This piece appeared in the January 2022 issue of The Wire as part of its look back at 2021:
One of my favorite records of the year was released by a company that makes guitar pedals. Several other favorites collected samples (atmospheres, beats) whose intended audience was musicians, though those samples are eminently listenable on their own. Many of my 2021 favorites included heartfelt thanks to the hardware and software developers whose engineering was part of the musicians’ creative process. Sometimes those expressions were merely admirative; often they revealed working relationships.
In all such cases, the releases were meaningfully proximate to the practitioners’ own working lives, minimizing any reliance on record label mediation. Throughout 2021, conversations between participants flourished not just on formal social media (Twitter, Facebook), but in niche safe harbors using platforms like Discord, Discourse, and Slack. (Much as the aged email newsletter had its revival, so too has the BBS.)
In a given week you might spy Lloyd Cole on llllllll.co asking for iOS app advice, or Robin Rimbaud on YouTube answering a comment about technique, or the Who’s Pete Townshend singing the praises of a virtual synth’s engineer on Instagram. GitHub, long the shared virtual workspace of coders, provides a window on collaborations both within and between projects thanks to pull requests that evidence input from users. Listening in on these conversations, and sometimes participating, has been one of the year’s great pleasures.