Carter MacDiarmid: Cardistry and Self-Expression

This week we sit down with Carter MacDiarmid and talk about Cardistry, The Fontaine Trials, dance, music and self-expression. Beautifully illustrated by Mike.

Q: Every Carter move makes me feel enchanted; my eyes are trapped and moved together with each packet and motion. This style of yours is very unique and has definitely been developing and evolving with every video since 2013. What drew you to perform the way you do? What was the work ethic that went behind the scenes and brought you closer and closer to a more refined style that defines you?

I think the largest contributing factor to the way I interpret movement was thanks to my involvement with the dance community. Long before my interest in cards, if not at least adjacent to the time my interest began, I was in a studio learning 8-counts, going to conventions and competing, until I quit around age 13. While I dipped my toes into many different styles of dance in that timeline, my favorites were and always will be jazz and hip-hop.

This not only sparked my interest in the music of those genres, but also my journey of learning how to interpret the feelings music gave me into the visual arts as a whole. As I was falling more out of dance and more into Cardistry, I would still constantly find songs that I loved and make my own choreography for them. That was what I would’ve considered my rawest form of self-expression at the time, so I knew that I was always actively seeking a way to do that with Cardistry next.

I attended Magic-Con in 2014, where I made one of my first Cardist friends, Jamie Tucher. And, in a similar way that I had an interest in dance, he had in filmmaking. We went on to be friends and worked together for a couple years until he gradually fell out of Cardistry, but his Cardistry videos were and still are unparalleled to this day in my opinion. He showed me that Cardistry videos were something beyond a sequence of clips to some music, that they could have powerful emotional significance, and that there weren’t rules to how you could present yourself. I’m still grateful to have been involved with someone of his artistic caliber, because it truly did serve as a turning point in the way I approached everything.

Since 2015, I started fusing elements of dance and Cardistry together through short, roughly 45-second videos. I picked a song I liked and made choreography, but with cards instead. Syncing everything to the beat to keep it accented through and through and trying to have some form of cohesion with myself and the elements around me, it began to feel a lot more like an extremely amateur production as time went on. These short videos allowed me to hone in on not just workflow, but also provided me with brief periods of genuine happiness; it was my therapy. This was a process I loved so much that it eventually became a higher priority than the moves themselves. Sticking to the movie in my head was so important that the moves worked around them.

These days I don’t care much for my moves anymore, it’s all about the emotions that in turn inspires the moves. I finish most of them within days of starting them, I couldn’t care less about theory! All I’m looking for is to show you exactly who I am when you see my art, there’s no rulebook for this shit. That’s why I still love Cardistry.

Q: I’ve had a similar friend that naturally fell out of Cardistry and magic, but to whom I owe everything for having inspired me. There is this sequence in Suspiria where someone’s dance is twisting and turning another person’s body. Tell me, if you would make a collaboration with someone else outside of Cardistry, who would it be and in what direction would you take it?

I would absolutely love to collaborate with artists from other communities in the future, especially the dance and music community. It was super eye-opening when I saw Zach integrate the talent of artists like Hok, P-Nut, and C-Tut in Cardistry High. I feel like there’s a lot that their communities could teach us when it comes to finding new avenues for transforming emotion into movement, and I would love to see a lot more in this field.

A few ideas I just had while writing this, for instance, would be to give a dancer and a Cardist the same song and each have them create their respective sequence of movements based on what emotions the song invokes, and then compare.

Another would be for a dancer to watch a Cardistry move or combo and interpret that into a dance combo of their own, and vice versa. It would be crazy to have a performance video where every move had a dancer interpreting it into their own sequence, and putting them side-by-side.

I would love to see music used in a similar fashion as well. In the same way that movies use deliberate scoring to enhance their scenes, I would love to see a meticulously scored Cardistry video where the music is tailored for us rather than us tailoring to the music. That’s another rabbit hole of interpreting! I would love to work with a musician I admire and have them score a video I give them. I could spend hours daydreaming about all the cool shit that would come out of that.

cardistry death match skull diamond bomb

Q: In an interview I conducted with you in 2018 about your Round 1 video as part of CCC you said that you’re “extremely nit-picky about your work” and you “have to be able to appreciate everything that gets put into the final product”. I’d like to know more about your creative process and how you develop a move, trim it and polish it in order to be ready for a video.

I’m definitely still stuck in that perfectionist mindset, but it’s more in the aspect of presentation these days. As I said before, I’m not really excited over having the constraint of rules when it comes to making material, it just massively slows down the workflow in my opinion. My only criteria is if there’s something in it that impresses me or not. I don’t care about openers, moments, closers, the length of the move, none of that; all that matters is that the moves are performed at the quality that my creations deserve to be performed.

As of late I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from old school mechanics, but the best inspiration I could get is from seeing a great video that gives me the motivation to go digging through mechanics and daydreams all over again. When we get into the presentation, that’s an entirely different story.

When it comes to making a video, I would pick tripod filming over handheld on any given day (with the exception of a couple people) . I’ve always felt like your moves need to be able to speak for themselves, and more than enough of the time having someone who can film you is either going to serve as a crutch or a detriment. Tripod filming allows you to compose a shot exactly how you want it without failure, at the expense of you having the responsibility of presenting your move exactly how you want it to be presented. In my eyes that’s a win-win: it holds you accountable, humbles you, keeps your work ethic strong, and it makes you a better performer.

The only reason I would ever cut moves out of a video is if their presentation didn’t match the video’s presentation or if they didn’t bring enough balance to the move list. That segues into saying that I love having diversity in a video. You need a big cut, a little cut, an aerial cut, a display cut, a one-handed cut – the list goes on. If I could have a performance video where every move was in its own category I’d probably be ready to quit or die of old age. But since I’m a packet cutter more than anything, I think that desire at least brings a lot of unique approaches to my cuts.

That’s the mechanics of it though; rhythm and flow is how I get away with my occasional carelessness for design. I like to imagine this glowing blue orb that follows the weight of the cut’s energy as I do it, and then I just emphasize all the places where the cut looks heavy. It’s also helpful to use this approach to figure out where to move next in an unfinished move! Also, before I post a performance of a move, I force my focus to become blurry while watching it; if I see any stutters in the blob, I refilm.

cardistry flow cohesion waves pyramid

Q: You must be the first person besides myself that I have ever heard of blurring their vision to (literally) see things differently. Very beautiful. Your work ethic and values really do show in each video that you put out. There’s a certain standard that everyone knows they will see when watching a Carter video.

The current trend is definitely to cut and patch one’s move from different angles, with just a handful of individuals showing a move from start to finish.  What do you think up-and-coming Cardists could do better to improve the quality of their performance (not video, but move performance) ?

I feel like you just need to be confident in how you choose to present your move, and that should get across to the audience naturally. Dealersgrip videos have more editing cuts than an action scene in an amateur film, but you can tell it’s done out of Oliver’s stylistic decision rather than an attempt to compensate for bad performances. He’s confident, in the same way that I would rather die before I have to make an editing cut, because that’s just what I prefer. And both work perfectly fine!

However, if you’re using several match cuts to hide choppiness or filming one move altogether because you don’t want to get your angles right, then it becomes a crutch and a sign that you should probably get more comfortable with your moves. People can sense if something is off, regardless of whether or not it’s observable, and I think the culprit is just knowing what has and hasn’t been rehearsed sufficiently.

It’s extremely important to block off a lot of your time for practicing, so that you can not only explore new mechanics but also so you can soon perform them like it’s clockwork. Having experienced hands will benefit you a long way down the line when it comes to being able to shorten the length between creating a move and performing it. So you’re doing your muscle memory a huge favor in the moment and in the long run.

Q: In an interview with Chase Duncan you talked about how you had a long move list and several songs but then ended up curating the list. To get a better idea of your work ethic, let’s take this moment, the preparation for The Fontaine Trials Round 4, as an example.  

To get a better perspective of your creative process, I’d like you to choose 2 of your moves that you like and break them down. Talk about how you came up with, polished, and then performed them.

Having an entire six weeks to make a final video was the most psychologically torturous thing, because it’s exactly opposite to how I’m used to working.

When I do or make anything, I ideally try to work on it as streamlined and as consistent as I can manage. Unless the goal is clearly long-term, I would rather have no days off until it’s over. Two weeks was the perfect length for me; it gave me enough time to sufficiently cover all the detail work, but with the deadline pressure that allowed me to trust and go through with my ideas.

Every two weeks of those six weeks, I had an entirely new video idea. New songs, modified move lists, entirely different atmospheres. I started and finished my final in the standard two week limit. I think too much to let an idea rot in my head for six weeks; that’s too much wasted energy. Ideas need to feel fresh if I want to find the motivation to work on them.

What you saw as my final had two other versions that had entirely different emotions, lengths, and either many more or even fewer moves. I won’t give much away in case I find that I want to use those visuals in the future, but, for example, the shorter draft was supposed to be under a minute long because I wanted the energy of a 1-move-to-impress-video if it was a final video. I initially wanted to play with video length a lot since this was the only round free of that constraint, but I figured that I would just go for the middle ground and add a tight 45 seconds on top of the 1-minute constraint we had in the previous round. 

To use a detail from the previous answer as an example, the moves I chose for this video were mostly because I cut them out of the previous rounds on the fault of not aligning with the other videos’ presentation. So, I guess, it wasn’t any different than any of my other rounds: pick the song and then the moves and film them. 

I want to shed some light on my entry move for the Trials and the last move of my final. I would say that both of those were instances where I really felt as though I nailed my true desires for a move; they’re the closest to truly expressing myself through Cardistry that I’ve ever gotten.

With my entry, I’ve been long into the idea of creating structures within cuts, and I was curious as to what structures hadn’t been done yet. My guess is that nobody wanted to work with structures that were fragile since they’re intimidating and don’t have much potential on paper, so I started looking into all of them.

I had an old opener that looked as though it would lead into an interesting structure, so that aligned almost immediately. The rest of the move was honestly inspired by a joke move from a while ago, called “THE SPOT.” I won’t get into explaining it here, it’s more of an if you know you know thing, but that balanced V shape seemed very promising because of its ability to be deliberately toppled.

One big thing I like to do in my cuts that would seem unconventional in theory is to separate my hands, so that led into the very airy and dance-like feel of the moments following the opener. This move really felt like a sequence more than anything, which had this very old school feel that I love so much. Independently moving hands that function in a coordinated way, yet designed like a packet cut. That move is special to me because it’s such a genuine combination of dance and Cardistry, a fusion of all my long-time desires since I first began shuffling.

The last move from the final came from a brainstorming session in round 3. Samuel Pratt was talking about his plans of doing a targeted round, which sparked my interest in doing that as well. While we were making moves to target each person, I was stumped on deciding what I would target Andrew with. I didn’t want to be corny and do a prism variation, but I also kinda did, and so a lot of time went into looking at shapes that could be spun. Eventually I gave up on doing a targeted round, but I left with that very pretty bubble structure. It remained as just that until much later on, when I showed James Chesmore the structure and he immediately said “you gotta throw a packet through that!” From that point on the move honestly designed itself.

I found a logical way to get into the structure while setting up the packet toss. The resolution for unbending the cards was inspired by a magic trick/gag which I can’t recall, but I thought was a very effective way to mask up an otherwise awkward action as something artful. That move is special to me not only because it’s my first bent-card move, but it also has such a unique palette of strange mechanics from the beginning to the end. 

Q: What I can draw from your experience is that truly meaningful cuts have a life of their own. They’re put together slowly, fragments from conversations or slices of life, ultimately shaping what ends up being a memorable Cardistry cut. Having a targeted round would surely be interesting as an actual theme in a future contest.

Tell me, if you could make a 1-minute targeted video of someone, who would that be? Also, who would you see being able to make a video targeting you?

As much as I would rather collaborate with Syb, I think I could target him with a super dense 1-minute long video. I would love to just hit a wild cartoon character level of spunky for a minute straight – that inspires me a bunch. I think it’d be crazier if we were up against each other in some bracket-style competition, with no criteria for video length. It gets me beyond excited just thinking about the potential that has. Just two dudes battling to the death with 30-minute Cardistry art films is something I would love to be involved in. I told myself I wouldn’t compete after the Trials, but that would honestly push me back into the circle.

If I didn’t have that option, Luis is someone I’d love to rematch with, because I already know he can target me well like he did in CCC ’18. He’s another Cardist whose cinematography I admire a lot, plus I think my videos have more parallels in the experience it gives people rather than Syb’s. And in saying all this, I obviously think that both would be able to target me and kick my ass in doing so. But, real talk, we need to round up some more people willing to do Cardistry short-films and have a film-festival-style competition, with one huge premiere night where we all gather in a theater venue with snacks and drinks and everything.

Q: I would definitely love to see a Cardistry Short Film Festival happen. Sounds like an event that would bring a crowd from outside the community into the Cardistry scene. Maybe it could be a part of Cardistry-Con.

Sadly, we have to wrap this up. So, lastly, you can take the time to send a message to someone, to the community or just take this last space to express yourself in any shape or form.

There is not a chance in this lifetime that I would have an outlet to shamelessly ramble through if not for the support of my mom and the community, and I thank her and each and every one of you for that. I’m so grateful to be in a position where I can work creatively with the things I love to do in an environment as kind as the one we have, it really does make life bliss and I hope to pay it all forward in my future work. And of course, thank you for being the outlet that I can dump my thoughts into. Hopefully I haven’t overstayed my welcome. 

You can check out our previous interview with Cardistry Touch over here! We discussed about their past projects, their philosophy, and how they changed the entire Cardistry game.

Michael Warneke is the artist behind these beautiful illustrations. Be sure to check out his other work here!

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