Holism is something very important to me, especially in magic. Whenever I conquer a new routine, I visualise it from a holistic point of view. For me, it is important how a routine looks to the observer as a whole, and I try my best to “overlook” the details at first. I blur my view and try to see the important parts of a routine or tricks as they stand out and work together. All what counts for me, when I have the first contact with a trick, is the “Gestalt” of the routine, and how the spectator sees the trick.
More than once, this has helped me a lot in simplifying and re-structuring the routine to a better result. The aim is to clarify structure and remove unnecessary parts — ornamentation, as we would call it in music. Only the main melody is important, the ornamentation accents the music. But ornamentation is not what makes the melody. These are the main notes, and the rhythm.
In magic, we often see routines that are overloaded with small things that do not contribute to the effect, really. Stuff that magicians find important, but a layman doesn’t notice or cares for. I am aware of the famous saying that details are important, and certainly they are. But it is easier in the phase of constructing a routine, to blur out the details first, and just look at the simple, basic elements of a trick. Only when these seem right, and the effect is clear, details can be added.
Let’s take the example of a very simple Chop Cup Routine. From the spectator’s point of view, a lot of things happen (or can happen). Most of the time, we construct these routines way too complicated, with too many repetitions of the same effect. This doesn’t contribute to or strengthen the impact. It only serves to over-complicate the routine for the spectator.
With a holistic approach, you would see these things happen: the performer is seen with two simple props. An empty cup and a small ball. What happens is that the ball is placed into the cup, then removed and placed into the pocket. Then, suddenly, the ball is back under the cup. This is the basic effect. As a finale, a lemon or orange, that fills the cup completely, appears.
The form, or Gestalt, is the setting the trick has: a cup, a ball, and maybe a small table. You will see the performer’s hands enter the pocket and come out of it again, you will see the ball being transferred from one hand to the other, then into the pocket, then back again underneath the cup.
Let’s assume you are going to include the phase where a shot glass and a silk are used. The glass is set on the table, and the silk draped over it. Then the ball is placed on top of the glass and covered with the cup. The ball is meant to penetrate the silk and land inside the glass (what doesn’t happen, only later).
The important thing now is not to see the mechanics or sequence, but the picture. The use of the glass changes the visual appearance of the trick, making it a bit more complicated, from the Gestalt point of view. Additional objects augment the props: a shot glass and the coloured silk. Both mean for the spectator: more objects to observe. Suddenly, the situation on the table has changed. It is all more a bit complicated to follow. And it looks different.
As you can see, it is easier if you see things from this standpoint. Consider the props, and how they look. Consider how they change the overall Gestalt of the trick, how they make it look bigger, or smaller. Carefully examine whether the placement or distribution of the props makes the effect blur, and whether they are distracting or enhance the effect.
To grasp the concept of Gestalt, the comparison to music has helped me a lot. In music, grace notes are used to enhance a note. Without the grace note, the note is still there, and can be heard, but the note sounds different when it is complimented by a grace note (therefore, the name “grace note”). The grace note leads to the note that is important, therefore, enhances and accentuates it. But the grace note never distracts from the note, nor does it attract undue attention on itself. It is there, you can hear it, but it will not distract from the main note.
The concept can be applied to magic, as well. Consider the separate parts of a trick the notes. Make sure, each note is played in a certain rhythm and accurately. Only when this “melody” is firm and clear, start to add those little touches (grace notes) to enhance the single parts of the routine, making sure the added parts never blur the Gestalt of the trick.
That is the procedure I take, when I want to construct a routine. I first look after the melody, and that it sounds nice. Only then, I will — little by little — add those tiny details and grace notes. That way, I ensure the main melody (= routine) is clear, and understandable, and enjoyable. Think of music, and your magic will be better.