Golub pulls strings, sounds trumpet for lab


Back in 1990, a young composer with a handful of indie film scores to his credit was hoping to attend a composers lab he had heard good things about. Sponsored by the Sundance Institute, the lab was supposed to provide composers like himself with valuable hands-on training and insight into the process of composing music for film. Unfortunately, he found that the lab had been discontinued after just three editions.

Undaunted, the composer pitched Sundance organizers on the possibility of bringing the lab back and, after a few years, the Sundance Composers Lab returned, albeit in a different incarnation. A decade later, the lab, the latest edition of which got under way Tuesday and continues through Aug. 9, is going stronger than ever, and that same young composer, Peter Golub, is now the director of the Sundance Film Music Program.

So what made the lab work the second time around?

"(Robert) Redford was very interested in restarting the program," Golub recalls, adding that with the technological advances of the time, such as electronic instruments and sampling, there was no longer a need for an entire orchestra, as had been the case in the lab's first outing.

But despite a seemingly easier, more streamlined approach, the lab is an immersive program designed to expose participants to the rigors of the composing process, complete with many of the anxieties and challenges that exist in the real world.

"We ask them to take risks, we ask them to try new things," Golub says. "We tell them that in the commercial world, if you fail you generally lose your job. Here you may fail, but that will provide you with a discovery that will help you with the next thing you might do."

Comprised of six composers chosen from a group of more than 250 applicants, the lab requires each "fellow" to compose original music for a scene from an already-filmed movie that has been stripped of music. The composers then face the daunting prospect of having their work critiqued -- in front of everyone -- by such A-list composers as James Newton Howard and Thomas Newman. Additionally, lab fellows are paired with Sundance directors to produce music for a short film, and they also receive instruction in the increasingly viable craft of composing original music for documentaries.

The lab is not quite on the industry's radar the way he would like, Golub says, but he is nevertheless pleased with the feedback he has received. "We're kind of an unknown," he says. "Everybody knows about the film festival, (but) I think the institute in general is not necessarily well known.

"(But) without sounding overstated about it, I do hear from people that this is a life-changing experience. There's something about coming here and being in this incredibly beautiful (environment) and having the clarity to just focus on your work."