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1243 interviews since 2009

A picture of Jess Levine

Jess Levine

Writer, musician, game designer

in designer, game, mac, musician, writer

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Jess Levine, and I'm a multi-disciplinary creator. I author both fiction and non-fiction, write tabletop roleplaying games and video games, produce music, and am both a programmer and political organizer. You can find my science fiction in Clarkesworld and my political non-fiction in Seize the Press, Blood Knife, and on my Medium and Patreon. You can find my video and tabletop games on my itch.io page. My unreleased game "I Have the High Ground", a "two-player collaborative dueling TTRPG of banter, posturing, and capes," can be found on its crowdfunding page, where - at the time of writing - you can still late-pledge! I prefer people find my music on Bandcamp, but it also appears on Spotify and other major streaming platforms. My code can be found on GitHub. I've also appeared on podcasts demonstrating my tabletop games and talking about both music and politics. You can find all of this work and more on my website, jessfrom.online, where you can also find my freelancing rates - I offer editing, writing, and music production services. Finally, as my handle implies, I am extremely on Twitter and you can find me there as @jessfromonline.

What hardware do you use?

I use a MacBook Pro for most writing and programming, while music production happens on my custom built Windows machine. While a younger me prioritized flashy desktop cases like my old NZXT Phantom, an older me just wanted something compact, cheap, and easy to move, like my current NZXT H510. I also adore my Das Keyboard 4 - I've never owned a better keyboard. I received a set of AirPods because my wife got them for free and decided they didn't want them. Wireless earbuds have since become a vital part of my life, because I have learned half my skills - if not more - by listening to podcasts and audiobooks during any waking hours I spend alone.

Music: I produce music using an AKAI MPK249 MIDI controller. On the go, I instead carry an AKAI MPKmini II. I learned synthesis on the KORG volca series of inexpensive analog synthesizers and eventually on a Novation Bass Station II, though I sold them all to purchase an OP-1 digital synthesizer that I now use to generate samples. I record audio using a Shure SM58 microphone plugged into a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 audio interface. I mix on Kali Audio LP-6 studio monitors and a Rokit 10S subwoofer alongside beyerdynamic DT 880 semi-open studio headphones. For one album, I ran digitally-synthesized guitar audio out into a TC HALL OF FAME reverb pedal, because I couldn't find any reverb VST that sounded exactly that good when applied to a guitar.

And what software?

Organization: In order to keep track of my various projects and ideas, I have a multi-tiered notetaking and drafting system, resembling something like a computer's memory hierarchy. The most spontaneous notes get entered into Telegram's Saved Messages feature, usually as either voice messages or text generated through iPhone voice dictation. On multiple occasions, I've "written" thousands of words of brainstorming while driving somewhere, using just my voice. From there, more permanent and organized notes are moved to or written in Google Keep lists. When notes graduate to a draft, they are migrated to Google Docs - which also acts as a version control system and distribution platform for drafts of my written work. Final products are converted to relevant formats and stored along with the rest of my life in Dropbox. Reference links and my reading queue are indexed and tagged in Zotero. These cloud apps essentially operate as an extension of my brain and memory, and I'd be helpless without them! All of my writing and game design happens within them. Google Calendar determines what I'm doing in a given moment and Google Keep also tracks my todo lists. In Gmail, I use manually applied tags like "Action Needed" to remind myself to revisit emails. In my political organizing work as an arbiter for Philly Socialists, we use Trello to coordinate everything that the arbiter team needs to do.

Games: While most software I use to write tabletop games is covered under organization, I format some games in Affinity Designer and write video games using Twine.

Music: I produce music in Ableton Live, though I sometimes return to FL Studio to use the noise reduction of its unparalleled clip editor, Edison. I use a number of invaluable VST plugins, including: Gullfoss for automated EQ, FabFilter Pro-Q and Pro-DS for EQ and de-essing, Melodyne for autotune and Maserati VX1 and Satin for vocal effects, API 2500 for mastering, Glitch 2 for sample manipulation, Valhalla plugins for reverb, most of the Goodhertz suite, and more. When it comes to softsynths, I use SubLab for bass. I use TAL-U-No-LX, FM8, the Arturia V Collection, and the KORG Legacy Collection to emulate classic synthesizers for synthwave music. I use Massive, Spire, and built-in Ableton synths for general synthesis. I use Splice to acquire samples, and I especially love the Shigeto and Bedroom Beats & Lofi Hip-Hop packs.

Programming: Almost all my code is written happens in Vim and my lightsaber - which can be found here - includes plugins such as: vim-powerline for UI, nerdtree for file browsing, ctrlp for search, Supertab for tab completion, everything from tpope, and more. On macOS, I use iTerm with the zsh shell and with the agnoster theme and once again powerline for UI. My editor and terminal both use Solarized Dark for colors. Occasionally, I use Sublime Text for quick editing and search capabilities. I prefer to program in Ruby and have written a number of my own CLI tools in it to make my life easier. I use git for version control.

Miscellaneous: I cannot use macOS without immediately installing Alfred for convenient search functionality and navigation through files, windows, applications, and more. I also immediately download SizeUp for resizing and tiling windows - though I used to use ShiftIt, a free SizeUp alternative. I also use BetterTouchTool for customizing keyboard and trackpad shortcuts. I use Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator for image editing. I've yet to find a single decent video editor, so let me know if you have one. I use Squarespace to host my website and a RAM-eating number of Tweetdeck columns to manage Twitter. I use Discord for collaboration, Pidgin for IRC on Windows, and Adium for IRC on macOS. I use Plex as a media server and Prologue to stream audiobooks to my iPhone from Plex. I use Pocket Casts to listen to podcasts and Voice Dream to read me books and articles that don't have an audio version. I use Firefox as my browser. For security, I use AirVPN and Tor Browser, and I use Signal for encrypted messaging. My preferred messaging client is Telegram.

What would be your dream setup?

Music: Most of my dream equipment is musical equipment, because it's generally the most inaccessibly expensive. More than anything, I'd love an MPC MIDI controller and sampler. Many of my favorite musical artists produce on an MPC, and while I have no experience using one, it's a workflow I'd really love to try. I'd also love an Arturia Minibrute analog synthesizer. I almost bought it instead of the Novation Bass Station II mentioned above, but opted for the Bass Station due to the presence of presets. I'd love to upgrade my audio interface to a Scarlett 4i4 for a few more inputs, and my studio headphones to the unbeatable Audio-Technica ATH-R70x. I've dreamed about the Eventide Space reverb pedal since I first encountered it in an improvisational synthesis video when I was first learning to produce music, but it's a lot of money to commit to just reverb and delay!

Miscellaneous: I'd love to be doing everything above on an Apple Studio Display - I used to code using an Apple Thunderbolt Display provided by my employer in the office, and I miss it! I've dreamed of a digital screen fan controller like the Thermaltake Commander FT since I was in high school, but that's mostly because they look really cool. I've been curious about the Microsoft Surface as a dual tablet and laptop. I'd love a gaming keypad like the Razer Tartarus - not just for games but for macros in different kinds of studio software as well. Oh, and I want there to be an iPhone with the dimensions of the iPhone 5S again. It was the perfect size and Apple hasn't made anything that small since. Finally, more than anything, I want there to be a new version of the Razer Lachesis, the only mouse to ever truly fit my grip. There has been nothing like it manufactured for nearly a decade now, and all the used ones are falling apart.

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