Dancing About Architecture     High Fidelity     Lyrics

While tastes change, good music is timeless.
From the very dawn of civilization, poets and minstrels established the tribal, folk tradition of song, which passed through countless generations and evolved with new cultures that embraced archaic rhymes and melodies with fresh perspective. Centuries of oral preservation followed, but the language of music first emerged in manuscripts of monophonic chant.

The printing press furthered the reach of musical notation and sheet music as we have come to know it followed. By the mid to late nineteenth century, audio recording allowed for individual performances to be mass produced. Within a century, the rapidly expanding cache of genres each favored particular sound design within the limits of available equipment. Innovations in production expanded the bandwidth of playback possibilities and affordable hi-fi systems expanded the audience, so classic songs and even recent niche successes were reinterpreted, repackaged and remarketed as a sort of relevant nostalgia. While artists put their own particular spin on these traditional works, the essence remained in tact.

Chief among those elements were the lyrics.

Contemporary fine artists from Ed Ruscha to Scott Teplin have incorporated song lyrics into their work as a means of resonance via new context, and singer songwriters like Bob Dylan and John Lennon stand out as easy source material for textual art. While the Beatles impacted the formative psyche of the Panik Collective more so than any other musical performance group, using their lyrics to create art would suffer from obviousness and possibly undermine the timeless themes of the band's music.

The genres most criticized and vilified by music critics have always been Heavy Metal and soft rock. While these polar opposites rely primarily on niche audiences, each has reached the level of general acceptance on occasion. Inevitably the strengths of the best of each are dismissed as somehow less important than traditional pop or avant-garde rock. Even within Jazz there is a critical derision reserved for sub-categories like Fusion or Funk or any other supposedly less pure derivation.

When new forms of the old formula emerge, they are invariable met with scorn. Hip Hop is now appreciated as an important and respected American art form, and certainly it has traveled the globe and collected fresh and exciting ideas, methods, and practices, but already there is debate about what qualifies as Hip-Hop. This argument has become as much a discussion about race and class as about instrumentation. Rap music, which birthed Hip-Hop culture following the Disco era, has been marginalized in much the same way that Heavy Metal and Prog Rock were between the decline of Garage Rock and the rise of Punk.

Lyrics is the recombination of under-appreciated, yet undeniably iconic words with images that find new resonance in new context. With War Pigs, the focus is much more about unrecognized iconoclasm than about relevance, because there exists an incongruous gap between Black Sabbath's influence and the respect that evaded them for nearly half a century. It is perhaps ironic that the current generation of millenials has been fast to recognize the group's pedigree while many of their peers have not. Take It on the Run, however, uses the central message of REO Speedwagon's forlorn, arena rock anthem to expose that not much has changed by way of public perception, gender roles, or liberation.

Not all of the works in Lyrics are based on songs. The words of the critics are very present and in the same context as originally presented. If we're going to have a real conversation about appropriation in 2015, it needs to start with the critics. By taking quotes from critic Jed Perl and artist Clayton Cubitt (in reference to Jeff Koons and Richard Prince, respectively) and superimposing them over publicity stills of the works they criticize, the Panik Collective are starting a dialogue rather than making a definitive statement. Inherently the collective's body of work uses appropriation, but there doesn't appear to be any malice. As their leader has prior stated, all of their appropriations are intended as tribute and, "it would be singularly disappointing if tribute were to be seen as infringement."

I can't recall any other artist who has so extensively used the words of the critics in the actual artwork, and if nothing else that offers a fresh perspective on criticism as artistic statement. Possibly even more so, this integration sheds light on the nature of community and reaffirms a sort of artistic relativity theory. The critics and their opinions are very relevant to the value of art; if not immediately, then eventually.