Todd Landman Academic Magician
June 18, 2022Todd Landman

Politics, Magic, and Jazz

This week I had the distinct pleasure of performing some more Academic Magic at the University of Nottingham. My themes were politics, magic, and jazz.

In my world, these themes are not unrelated, as they all involve subversion and the disruption of the status quo.;

  • Great moments in political history are born of disruption from key leaders and stakeholders drawn from all walks of life.
  • Magic is a subversive art form as it disrupts our sense of reality and what we think is true about the world.
  • Jazz is subversive in its use of different elements from western music, combined with special notes (e.g. the blue note, or 'flat fifth'), which communicate emotion, soulfulness, and pain.

My tools were nothing more that a few books, some writing paper, a ballot box, and a trombone.

We began with an exploration of the long and dark 20th century through three major works of dystopian and political fiction: Aldous Huxley's (1932) Brave New World, George Orwell's (1949) 1984, and Margaret Atwood's (1985) The Handmaid's Tale. Each in their own way are stories about the absence of freedom. Audience members crowdsourced three separate years at random from the 20th century, which were summed and kept in secret.

Three audience members each chose one of the books and a small bookmark labelled 'No Freedom'. We then totalled the publication dates (1932 + 1949 + 1985 = 5866). The randomly chosen bookmarks had labels on their reverse sides that matched the titles of the books into which they were inserted, while our total from the publication dates matched our crowdsourced total.

We next explored the 30 Articles that make up the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A small pad was displayed that had an entry for each article and the human rights that it protects. One article was chosen and strangely matched a prediction about that human right, which had been 'hidden in plain sight' all along.

This demonstration was quickly followed by our audience crowd-sourcing a famous person from 19th century America. Audience members filled in separate 'ballots' for a month, a year, and a name of a famous person. These ballots were gathered in a ballot and randomly selected to reveal February 1895, after which a famous speech was revealed inside an envelope in plain view throughout:

‘Recognize the fact that the rights of the humblest citizen are as worthy of protection as are those of the highest, and your problem will be solved; and, whatever may be in store for it in the future, whether prosperity, or adversity; whether it shall have foes without, or foes within, whether there shall  be peace, or war; based upon the eternal principles of truth, justice and humanity, and with no class having any cause of complaint or grievance, your Republic will stand and flourish forever.’

Frederick Douglass, 'Lessons of the Hour'

The month and year were the dates when former slave and the world's most famous abolitionist, Frederick Douglass died, while the quote was from his last public speech 'Lessons of the Hour.' The final ballot was read out to reveal the name Frederick Douglass!

For our final experiment, we stayed in the history of the United States and moved into the beginning of the 20th century to discuss the birth and evolution of jazz. I relayed an account of my own travels to New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, and how I met a small group of very talented jazz musicians who possessed what is known as 'psychic perfect pitch.'

Not only could they name a note that was being played, but they could play a jazz song that was merely in the mind of another person. Not one to shy away from a challenge, I sought to replicate their own use of the power of the mind. I presented a series of jazz music books, asked our main guest of honour to select a song and keep it in her mind only. I called the party's jazz band back up and proceeded to play the song that was in her mind on my trombone. Interestingly, the song she chose was 'Summertime.'

In continuing my tradition of Academic Magic, the show was hugely enjoyed by our 70 guests who had a moment in time to contemplate our world in a different, and I hope, magical way.

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