The Magical Atmosphere | FRED KAPS


(Dutch for THE MAGICIAN)

The following is an excerpt from Pipo Villanueva's blog.

“Magic begins with resistance, at the point where resistance is overcome.”

It was that night in Madrid of 1954 when everything changed. I was not there but I’ve heard the tale many times and I’ve recreated it in my mind many more. The great Fred Kaps (1926-1980) was there performing a clandestine close-up session for a little crowd. They were deeply captivated, surrounding him squashed in like sardines trying to get a good view of the improvised stage. There was a special thing floating in the air, it was as if that night at that very place nothing were impossible.

A young Spanish stage magician was in the audience, Arturo de Ascanio (1929-1997), later he would become a master of the art and one of the most relevant figures in magic too. That night Fred Kaps turned Arturo’s world upside down and changed his life forever, and with it the life of many others that would come later. Arturo abandoned stage magic and focused in close-up magic, trying to understand what he experienced and how it was possible to recreate it. He became a very successful lawyer and an extremely cultivated person, magic was never his day job but his passion and obsession. The quest for the “Magic Atmosphere” would accompany him all his life. Arturo theorized, conceptualized and put into words the empirical knowledge of the magicians laying the foundations of the so called Spanish School of Magic inspiring magicians from all over the world to this day.

Home video of Arturo de Ascanio's weekly tertulia (informal sessions). You can spot a very young Miguel Angel Gea. Who else do you recognize?

MAGIC ATMOSPHERE: The magical atmosphere (and I do not pretend that the concept is new) is the feeling of magic, surprise and mystery that is achieved when the magician executes his effects so that the spectators cannot see, let alone suspect, the secret cause that produces them. The spectators DO NOT SUSPECT even the EXISTENCE of that cause, and the series of effects always catch them totally unprepared. That is to say, the magical atmosphere occurs when, in a sequence of effects everything happens as if the authentic magic really existed. Effects and emotions develop so naturally and so unexpectedly that the effects produced are really mind-boggling. Conceived in this way, the magical atmosphere is the SUMMUM of perfection to which every magician can aspire.” - Arturo de Ascanio, 1958

Arturo would also become close friends with Fred Kaps and years later would remember his experience that night like this:

I was totally dazzled, shocked. This was something else, it was impossible to think that could even exist…

That was how two legends wrote a great episode of the history of magic.

Read the rest of Pipo's blog entry here:


Everyone has an inner world. Some inner worlds are richer than others. The world of magic is very deep and the role of the magician is to get the audience to choose the leave their own world and enter into the magician's inner world. This inner world is one that is abundant with possibilities, contradictions, and impossibilities. When the magicians enters the scene he is entering everyone else's world and those worlds are not magical worlds, in fact, those worlds are hostile to magic. In those worlds the impossible stays impossible.


The role of the magician is to destabilize the audience. This is accomplished through the opening effects which are designed to undermine what the audience knows about the rules of the game. Once the audience understands that strange things are happening the magician co-opts them.


The audience is asked a question.

They don't recognize it as a question because they are asking it to themselves.

The question is a question that they know the answer to. They know the answer in two ways. They know the answer that would be correct in the real world and they know the answer that would be correct if they were seeing real magic.

Imagine a spectator is asked to select a card. They select the 5 of Spades, signs the card, and loses it in the middle of the deck. Where is the card? Somewhere in the middle. The magician passes the shadow of his hand over the deck explaining that this makes the signed 5 of Spades rise right to the very top of the deck. The magician asks the spectator to turn over the top card which she does and finds her signed card in her hand having been mysteriously risen through the whole pack. Again, the magician asks her to place her card anywhere she would like in the deck, which she does. The magician asks her where her card is and she responds that it's lost somewhere in the middle. The magician nods, raises his hand over the deck and mysteriously passes his shadow over the deck. He asks her where her card is. The deck hasn't moved. Nothing has seemingly happened but now she has two answers to that question. Both are based in observation and expectation. She knows she lost the card in the middle of the deck and she knows that when the shadow of the magician's hand passes over the deck that her signed 5 of Spades will inexplicably rise up to the top of the deck.

The audience's world has been infiltrated and destabilized. The magician's world has been introduced and it's principles observed. The audience now has a choice to make.




Not everyone will enter and all who do will come in their own way. 

Fred Kaps would serve as a mentor to Ascanio and young Arturo would eventually create and improve many classic plots in magic. Fred Kaps and Arturo de Ascanio are highly revered by magicians aspiring to excellence worldwide. The Magic of Ascanio is published by Páginas Libros de Magia and contains many essays, techniques, and material from Arturo de Ascanio.