Spence: How's it going?
Kevin: Pretty good!
How did your Magic-Con lecture go? Were you nervous to present?
Oh boy, I was hella nervous. I actually didn't get much sleep the night before since I was so worried about giving a good presentation. I'd done a lecture in London before, but this was the first time I was doing a talk in front of so many people, let alone some of the world's best magicians, so you can probably understand why I was pacing back and forth in the hotel room at 7am, making sure all my slides were free of typos and that I'd memorized all my key points so I didn't have to keep referring back to my notes like a n00b. The worst part was that the coffee machine in the room wasn't even working properly, so I was just running on nervous energy the whole night long... no caffeine, just pure, 100% adrenaline. True story.
Cut to a few hours later and I'm backstage, watching David Acer, Jared Kopf, Lance Pierce and Paul Wilson rock the house, while I'm sitting on my hands and taking deep breaths so I can calm myself down before it's my turn to go up. With just about ten minutes left before showtime, I finally muster up the courage to approach Paul Wilson and ask him if he has any tips for calming down one's nerves. What he said to me next was probably the best advice I've ever been given on performance anxiety, and I still keep these words in mind every time I get nervous before a show:
"Just be nervous. It's okay to be nervous. If you're not nervous, it means you don't care."
Suffice it to say, Paul's words of wisdom were just what I needed, and from that point on I focused on delivering my content as well as I could without worrying about any psychosomatic jitters that were out of my control anyway. And to quote a popular anti-meme, Everything Went Better Than Expected. I opened with one of my most difficult flourishes (Satellite) and didn't drop any cards, people laughed at my Y U NO and rage comic slides, the other flourishes I demoed garnered an audibly positive response, and one of the best moments of the talk was when I screened the Virtuoso Gambit video and had a room full of magicians applauding afterwards.
True story: after I got off stage, I was greeted by Jared Kopf behind the curtain, who shook my hand and said, "Dude! That Gambit video was THE TITS!!"
For those of us who couldn't be there, what did you talk about during your lecture?
My lecture was about a recent breakthrough I had regarding creativity in card flourishing, which was that we need to focus less on techniques and more on ideas. In my view, insiders appreciate the techniques involved, whereas those unfamiliar with the art are more appreciative of the ideas on display. With more than enough techniques already in existence, I feel that it's about time we started applying them in new directions, instead of just coming up with slightly different ways to do the same thing. This way, our performances will have a more memorable and longer-lasting impact on our real-life audiences, which in turn will lead to a much wider interest in and understanding of this budding art form. Think about it this way: you and I might be able to tell one Sybil variation from another and objectively know which one is technically more difficult, but when it comes to an audience of non-flourishers, I bet that the only ones they would really remember, let alone be able to identify, would be Madison's Sybil in the Rain and De'vo's Cradle to Grave routine, and that's because each has a strong idea and iconic image to them that makes them stand out in the minds of those who are seeing this for the first time.
So where to get all these fabled 'new ideas', then? That leads us to the main thrust of my talk: for those of us who aren't Andrei, Dimitri, or Jonas (in the sense of seemingly being able to just sit by themselves and deliberately conjure up new inventions out of thin air), one of the best ways to come up with ideas for new flourishes is to take two familiar, pre-existing concepts and combine them in a new and/or unexpected way. In fact, many of the most iconic and creative flourishes out there can be traced back to this combinatorial process. For example:
Vertigo = Card flourish + hacky sack
Cobra Cut = One-handed cut + semblance and motion of a cobra
Anaconda = Dribble + "how far can we take this?"
Open Faro = Faro shuffle + expanded deck principle
The WERM = Z-grip + Josh Sadowsky's Wu-Tang + 5-card display
Card isolations = Card flourishes + contact juggling techniques
Armspread = Ribbon spread and turnover + "what if we did it without the table?"
And so on and on. In other words, Everything is a Remix.
In my talk I also stressed the importance of venturing outside of one's comfort zones. If you only look to magic and flourishing for inspiration, then you're limiting yourself in terms of the ideas and techniques that you can borrow from other art forms and resources. I gave a few examples of concepts I'd come up with by looking outside of flourishing in my keynote, which included references to shadow sculpture, OK GO, Reggie Watts-style live looping and layering, Inception, and, of all things, Old Spice.
Lastly, I touched on the idea that there were usually two types of creative people when it comes to the development of new flourishes: Visionaries, and Engineers. Visionaries are the people who have a gift for coming up with new ideas, and have a very clear vision of what the ideal manifestation of it will look like, even if they have no clue how to achieve it. Engineers, on the other hand, may not be so good with coming up with new ideas, but are the types of people who are willing to put in the time and effort to tinker around with a deck of cards, trying to come up with solutions and techniques for achieving and/or improving the ideas put forth by the Visionaries. Each creative type depends on the other for the advancement of the art, which is why it's so important that we have outlets like the internet and real-life gatherings where we can share these concepts and techniques, so that we can either turn to our fellow artists' technical ingenuity to turn our pipe dreams into realities, or to get inspiration for new concepts to develop and work on, for those of us who are more technically inclined. Obviously, some people are good at both, and those people are usually the ones who make the largest contributions to the community.
If you're interested in hearing more about the talk, Theory11 interviewed me a day after my lecture, so here's a video of me talking with Christen Gerhart about some of the things I spoke about on stage:
Why and how did you pick up Origami?
Like everyone else, I used to enjoy making paper airplanes and cootie catchers as a kid, but I only began to get into origami as a serious hobby near the end of last year, after I'd seen the documentary 'Between the Folds' by Vanessa Gould.
I'd seen Robert J. Lang give a talk at Magic-Con earlier that year and developed a better understanding of the art form as a result, but one moment in particular in the documentary provided the 'tipping point' for me wanting to delve into it myself. Chris K. Palmer demonstrated his and Jeremy Shafer's Hexagonal Spinning Flasher, which is a model that's folded in such a way that if you grab two of its corners and pull, by letting go the model will automatically collapse on itself, the resulting momentum causing the model to rapidly spin on the table LIKE A FREAKIN' TOP. Words fail to describe how awesome this is, so here's a video of it in action.
I guess what attracted me to origami was the same thing that first fascinated me with flourishing all those years ago. That at its core, it was about taking a familiar, mundane object — be it a sheet of square-shaped paper or a pack of ordinary playing cards — and eliciting from it all these beautiful patterns, movements and shapes, most of which were completely unexpected and surprising in a wondrous way. To my mind, the way Bob Neale's Fluttering Butterfly works is equally as amazing as the mechanics behind a LePaul spread — that somehow, the way everything seems to just 'fit' together and work so well speaks to this grander, overarching, invisible elegance that's secretly behind it all. Or some shit like that.
As for how I began to pick it up — as with anyone venturing into any technically advanced art form, I started off with a couple videos here and there on YouTube. The best I've come across is JoNakashima's channel, where I was first introduced to many awesome modular models like the Slinky and Yami Yamauchi's Fireworks. I was always more attracted to pattern, tessellation, or action-based models than static animal sculptures, so these were a great starting point for me.
Later on I decided to commit by purchasing an origami book so I had a lot of models to practice with, and one of the titles that happened to be available at the local bookstore at the time was Jeremy Shafer's 'Origami to Astonish and Amuse', which contained such original oddities as a fully functional Swiss Army Knife, a working pair of nail clippers, and a piano that played itself — each folded from a single sheet of square-shaped paper, with no cutting or pasting involved. Needless to say, a lot of these models are incredibly difficult, but a few easier models such as the Interlocking Rings and the Bird of Peace Pop-up Card have made it into my regular origami repertoire. He has a YouTube channel as well, which you can (and should) check out here.
Lately I've been venturing into tessellation-based origami, which is the kind that artists like Chris K. Palmer and Eric Gjerde are known for. When I attended the Bay Area Rapid Folders in San Francisco meeting last month, I learned Palmer's Flower Tower from an incredibly talented 9-year-old origamist, which was both inspiring and humbling at the same time.
Sadly, to this day I still haven't been able to fold the Hexagonal Spinning Flasher yet, but as soon as I find the time to get the right type of paper, a printer, a jar of water, a marble, and a rubber band, I'm going to take a few hours off to finally git 'er done.
What is your favorite card video of all time, and why?
Hands down, the original 2003 Spring Jam by Dan and Dave Buck. No other flourishing performance before that or since then has so wholly and completely transported me to another world like that video did, and the number of times I've watched and re-watched it has definitely reached at least the mid-three-digit range by now.
There's something about the twins' disembodied hands just floating in this white space and doing all these crazy, jacked-up, multi-packeted maneuvers that causes one to imagine this alternate reality where that's all that ever happens. Just this abstract patch of space-time where fingers and blue and red rectangles collide to create these rhythmic contortions that shouldn't be possible yet somehow are. Needless to say, I forced myself to up my game after that, in the hope that someday I would reach that same level of awesomeness. Remember the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey? I was an ape. This was the monolith.
(Fun fact: when I first saw Spring Jam I immediately called up my friend Huron and told him to check it out. After he'd watched it he didn't seem too impressed, until I told him that it was a video by Dan and Dave Buck. To which he, I swear to god, replied, "Wait - you mean that wasn't CGI?!?!")
It kind of changes depending on what my mood is. Right now I'm in the mood for some Xiao Long Baos, but other times I'll have a craving for 4 Fingers Crispy Chicken, roasted duck rice, or Char Kway Teow. There are a few staples, though: phở, sushi, shabu shabu, durian, dim sum, mongolian beef grill, the barbecue pizza at Sharky's, Peking duck, really good steak, and Pepper Lunch. Oh, and anything my mom cooks. Of course.
How has the Singapore card scene influenced your flourishing?
Simply put, if it wasn't for Singapore, I wouldn't even be doing this today. Meeting Bone showed me that flourishing can look waaaaay cooler in person than it does on video, Huron and Daren are my most trusted creative collaborators and a constant source of inspiration, and the fact that the country's so small that you're literally no more than an hour away from anybody on the island makes it really easy to meet up with fellow flourishers and session whenever people happen to be free.
Despite the fact that I may have some gripes with the local arts scene (or lack of it) in general, Singapore is definitely an awesome place to be for card flourishing, and I consider myself lucky to have been in the right place at the right time back in '03.
What is your favorite flourish?
My favorite flourish of all time is Molecule 2 by Los Hermanos Buck. Cut, toss, swivel, tap, flip, done. Incredibly elegant and self-contained, even though it includes an aerial move at the end. I remember first learning this on Hit the Road and dropping cards everywhere trying to do the TG Murphy Deck Flip. Now I have a near-perfect success rate with the flip, and am working on a version where the packet momentarily stalls on the back of the hand before completing the cut. It's tricky, but I'll nail it eventually.
As for my favorite move that I've created (not that you asked, but what the hell), right now I'd have to say that I'm really proud of 'Satellite'. It's kind of ridiculous and is still pretty knacky to pull off, but once I'm able to perform it successfully I know I'm all warmed up. Once again, thanks to my buddy Jaspas for coming up with a key move that allowed me to complete this damn move after two years. Coming up with flourishes is hard, man.
A genie gives you three wishes, what do you wish for?
1. For the economy to no longer be based on money, but on karma. Good deeds = more financial sway. Yes, it has its flaws, but who knows? It's a lot harder for people to be corrupt if they HAVE to do nice things for others to get ahead in life.
2. The ability to read minds, but also the ability to switch this ability off at will. It'd be interesting to know what people's thoughts are at certain times (especially those of people whose language I don't speak), but sometimes I'd just rather not know.
3. Better teachers. Boring teachers make for boring classes, which lead to bored students who end up attaching negative connotations to education. Things like Howcast, Mythbusters, and Wikipedia have shown that it's possible to learn without it necessarily being soul-draining, and if every teacher in the world had the same passion and enthusiasm as the average TED presenter, school would be something to look forward to, instead of an impersonal institution where one is judged on his or her ability to regurgitate (mostly) irrelevant information.
What is your favorite year in cards, and why?
That was the year when CheatersCheater.com was at its height, and every day you would have new videos on the front page that contained all these never-before-seen ideas and concepts that inspired me to no end. That was also around the time I discovered people like Daniel Madison, ALI, Jonas, KC Ushijima, and the Bucks, who all raised the bar in terms of what I considered possible in flourishing.
Oh, and that's the year that Virtuoso was founded, too.
Is there a possibility of introducing a new member to The Virts? (Re-Reintroduction?)
The answer to this question is 'not anytime soon'. It seems that people are under the impression that we're always changing our line-up since we've had members leave and join here and there over the years, but as it is right now, Huron, Daren, and I are happy with our current arrangement and are not actively recruiting anyone new at the moment.
That being said, if someone happens to come along in the future and impresses us to the point where we'd be stupid not to want to collaborate with him or her to drive the art forward, then adding that person as a new member would definitely be a possibility. At that point, though, it would probably be obvious from that person's work whether or not his or her talents and vision as an artist would be something we'd consider a boon to the team, so the bottom line is that if you're good enough, you won't have to ask if you can become a member. We'll be the ones asking you.
In regards to remixing culture, what concepts have you incorporated into your flourishing?
At the moment, I've been studying the word of Eric Gjerde and other tessellation-based origamists and trying to find ways of incorporating the way these patterns are constructed into my flourishes. Artistically speaking, symmetry is something that I have a strong passion for, and one day I'd love to be able to actually come up with a display that looks like this without having to, well, cheat.
In addition to that, I'm looking to explore a concept I came up with that was inspired by the rotating hallway scene in Inception. I won't say much, except that it involves a Gyroscope, and that it'll look incredible if it actually ever comes into fruition. That's the thing about the creative process — thinking up the idea in your head is relatively easy, it's just turning it into a reality that's the hard part.
What are some of your favorite movies?
This could end up becoming a whole other interview in and of itself, so for right now I'm just going to limit it to the top ten, off the top of my head, and I'll be keeping the descriptions short at that:
1. Fight Club. Really spoke to my 17-year-old, adolescent male brain at the time, and that twist left my jaw hanging even after the credits were rolling. Fincher = god.
2. The Matrix. Life-changing. This is one of those movies that I could just leave on repeat forever, and just lip-sync to the entire time.
3. Oldboy. Brutal, bloody, and brilliant. That hallway scene. You can feel the fury through the screen the entire time.
4. Confessions. Only came out a couple of years ago, but already a masterpiece in my mind. Definitely not as colorful as the director's earlier works, and that's a good thing. Talk about one hell of an opening scene, too.
5. There Will Be Blood. No one does dread like PT Anderson. Daniel Day-Lewis owns. And Jonny Greenwood did the score. Need I say more?
6. The Prestige. By far the best movie about magic and magicians. I always get something new out of this every time I see it, and Nolan does an amazing job of constantly changing the way you feel about each of the main characters as the plot continues to develop.
7. City of God. In my opinion, the greatest film ever made. Everything about this. This. If you haven't seen it yet, do. It's beyond amazing.
8. Inception. Seeing this at the Arclight Dome for the first time was like being in a psychological roller-coaster, except the roller-coaster was the entire theater. There's a reason it took ten years to make — it's perfect, in every sense of the word.
9. Superbad. Shut up. This was awesome. I laughed my ass off when I saw this in theaters, and I still laugh my ass off every time I play it on DVD.
10. Technically not a feature film, but anything and everything by Don Hertzfeldt. His animations were a huge inspiration to me growing up, and it's still one of my life goals to create something that has the same emotional impact that Everything Will Be OK and I Am So Proud of You had on me when I first saw them. You're probably familiar with his cult classic 'Rejected', but do check out all his other stuff if you haven't already. Highly recommended.
What are your goals for cards and life in the next 5-10 years?
Card-wise, I hope to play a part in spreading the art of card flourishing to a much larger international audience than it has now, especially those in non-English speaking countries. Hopefully, this will lead to more people exploring the technical and conceptual areas of the art, which is always a good thing. And the day card flourishing makes it big, and I mean BIG, in Japan — oh man. NOTHING is going to be the same after that.
Life-wise, I want to be able to articulate my ideas better, and to further develop my character and perspective as an artist: as a flourisher, as a magician, and as a storyteller. Seeing Rob Zabrecky perform and lecture at Magic-Con last month was a huge inspiration to me in terms of watching someone fuse everything he loved and was passionate about into a single, unique act, to the point where the only way to describe what he did was to mention his name. I'm an insatiable consumer of film, literature, and music, so it would be nice to finally have an outlet to apply all of this material I've let saturate in my head over the years. I mean, it has to go somewhere, right?
Any advice for cardists?
1. Determine who your audience is. Is it going to be fellow flourishers watching your videos on the internet, or is it going to be people out in the real world, who've never seen this before and will therefore not be able to differentiate or appreciate 90% of what you do unless you selectively hone and curate your material? You don't have to stick to one or the other – you just have to be aware who you're performing for, and that the responses and reactions will vary accordingly. For example, original material will probably garner you a better response online, but when it comes to performing for non-flourishers in real life, your execution and presentation of your material, original or not, is what will generate a positive or negative response in your spectators.
2. Remember the 'tipping point', that moment when you saw a move, routine, or video so inspiring that it caused you to want to pick up this art form yourself? Make that the aim of every flourish performance you give. One of the advantages of flourishing is that, most times, you get to practice and perform at the same time, but that doesn't mean that your performances should always settle for the level of practice. Try to re-create that feeling of amazement in your audience with every performance you give. Who knows, you might just accidentally create your next arch-nemesis (Dimitri, I'm looking at you).
3. Slow down. Remember that for many of the people in your audience, this is probably the first, last, and only time they'll be seeing someone do flourishes in real life. Don't rob them of the experience by rushing through it and doing your material so quickly that everything melds together into an indistinguishable blur. While what you're doing may not seem fast to you, the people watching aren't used to the motion and movements of your flourishes, so it's upon you to present your material at a digestible pace that they can easily comprehend. Remember when you were learning a foreign language in high school, and the native speakers always seemed to speak too quickly for you to understand? It's like that. Your fellow flourishers on the internet are 'fluent'. Your lay audiences are not. This doesn't mean you have to perform at a sluggish pace, but that you should do as best as you can to 'enunciate' your flourishes in a way so that those unfamiliar with the 'language' of flourishes can fully appreciate the beauty of its linguistics. Or some shit like that.
Big thanks to Spence for letting me do this interview, and to you guys for reading the whole thing. I'd love to hear your thoughts on my answers, so do leave a comment below, or send me an email at visualmadness[at]gmail[dot]com
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