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Beyond Pixels: Air Guitar

The plush, brightly lit green room at the House of Blues on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles is clean, colorful, and carpeted, with two large couches, a bathroom with a shower, and an abundance of mirrors. It is probably the most spacious and comfortable backstage area of any we’ve encountered, but it’s still inadequate. Between organizers, performers, friends, and photographers, the room is at more than twice its capacity, topped off with a showgirl’s ransom of glitter, rhinestones, and confetti. The room is buzzing with nervous energy, but everyone is smiling as they finalize preparations: strategically snipping a t-shirt neck for easy tearing; testing the battery pack inside an LED-saturated vest; stowing blood capsules; applying eyeliner; stretching. It is August of 2013, and the eleventh annual US Air Guitar National Finals are about to begin.

My alter-ego is named Windhammer. In six years of competing, this is his fifth time on the national stage, having clawed his way to the top of regional championships in Philadelphia, Boston, and New York City. He has never come closer to the US title than fourth place, which is fine with me. People in the know often tell me Windhammer’s Viking ferocity would play well in Finland, where the world championships are held annually, but I don’t see him being the face of US Air Guitar on the world stage. Windhammer’s glaring, silent stoicism defines him – and who ever heard of a mute ambassador?

More than winning and losing, Windhammer is about intensity, about harnessing musical maelstrom and expressing it with a forceful physicality. He is wild but precise, and I construct his routines in the manner I approach all creative endeavors, making space for the spontaneous within the systematic. And yet, Windhammer’s movements have an entirely different purpose than most other things shaped by my creative process.

By day, I design content and interfaces for software and websites. My work is meant to help people learn, find information, and/or complete tasks. The measure for its success is its invisibility, since a conspicuous design – whether overelaborate or undercooked – will distract the user from the goal it is intended to help them achieve.

But by night, Windhammer is designed to be noticed. At his best, he can make your day or ruin it, but either way, you will remember him.

Like any art form, air guitar is always ridiculous and occasionally sublime. Every performer who takes the stage at the House of Blues tonight does so with a wink, even if that wink, like their guitar, is invisible. And hopefully each performer will be a living reminder that there is no reason to resist being moved by the music you love.