My Favourite Illusions: Close Up - Coin Matrix
This is a relatively modern trick. First published in 1970, though it was based on an earlier trick called ‘Sympathetic Coins’ which still only came around at the beginning of the 20th century, it’s a wonderfully pure idea. Coins are laid out on a table, each one covered with a playing card and then, as the cards are lifted, it’s revealed that a coin has jumped places. Everything else within the illusion is a variation on that theme.
I’m not going to lie; I’ve never really been a big fan of the Coin Matrix. It’s always struck me as, well, dull. I’ve watched it with audiences who know nothing about magic technique and they gasp at the right place and clap at the right time, but it’s always felt like it’s a learned response. It’s not exactly politeness that’s provoking those responses, but it’s always just felt staid, as though thei either want to be ipressed, or don't want to offend the magician.
Speeking of magicians, they seem to really like the effect. It’s clever, it’s baffling, but so what? How much fun is it really to watch something as abstract as coins covered by cards magically moving around a table? I’m a strong believer in the idea of magic happening in the hands of the spectator wherever possible. This is because magicians should be able to make the impossible happen. The effect gets stronger the more scrutiny the audience can put on the magician. How hard really is it to trick an audience when, on top of years of practice, you also get to keep them on the other side of a table and they can’t touch anything you’re using? So the Matrix has always felt to me more like a magician showing off,proving how cool they are, rather than an illusion that elevates the spectators to a point where they can really believe in magic.
That was until I saw a magician called Hayashi performing at the European F.I.S.M Championships at Blackpool last year. He took what I saw as a mostly intellectual trick and turned it into something wonderful. Firstly let’s be clear; Hayashi’s technique is magnificent. This is a man who’s spent a lot of time practicing. A vast, ungodly amount of time. His dedication has paid off, and his coin handling ability is world class. However, I know and have seen plenty of magicians with great technique. What Hayashi added was a story. A frame. A reason for me to enjoy what he was doing. He blended music, plotting, and performance to create an illusion with pathos and the ability to really pack a punch. He played around with the ideas of the Matrix and added his own flair. His presentation was engaging and enthralling. But how?
I know that that performance has years of work and development behind it, but after attending his lecture and getting to know Hayashi a little since first seeing him, the mentality behind the way he does magic became clearer. What he cares about is his audience. He’s slick and stylish, polished and poised, but all of that is there to add to add to his ability to entertain. At no time does his love of technique cloud his judgement when performing. His confidence in what he’s doing means he doesn’t have to be ‘cool’. He creates miracles and he allows himself to take joy in those miracles. Interestingly, the trick I most enjoyed learning during his lecture wasn’t anything to do with coins, but instead a routine with a diceptivly simple technique that I think creates an absolute miracle*. It was this trick that gave me the real insite into his mind set. One of the best close up magicians in the world decided not to show off some killer technique, but instead a trick which uses some very basic principles that anyone could learn, but when done correctly will absolutly amaze an audiance. I believe it's this understanding of what an audiance will enjoy rather than any need to show skill for skills sake that has allowed Hayashi to turn something I find dull into one of my favourite close up tricks.
The act I watched made Hayashi the F.I.S.M. European Champion of Close Up Magic. In July this year he will be competing to win the title of World Champion. I wish him every success. Though there isn’t currently a video available of him performing his Coin Matrix in the way I saw it, there is an earlier iteration of it avaliable. It is occasionally guilty of some of the crimes I’ve accused regular performances of this trick being guilty of, but if you want to see some absolutely mind meltingly good technique that will utterly baffle you, this is a very good place to start.
*Having just remembered this illusion, I think I’m going to perform it at my next Magic, Mischief & Monopoly.