Contact Mindreading

At a Magic Hands convention in Germany David asked Paul Daniels to think of any person he could see. "Why?" asked Paul. "Just think of one," replied David, "it's an experiment." They were standing in the great hall outside the convention theatre, surrounded by hundreds of other magicians so there were plenty to choose from. Paul scanned the crowd and then said he had someone in mind. "Good," said David, "now come with me."

They walked across the hall where he introduced Paul to an unprepossessing German magician who appeared to be waiting for them. "This is Dondo Berkado." Berkado asked Paul if he was thinking of someone in the hall. He'd hardly had time to answer when Berkado placed Paul's hand on his wrist and walked quickly into the crowd. He picked up speed, almost running and dragging Paul behind him through the throng. Suddenly Berkado stopped, pointed to man in front of him, and said, "This is the man you are thinking of." And he was right.

Dondo Berkado is the fastest contact mindreader David has ever met. He makes an unlikely-looking showman but his skills at contact mindreading (also known as muscle reading) have impressed everyone who has seen him. David's own interest in this little practised technique began long before he became a professional magician. He used it at parties as an informal stunt, starting with the relatively simple task of, say, finding a thought-of object that had been hidden in the room and leading up to something really ambitious. For example, someone would make a pin prick in the wall and then hide the pin. David would find both. Or a hair would be concealed in a book. David would find the book, find the page and then return the hair to the person from whom it was taken. He could even point to the very spot on the head from which it was plucked. There were many variations to be played out but the techniques remained the same.

Eddie Dexter described them in his book Entertaining with Contact Mind Reading in England while Robert Nelson and Dariel Fitzkee published the same kind of information in the US. Despite this, contact mind reading has never been popular with magicians and yet, as David points out, it enables the performer to accomplish miraculous effects without preparation or apparatus. The secret is that the volunteer unwittingly communicates his thoughts through muscular reaction. When the performer is moving towards the thought-of object the volunteers goes with him easily. But if he moves in the wrong direction he will feel a slight resistance on the part of the subject.

This muscular resistance has been compared to the ideo motor action used when someone is using a dowsing pendulum. By merely thinking of the direction in which they want the pendulum to swing they can control it. The subject remains unexplored by psychologists and untried by the vast majority of mentalists and yet it is the closest thing we know to a sixth sense.

It is not difficult to learn but David believes that those who try it often make mistakes and the consequent lack of results leads them to quickly abandon the technique as unreliable. David uses it at parties where a demonstration might follow much talk about the paranormal. He makes it clear that what he is about to do is not telepathy or mind reading and that it is based on observation and psychology. "I can gauge, feel or sense bodily reaction. If, for instance, you were to think of an area of this room and I were to touch you slightly, I could sense which part of the room you were concentrating on."

He's basically outlined the technique but this does not detract from the demonstration. David then says that he will leave the room, while he is gone he wants someone, "to take an object and hide it somewhere in the room. Make it as difficult as you like and make it as obscure as you like." Two of the guests guard David while he is outside. He doesn't want the audience to think that he was peering through the keyhole or listening for clues.

Despite the request to make the task difficult, David's experience is that the guests take the first thing that comes to hand, an ash tray or paper weight for example, and hide it under a cushion. It's only after he has done the demonstration once or twice that the guests begin to get more ingenious.

As soon as the object is hidden they call him back into the room. He asks if everyone knows where the object is hidden. They do. One of them volunteers to help and stands in the centre of the room. David extends his left arm, bending it at the elbow and asks the volunteer to grasp his wrist with his right hand. The volunteer is now making direct contact with the skin of his wrist. David says, "I want you to think of the area in which the object is hidden. Don't think of the object. Just which side of the room it is hidden, but don't guide me."

David walks forward and then can feel either a reluctance or willingness on the part of the volunteer to walk with him. He walks in different directions, all the time sensing which way the volunteer wants him to move. He walks in the direction he thinks the object may be and can instantly tell if he is right or wrong. This is the part that many magicians do not understand and is difficult if not impossible to convey by words alone. David describes it by saying that as he walks forward he will either feel the volunteer agreeing with him or subconsciously holding him back. There is no visible evidence to the audience that this communication is happening, nor is the subject aware of this. David can check this reaction by walking deliberately in the opposite direction. Immediately he will feel the volunteer's reaction change. It is a silent game of Hot and Cold, the volunteer involuntarily leading the performer to the chosen spot.

"Just think about the location, don't lead me," says David. He repeats the instructions saying, "We'll do it a step at a time. Think of which part of the room the object is in. Concentrate on it and will me to go there." A good deal of the success of contact mind reading depends on the patter he uses and the constant reminder to the volunteer that he should think of where he wants David to go.

Even when he is standing still he can test the volunteer's reaction by gently swaying back and forth as he turns to look around the room or moves his hand towards some object. The volunteer reacts to anything his attention is drawn to. And all the while David keeps up a constant flow of patter, "I feel you want me to go in this direction," and unknowingly the volunteer provides an equal amount of feedback.

Once there, David extends his free hand and passes it over the various objects at the location. The volunteer sees this and reacts accordingly, invisibly guiding him to the precise point. Usually it's hidden behind something obvious, particularly if this is the first demonstration. But keen observation is a bonus and David strongly advises against making rash guesses. He always tests his intuition by the reactions he is getting from the volunteer.

Having found the object and taken his applause, David offers to make it more complex. He suggests they come up with something else, a sequence of actions perhaps, "You may want me to find the same ashtray but then take it and put it upside down on the bookcase." Again he is led from the room and brought in when the object has been hidden. The routine is repeated except this time finding the object is only the first stage of a longer presentation. Generally they follow his suggestion of asking him to find the object and then place it in a second location. Common sense and contact mindreading will help him unravel the guests' thoughts and enable him to put the ashtray, for instance, upside down on the bookcase, or hand it to someone, or hide it in some other spot.

David will also deliberately walk in the wrong direction, suddenly stop, let go of the volunteer and stretch his arms out as if sensing his surroundings and trying to get his bearings. Then he'll set off again, this time in the right direction and without the volunteer. He will call for him to catch up and make contact once again. It isn't just good showmanship. The brief period without contact helps dispel any notion that the volunteer might be leading him.

The success of this phase will generate a lot of conversation and David uses the atmosphere to build up the third and final part of his routine. "You know, this can be done to extremes. If you took a small object, say a pin, and you made a pinprick in the wall somewhere, I'll try to find the pin and then the pinprick." Someone will invariably take this as a cue to locate a pin and before long David is taking a volunteer by the wrist and conducting another muscle-led search.

When David is called back into the room for the pin test he confirms that the task has been carried out properly and that the volunteer knows the location of the hole in the wall and the pin. The volunteer grasps his wrist and, as before, by a process of elimination David whittles down the area of the room, gradually homing in on a smaller and smaller area until the pin is found. The process is repeated in order to locate the hole in the wall. It's worth taking a proper note of your surroundings before you try this demonstration. David once did this in a room which had a silken material stretched across the walls. This made it very difficult and neither he nor anyone else could find the pinprick again!

The combination of pin and hole somehow make the presentation greater than the sum of its parts. The phrase "finding a needle in a haystack" comes to mind and people will talk about the stunt long after it's over. Its strength lies in the seemingly impromptu nature of the performance and the suspenseful and thrilling will-he-won't-he-succeed atmosphere. The aim is to create a unique and memorable event in the lives of the guests, something that no stage performance can possibly emulate. The reward is they will want to tell everyone about it. And everyone will want to listen.

A popular misconception is that some volunteers are more suitable than others. David has not yet found anyone that the technique won't work with, however, he tries to avoid the overzealous volunteers who are so anxious for the experiment to succeed that they consciously try to help him. It must always look as if the performer is doing the leading not the volunteer.

In 1982 David used contact mindreading for a corporate product launch in New York. They wanted a story for their in-house magazine and had heard about the Picture Post Challenge. The problem was that they wanted to do the stunt the following day and that was simply not enough time to set up such an elaborate challenge. David suggested they narrow the scope of their plans and someone came up with the idea of "limiting" the area of search to the Empire State Building! They would take a letter announcing the launch and hide it in a filing cabinet somewhere in the Empire State Building and David would try to find it. He decided that contact mindreading would provide the perfect method.

The search began on the ground floor. A corporate employee grasped David's wrist and they wandered the corridors until they stood beside an elevator. All the while David had been telling the volunteer to keep thinking of where they needed to go to find the sheet of paper. "Do it step by step. Is it on this floor? Do we need to go to another floor?" The reaction to these yes or no questions was carefully monitored. The paper was on another floor and the only way of getting there was by elevator.

Not all the elevators go to all the floors so once again the technique was used to take David to the correct one. The doors opened and they stepped inside. David passed his free hand over the elevator buttons. "Think up or down," he said, again noting whenever he felt resistance. He quickly managed to narrow the choice down to one of several buttons and placing his finger above each one in turn worked out which was the required floor. As soon as

he pressed the button he released the volunteer's grip, saying, "We can only go in one direction from here, up."

When the doors opened again they stepped out into the corridor and David asked the volunteer quite openly as to whether they were on the right floor. They were and once again the volunteer gripped David's wrist and they set off down the corridors in search of an office, the volunteer guiding him left and right at each junction.

Once inside the chosen office it was a comparatively easy matter to locate the right filing cabinet and then move his hand up and down the drawers to locate the correct one. The drawer was opened to reveal lots of files inside. He moved his hand back and forth across them, just as he had with the elevator buttons, until he found the path of least resistance. Reaching down into a file, he pulled out a sheaf of papers.

He spread the papers across a desk and asked the volunteer to concentrate on which was the correct one. At this point David spotted that one of the papers had the name of the corporate firm on its letter heading. He thought that this must be the one and the volunteer's reaction confirmed he was right. Pretending to make a mistake at the last moment he went to pick up a different sheet of paper then changed his mind and picked up the correct paper. The stunt was a success.

The test was impressive but as often happens the in-house magazine exaggerated it even more. They stressed the impossibility of finding a single sheet of paper out of the hundreds of thousands contained in numerous filing cabinets and added a few touches of their own. They got the story they wanted and David achieved what he set he out to do.

If contact mindreading can provide such incredible effects you have to wonder why we do not see it more often. The reason, says David, is that it is very difficult to incorporate into an act. Every variety performer had to work to time. A thirty-second overrun could mean you were never booked again. For this reason contact mindreading doesn't work well in a formal performance and David has never included it in his stage act. However, he has used it many times for less formal occasions and publicity stunts. He has also, along with his TableLevitation, offered it as a separate item to follow his cabaret act if the performing conditions are suitable. This means he performs his cabaret act and then has a break for about thirty minutes. Later he is reintroduced to the audience with the announcement that he will perform a rather special experiment. Using this approach David has been able to include more time-demanding and unusual items in his professional shows, enhance his reputation and earn extra fees.

The most challenging contact mindreading experiment he performed didn't take place at a professional show but on a train. He was travelling with his friend, singer Dickie Valentine, and several other performers as part of a variety tour and had a lot of time to kill. Someone suggested that David do some magic and he offered an experiment in contact mindreading. He left the compartment while they devised some task to test him. When they called him back Dickie Valentine grasped David's wrist and David started to move his free hand around the compartment to get a sense of the challenge. Dickie led him to a suitcase on an overhead rack. He opened it and moved his hand over the contents eventually settling on a sheet of paper, which he removed.

But that wasn't the end of it. David was led to a second case, took that down from the rack and opened it. Inside was a portable typewriter. It seemed logical to insert the paper into the typewriter so he did and the reactions from Dickie told him he was right. Equally obvious was the fact that they wanted him to type a message. To anyone not familiar with contact mindreading it seems an impossible task, but working with one letter at a time David managed to laboriously type out the thought-of sentence, "I love Dickie!" And if that isn't incentive enough to start practising, we don't know what is!

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