An Interview with Rob Millis, Climax Golden Twins
Rob Millis of experimental music group, Climax Golden Twins discusses scoring Session 9.
Published on September 27, 2011 | Filed under Interview

Climax Golden Twins are Robert Millis and Jeffery Taylor, a Seattle-based experimental music group specialising in found sound field recordings, audio manipulation and disquieting ambient compositions. Essentially sound artists, their experimental approach often involves collaborations with a wide range of artists and sound styles. As well as their work on film soundtracks, they also create scores for choreography, gallery installations and live performance pieces.

In 1999 they scored Brad Anderson’s creepy psychological chiller Session 9, effortlessly showcasing their penchant for unnerving soundscapes and ominous noise-making.

Rob Millis kindly agreed to an interview about their work on the film.

How did you become involved with scoring Session 9, and did Brad Anderson give you much freedom, or did he have very specific ideas about how it should sound?

A mixture of both. He actually heard a CD of ours called Dream Cut Short in the Mysterious Clouds. He used a lot of Dream Cut Short as temp for the first edits of Session 9. We created a lot more material in the same vein and Brad used that and the Dream Cut Short material in the final film. So in a way we inspired him in the direction of the sound, and then he ran with it in his own inscrutable way. When it came time for us to put together the soundtrack CD we used material from the film score, outtakes, and some of the material from Dream Cut Short, but all reworked into a “suite.”

It isn’t a traditional score – how did you approach the project – what was the process for you and did you need to get into a particular mindset?

We did have to prepare rigorously for our recording sessions. We would huff asbestos and go on killing sprees. Initially this posed a problem as we kept killing the studio staff and getting the equipment covered in blood which would then short out and get sticky. The big break through came when we realized we could actually leave the studio and kill other people and we’ve been doing it ever since. Very freeing.

We kept very much in the back of our minds the thought of the building as the main entity in the film – the gothic Dickensian approach – and actually recorded heating and air conditioning vents in the studio we were using, exploited the natural echoes of long corridors, etc. The other entities in the film that informed our score were the “session” tapes that one character finds and that drive the story. So we mangled a few reels of tape and experimented with scratchy records and the squeaks of old recording and playback equipment. The end result, the score, is imbued with a certain quality from these origins, though doesn’t bare much resemblance to them on the surface. If that makes sense. After that, restraint and not trying to overwhelm with too much sound was the main concern.

What sort of challenges did you face when creating the soundtrack for Session 9? And in your opinion, what was most rewarding about the project?

Honestly the biggest challenge was navigating the morass of feature film making. It can be frustrating and confusing and we were very green and naive, which is how we hope to have remained. There are contracts and rights issues and temp tracks and picture locks and delivery formats and music supervisors and other people in charge of the sounds you make. Also, Brad Anderson was difficult, though perhaps that was his right as director. We were and are much more used to working improvisation-ally and in an under the radar band/music milieu. We thought that we would be working with the director, at the mixing studio and on-set and involved more holistically in the film, but that is just not the way feature films work, perhaps because of the amount of people involved, the amount of money, etc. Its just not practical and you have to let go of the “band of brothers creating a piece of art together” theory and make your corner of the project as good as you can, then hope the other parts are likewise good and it all works.

The most rewarding part was being able to apply some of our experimental sound techniques to scoring what turned out to be a great film, and having it actually work out and be effective and support the visuals. Then having that score on a proper soundtrack release through Milan International was great, and the OST CD led to bits of the score turning up in trailers for other films, not to mention other strange places, splattering like blood from the scene of the crime, and licensing is rewarding as we all know. Its also especially rewarding that the film has remained popular, at least on a cult level and we still hear from people about it.

In many of your other recordings you experiment with found sound – how much did this process enter into your approach for scoring Session 9?

We have always been intrigued by field recordings and raw sounds as evidenced by much of our recorded output. Collaging, mixing and matching, editing, processing. However, for most of the Session 9 work the raw sounds were invented entirely by us in the studio, specifically for the film. Self generated found sounds as it were. Though some of the other earlier material of ours used in the film makes heavy use of field recording and found sounds. The scene where the morgue is revealed and Josh Lucas’ character finds the gold coins for example, was created mostly with a field recording of a call to prayer recorded in Jerusalem. Not a sound you would associate with horror, unless you didn’t want to go to prayer. But handled a certain way, with the right visuals, it becomes very disquieting. It is endlessly interesting how sounds can be re-shaped through different contexts, or through different perspectives.

At times the music and the soundscapes seem to seep out from the building the story unfolds within. Did you guys get a chance to visit the set at the Danvers State Hospital?

We did not. Initially that was the plan, we wanted to record in the building itself, record its creeks and echoes, but budget and time constraints conspired against us.

How do you think your score for this film differs from other psychological horror film scores? 

It differs, perhaps, because it does not offer many melodic clinchers. There are few repeating musical phrases that you begin to identify with as you would with a more traditional score. The exception is a dissonant piano tune (that was actually created with a guitar, but that’s another story). Otherwise, it is purely subtle atmosphere to heighten the story. In a way, Session 9’s soundtrack works as a sort of secondary approach to foley.

Who have been your most significant influences and inspirations?

Generally speaking odd natural sounds – echoes, reverberations, etc, the foley in films and old TV shows, also odd sounds that people added to songs and records especially in so-called psychedelic music (the Beatles I Am The Walrus, for example), 78rpm records and Victrolas, early recording techniques, Chinese food, Korean and Indian music, and actually traditional Asian music of all stripes, playing guitar, John Cage, Sun City Girls, Hendrix, Lennon. I guess this list is less of “who” and more of “what” influences us, but it’s all related.

Are there any particular horror film soundtracks you’re particularly fond of? Why?

Carpenter’s Halloween, for the minimalist approach and simple piano is one. Godzilla for the sound of Godzilla’s voice is another. Some of the classic 50s “B movie” films with their theremins and poor overdubs. However other areas of cinema scoring are more inspirational. Toru Takemitsu’s Woman in the Dunes, for the mix of traditional Japanese music and the avant garde, Artemyev’s work on Tarkovsky’s films, which are other worldly, especially Solaris. Badalamenti’s work with David Lynch, too. More broadly, Bollywood, Morricone, Sciffrin, Mancini, Hermann.

What ideas and themes capture your imagination most as an artist?

Well, really, sound. Is that too obvious an answer? Sounds of the natural and unnatural world. Unheard sounds. Surprising sounds. The sounds of sound. Climax Golden Twins is essentially a duo. Begun as a sort of “art project” many years ago, we’ve gone down many avenues and been fortunate to work with a lot of different people on diverse projects, from noisy garage rock bands to ambient music, to sound art, to books on 78rpm collections. Overarching themes certainly include the earliest days of recording – 78rpm records and wind up gramophones, not to mention the design from that era; raw traditional music from all over the world, especially ecstatic music; blues and hillbilly songs from the first part of this century; collectors and collections of sounds. Then add a dash of contemporary classical, some surrealism, Dada, collage, a few crime novels and that all ebbs and flows through the two of us in whatever peculiar situation we find ourselves.

What’s next for Climax Golden Twins?

Interesting timing actually as we were just approached to compose a soundtrack to another psychological horror film thanks to our work on Session 9. Looks as though we will be scoring a new film by Jennifer Lynch called Chained, she heard Session 9… We’ll see what happens.

James is the author of Dario Argento (Kamera Books) and a monograph on The Company of Wolves (part of Auteur’s Devil’s Advocates series). He currently contributes to Exquisite Terror and Diabolique, and has also written for Film Ireland, Eye for Film, Little White Lies and The Quietus.
James Gracey