Air Guitar & American Sign Language

Amber Galloway Gallego, a sign language interpreter from San Antonio, has appeared in viral videos on social media, performing the songs of ASAP Rocky, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Future, Adele, Drake, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. She augments American Sign Language, which has its own grammatical and syntactical rules and norms, to create musical translations that communicate sounds (timbre, volume, melodies, lyrics) to audiences. In the video below, she explains some of the translational moves she makes, involving facial gestures, subtle deviations from standard hand movements (e.g. swapping a middle finger for another finger), and the occasional air guitar.

The title of the Vox video is problematic, since people within the Deaf cultural world have listened to music long before American sign language [1], but it does a nice job showing the kinds of translations Gallego does, especially regarding the sonic and lyrical elements she decides to highlight and minimize.

[1] The idea that listening to music is an exclusively ear-based activity ignores the many ways listening involves feeling, seeing, and moving to the vibrations caused by music. As Evelyn Glennie puts it about her own percussion playing as a Deaf person, “Hearing is basically a specialized form of touch… I can also tell the quality of a note by what I feel, I can sense a musical sound through my feet and lower body, and also through my hands; and can identify the different notes as I press the pedal according to which part of my foot feels the vibrations and for how long, and by how I experience the vibrations in my body” (cited in Joseph Straus’s Extraordinary Measures, 168).


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