This exhibit by ethnomusicology Ph.D. candidate Byrd McDaniel displays some of the memorabilia central to air guitar playing in the United States and the U.S. Air Guitar Championships in particular. Advertised as the “greatest thing you’ve never seen,” the contemporary U.S. Air Guitar Championships stem from a long line of related practices throughout the twentieth century—such as pantomime, musical comedy, and dance—that crystallized in the late 1970s and early 1980s around air band and air guitar competitions. Byrd argues that we should think of air guitar as a type of listening—a practice in animating, translating, and transmitting rock recordings.
Air guitar competitions not only reproduce and revisit some of the classic moments in rock guitar history, but they also revise these moments, sometimes sustaining and sometimes challenging the often racist, sexist, and ableist narratives that litter the genre’s history. It can also undermine these problematic discourses as well, subordinating guitar greats and lofty values (like authenticity or virtuosity) to the tastes and talents of the amateur air guitarist.
Ultimately, air guitar playing reminds us how gesture and listening sustain important aspects of our cultural identities. It calls on us to rethink the origins of our current interactive and haptic technologies, which stem just as much from technological innovations as they do from a desire to take music recordings into our own hands.
Dates: February 12 – April 12, 2019
Time: Library Hours
Location: Orwig Music Library, 1 Young Orchard Avenue, Providence