Research Presentation in a Sauna: The History of Air Guitar

The folks at Air Guitar World Championships LLC asked me to present my research at the 20th Anniversary Air Guitar World Championships, and, honored by the request, I agreed to present on whatever terms they felt would be appropriate. I initially wanted to develop a little roundtable discussion of air guitar, hoping to include many voices along with my own. However, other panel members dropped out at the last minute, so the discussion turned into a solo presentation titled something along the lines: “The History of Air Guitar.”

The AGWC organizers arranged for all of this to occur at Sauna World, on the outskirts of Oulu, Finland. I sat in a room with a big projector, while nearly 30 air guitarists and air guitar aficionados drank Finnish beer, sat in their swimsuits (or less), and listened to me recount some of the important moments of air guitar history.

The level of detail and analysis I could achieve in this setting surpassed the depth that I often achieve in academic conferences on the same topic. Typically, in an academic conference, I spend 5-7 minutes of a 20-minute presentation explaining what competitive air guitar is. This little spiel typically involves contextualizing air guitar competitions historically, expoulu-finland-smoke-sauna1.jpglaining contemporary competitive practices, and critiquing certain notions of “virtuosity” and “musicianship” that tend to marginalize competitive air guitar as pointless or lowbrow. As a result, the level of depth that I can achieve in analyzing the minutia of air guitar often gets lost.

At Sauna World, I could really dilate on particulars of air guitar in a refreshing way. The presentation made me realize the importance of knowing the fluency and ideologies of your audience, and I was appreciative to gain this unconventional opportunity during my research visit to Finland.