Open source magic

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Magic has always been about creating illusions and guarding the secrets of how they’re done. If the secret is revealed, the amazement is gone forever. The secret preserved the mystery. Milbourne Christopher, in the book Magic: A Picture History, says, "Mystery is the basic appeal of magic. Once the secrets are known, the magician becomes a mere manipulator, an actor in a suspense drama which has little impact because the audience knows the ending in advance."

Great magicians realize that our minds are lazy, that our brains are pattern matching machines, and that big movements cover small movements.

But with today’s advances in technology, people can more easily reveal the secrets of magic. You can record a magician’s performance, rewind the video, slow it down, and discover exactly how it works. For every magician on YouTube today, you’ll see several comments proclaiming, "I know how he did that."

“Magic is the only honest profession. A magician promises to deceive you and he does.”
― Karl Germain

So how does magic evolve and innovate? With open source of course.

Marco Tempest, a Swiss-born magician living in New York, sometimes refers to his work as ’open source magic.’ He reveals his secrets, communicates and collaborates with his audiences online, asks for feedback, and shares his work with the community.

Tempest is a technoillusionist who loves gadgets and software. Tempest’s illusions embrace augmented reality, robotics, software, and screens, as well as familiar magic props.  His act is described  as ’sustained magic.’ Wired reports, "Rather than a moment of revelation, in which, say, the correct card is called, there is a continuously magical experience.” Tempest’s experiments straddle the border between what is real and what isn’t. For example, Wired writes, "in his magic projection trick, balls appear to move between the real and virtual worlds. Traditional magic is woven into his shows--only unannounced. "When the audience isn't really sure--'was that a shuffling thing or the computer?'--then it's working."

Tempest is also totally transparent. One series involves only his camera phone–the illusions require no video editing and no post production. Then, in follow-up videos, he reveals how it was done. And yet he continues to amaze.

On social media channels, Tempest engages with his audience and gets feedback. When he uses their ideas, he credits them in his work.

Not only does Tempest reveal his secrets, he shares the technology he creates to perform the illusions. He says that, "like in science, if we share our knowledge and research, then magic will move forward faster–we can all contribute in making magic propel itself." For his iPhone trick, Marco collaborated with people in the open source community to create software, called MultiVid, that synchronizes video across multiple screens. And then he made this software freely available for other artists to download from the app store.

Marco’s ideology reveals more interactive, inclusive, open, and collaborative magic. Marco wants to reach his audience and engage them. He says, "Magic is about having a relationship with your audience. So this approach is perfect."

Some of Tempest's illusions

Three iPods
Using video and sleight of hand across three iPods, Tempest tells the story of deception.

Camera phone illusion
Tempest takes to the streets to perform illusions filmed with his camera phone.

Magic slate
Projection mapping and position detection bring drawn figures to life.

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Lori Mehen is an Account Manager in Brand Communications + Design at Red Hat. She grew up in Los Angeles, CA and now resides in Durham, NC with her husband and three kids. Lori enjoys water skiing, cooking and car racing.

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