenious trickery." At the conclusion of this opening routine, we run into a strong dose of the author's distinctive personality and point of view, which begins with "A Tip": "My advice at this point would be to read no further, to throw this book away and to start practicing, thinking and working out your patter, subtleties and presentation for this miraculous routine." He immediately follows with "A Lament," to wit: "I realize that, as I feared, you haven't paid any attention and are still reading." And so, in conclusion, he offers "A Warning," with these words: "It's up to you."

Yet as strong as this routine can play—which depends entirely on these many details of performance and psychology, far beyond the simple premise of having 52 key cards—there is so much more to come. Yet about these divinations, the author observes that, "Even if it were only for this potential to divine one or several selected cards, by yourself or with a medium, whether having the card re-turned or not, handling the deck or not handling it, the effort of two afternoons in learning the stack would be absolutely worth it. But, dear reader, this is only a hundredth of the miracles I describe in this book and a thousandth of the potential of the miraculous Mnemonica."

One of the delights of this book is that through the careful efforts of the translator and editor—the aforementioned Rafael Benatar, along with editor/publisher and renowned author, Stephen Minch—Sr. Tamariz's voice has been successfully brought to the page to a degree far beyond any previous attempt. The man that is Juan Tamariz speaks to you from these pages, time and time again—as a teacher, as a mischievous playmate, as a seductive lover, and as a passionate artist. The experience is totally absorbing, completely delightful.

Of course, there is much more in this meaty chapter, as it proceeds directly to the Great White Whale of memorized deck effects, "Any Card at Any Number," which approached legendary status in the hands of David Berglas, and is discussed at some length in The Mind and Magic of David Berglas by David Britland. In addition to addressing these two initial plots, there are 36 more effects addressed in this chapter, efficiently described in about 75 pages. There are marvelous, miracle-class ideas here, including three marvelous ideas from the Argentinean mage, Ramblar (a.k.a., Jose Guerra), to the author's own high wire, no-net effect, "Mnemonicosis." The penultimate segment is a group of humbly titled "Miscellaneous Ideas" that includes, for example, the fact that by using Faro Shuffles, you can create a total of eight unique orders which, by using the calculation tools that the author pro-vides, you can determine the identities of cards in each individual order, essentially creating seven additional sub-stacks that can, among other things, prevent your audience from noticing repetitious sequences!

And still there is more here, because the final segment of this chapter is entitled "The Art of Improvisation with Mnemonica," and here is the doorway to a path of infinite exploration. As the author explains, "If a deck of cards, in its natural condition, without stacking, is already a magnificent instrument for impromptu creation, for improvising as you go, when it is tuned in the key of Mnemonica it be-comes the richest and most versatile instrument one could possibly imagine. The expressive potential is almost end-less. It is limited only by our technical knowledge, our imagination, or theoretical background, or psychological capabilities, our mastery of the composition of magical pieces and our own artistic talent." Later he adds, "My repertoire consists of over 50 of the tricks described in this book. .... But many times—hundreds in the last 20 years—! have performed unique tricks, ones never repeated, that were improvised on the spur of the moment." And for me, this may be the greatest power of the stack.

And yet we are not even halfway through the book. Chapter Seven, which concludes Part I of the book, provides more Stay-Stack tricks relying on the Mnemonica Stay-Stack. Part II—which also reflects where the original two-volume set was divided—now attacks one of Sr. Tamariz's major contributions to magic with the memorized deck, namely tricks which rely upon the use of a half-stack. By using approximately half the deck (the exact amount may vary with certain applications), an impression of much greater freedom in handling can be achieved, whereby half the deck can be genuinely shuffled. Combined with clever management and psychology, the audience can be convinced beyond any vestige of uncertainty that in fact the entire deck has been shuffled, often by the spectator himself. The concept is used with devastating effectiveness by Rene Lavand in Mysteries of My Life, in which at the climax of a complete show of close-up magic, the deck is called off in order—a seemingly obvious and banal effect that becomes a devastating miracle thanks to brilliant construction and performing ideas. In the book at hand, Sr. Tamariz begins this subject with a chapter of six tricks that are dependent on the Mnemonica stack, then follows with a chapter of no less than 30 tricks and ideas! Space prohibits me from doing justice to this material; here's a description of only one routine, entitled "Jumbled Divination": The spectator cuts the pack, turns half face-up, and shuffles into the other half, thereby shuffling the entire deck himself a la "Triumph." Spectator now cuts off a packet of cards, notes the bottom card, and pockets the entire packet. The magician is now prepared to—read this slowly—"name the selection and then divine the number of cards in the spectator's pocket, as well as the number of reversed cards in that packet, and their colors and identities."

We now proceed to the Appendices, and this comprises a great deal of invaluable utility material. Appendix I briefly addresses six well-known plots that improve with the use of a stack. Appendix II is a lengthy segment entitled "About Order and Disorder," which provides a remarkable toolkit for putting the machinery of the stack to use. Beginning with comments about the use of tricks which do not alter the stack—a simple idea that is one of the deep and powerful secrets of expert stack work—Sr. Tamariz offers a list of 12 strategies that appear to alter the order of the deck but in fact do not, including flourishes, false cuts, styles of dealing that appear to disarray the deck, the use of Faros and Anti-Faros, and more. These kinds of tools, along with false shuffles, are absolute requisites of skilled stack usage. Without them, the Too Perfect Theory will destroy your perfect method.

The next section of this Appendix is equally important, consisting of methods for "Setting Up the Stack in Front of the Audience." Yes, it can be done, and after describing the author's methods for going from new-deck order to his own Mnemonica, he then provides 14 methods divided into three categories, namely how to stack the deck in one stage in its entirety; in two stages (which is to say, half and half), and then in three stages, (that is, a half, a quarter, and a quarter). By assembling the stack in this gradual manner over the course of a performance, the notion of any sort of controlled order is concealed with absolute certainty, and yet many of these methods include baffling and often entertaining tricks which still secretly accomplish the desired task along the way.

Subsequent appendices provide extensive further details about "Any Poker Hand Called For" in the Mnemonica; an analysis of the structure of the Mnemonica; and a detailed explanation of the Anti-Faro concept, which the author uses to simulate random mixes and also to recover from certain kinds of dealing routines which may disorder the deck but can be restored with sufficient procedure. I confess that if you're not Juan Tamariz it may be very difficult to get through the kind of procedures he describes without either raising your audience's suspicions beyond the breaking point, or simply putting them to sleep. But with sufficient thought and practice, you may find uses for these potentially powerful tools.

The final appendix consists of "useful sleights," and as you would expect, the subjects covered here include glimpses, locating cards, shifting the position of particular cards, false shuffles, deck switches, and other miscellany such as crimps, palming, spread culls, and other utility techniques including the Tamariz Perpendicular Control, Lennart Green's "Angle Separation," and Harry Lorayne's "Great Divide." The book concludes with an extensive and extremely useful "Bibliography with Commentary."

As I exit the book but before I draw my conclusions, I promised to address the question of "Which stack," because that is the first question many readers will have (and have already been asking me). Before I can compare the Aronson and the Tamariz stacks, I am privileged to be permitted to mention the existence of another contemporary stack to you, which until this moment has remained tightly underground for some years: the Tim Conover stack.

Tim Conover, although perhaps not well known to the conjuring community at large, is consistently regarded by his peers as one of our finest magicians, and space prohibits me from providing his extensive array of credentials. He is also an expert with the memorized deck, and some years ago, after hearing the rumors about the Mnemonica, he set about devising his own stack. Knowing that the Mnemonica included Stay-Stack and the ability to go to new-deck order as a finish, he developed a similar approach, but designed for English spellings and American new-deck order (Sr. Tamariz describes in the book the extra step required in order to get into his stack from American new-deck order as opposed to European.) Says Mr. Conover, "My complete and only inspiration for my stack were the stories and legends about Juan Tamariz."

He was able to effectively match the Mnemonica almost feature for feature (with the exception of Sr. Tamariz's extensive work on "Any Hand Called For"), and has also made one remarkable addition: the ability to readily go to Si Stebbins order. This is a powerful tool and a remarkable feat.

Eventually Mr. Conover's stack will be released, but not any time soon. I do not mention this merely to tease readers (well, okay, maybe a little), but because I consider any comparison of stacks to be incomplete without such a mention. That said, in considering the Aronson versus the Tamariz stacks, although my own work has been with the Aronson and I am very happy with it, there are a few features of the Mnemonica that are particularly appealing—most of all, the ability to achieve new-deck order, a stunning climax in an extended close-up performance that relies extensively on a memorized deck. However, while space prohibits me from detailing all the features of the Aronson stack, there are many, and it is an excellent arsenal, including a very commercial Draw Poker Deal, Stud Poker Deal, the Rusduck stack for "Any Poker Hand Called For," and a ready sequence of cards for the venerable "10-Card Poker Deal." And one of the major strengths of this ten-card sequence (which those familiar with the trick will recognize as including three sets of three-of-a-kind), is that it puts a number of serendipitous combinations at the magician's disposal that provide for a sizeable catalog of distinctive tricks. What's more, the fourth match for one of those threes-of-a-kind is the first card in the stack, making it very easy to return those cards to stack position after using them for another trick—for example, a four-card packet trick. This feature is one that I find extremely useful, although it can be approximated by moving through the Tamariz and Conover sub-stacks via Out-Faros.

So it would be a tough choice for me to make. That's what I can tell you, but the choice will have to be yours to make.

As to Symphony in Mnemonic Major, my greatest frustration with this book is that it's beauty and elegance and passion and glorious love for the art of magic will be lost on those who are not interested in the specific subject. Those magi untouched by interest in the memorized deck may have to wait for the release of Flamenco, or search for previous English editions of Sr. Tamariz's writings, such as The Five Points in Magic, Sonata, or the aforementioned The Magic Way. The writing is entertaining and witty, albeit that it seems occasionally to suffer from the challenges of translating a quirky and eccentric literary voice from another language. I was tickled throughout by comments like this, following the description of a pet effect of the author's: "Take good care of any spectators who faint. I usually pick up the most beautiful woman in my arms and carry her to another room to revive her."

Another frustration, I confess, is that familiarity breeds contempt, and it would be a terrible thing for magicians to treat the secret of the stack cavalierly or crassly. I urge you who extract these wonderful ideas to keep them for your-self, for our collective selves, lest the stack go the way of the thumbtip. Treat it with respect and, if you choose not to use it, do not flaunt your knowledge of its secrets merely to serve your ego at the expense of magic. Of course, this should be true of all magic's beauty, but it is often not the case. We are eager to sell our secrets, but we do not teach people the delicacy and respect, grace and etiquette, that they so desperately require. Knowing a secret does not make you a magician. Only creating the experience of magic can qualify you for that honor. If you know the secret, keep it to yourself. And if you call out the name of a card in a sequence you recognize while sitting in a show in a theater or even at The Magic Castle, may you drown in a puddle of the slime you crawled up from.

I consider it a given that this book is a must for anyone interested in any stack, beginner or advanced student alike. There are extremely simple ideas here that you can put to use instantly upon reading them, or immediately on learning any stack. There are sophisticated ideas that will not only require faultless mastery of the stack, but equal facility with mental gymnastics, or demanding technical skill. But this is the grandeur of the very concept of the memorized deck. It is no accident that a magician of Juan Tamariz's awesome range and ability became fascinated by this tool, because it allows you to put to use virtually everything you know—not simply about playing cards, but about the art of conjuring in total. And if you have a taste for improvisation, it also presents a range of opportunity similar to that found in working with equivoque, in which great risk can yield great rewards. Whatever degree of expertise and ability you bring to the stack, it will reward you in kind. Whatever constraints you have or choose may limit you in its use, but the principle is so flexible there is an endless variety of paths available besides those you may elect to avoid, be it for reasons of taste, of ability, or of performance style.

The book itself shares these traits as well. This is not an easy book; in some ways, though by no means all, it is a challenging one. It is a book that stands the risk of turning into the conjuring literature's equivalent of Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time: widely purchased and scarcely read. Certainly there are tricks you can immediately adopt if you simply have a stack in your head, and that's good; there is no other single resource quite like this in the literature. But this is one of those books from which you only get out what you put in. It's a book you could live with for a year, or maybe a lifetime and that will continue to deliver its rewards for years to come. Most every page seems like a bowl of ripe fruit, each piece sweetened to the point of bursting, but you will need to bite into it yourself to transform such a tempting still life into a torrent of actual flavor. Thus, the descriptions are accurate and efficient, but often do not take the time and space to guide the reader through every step of the adventure. I don't mean to suggest that critical information is ever missing; rather only that the depth of the author's insight and the range of his creativity are such that it might have taken a thousand more pages to try to flesh out every one of his ideas. Instead, the opportunity to make those discoveries, and the responsibility of doing justice to these gifts, is left to you to explore and fulfill on your own. This is really a book about magic about all the length and breadth and reach of magic and about what passion and excellence can pro-duce. This is a remarkable book, but I think the reader only gets out of this what his own ability enables him to recognize. There are sounds in this work that are above the frequency of the average listener's ears music that only dogs can hear. But it is beautiful music. I encourage you to listen, and to let yourself be swept away by it.

Mnemonic. Symphony in Mnemonic Major (Bewitched Music II) • Juan Tamariz's Memorized Deck • Juan Tamariz • 7" x 10" hard-bound w/dustjacket • 432 pages• 2004. Illustrated with 328 photographs plus an additional 76 portraits of contributors and authors cited in the bibliography • Publisher Hermetic Press