Orchestrating the Composers Lab

Orchestrating the Composers Lab

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George S. Clinton is an Emmy and Grammy-nominated film composer who began serving as a Creative Advisor at the 1999 Composers Lab. His credits include Austin Powers in Goldmember, the Santa Clause 2, and Salvation Boulevard, among others.

Twelve years ago I was sitting at the BMI Film and TV Awards next to a very interesting fellow named Peter Golub. During our conversation I learned that he had just taken over the Sundance Institute Composers Lab, and as he began to describe his vision, I was instantly hooked. When he asked if I'd be interested in being a Creative Advisor at the Lab, I enthusiastically said, "Yes!" I have been saying "yes" ever since. 


George S. Clinton working with a Fellow at the 2010 Composers Lab. Photo by Jill Orschel.

I am usually the "starter," the first Advisor to instruct the Lab Fellows, and I really enjoy being in that position. I get to watch six strangers surrender to the magic of Sundance and quickly become a family. In fact, there is a wonderful family feel to the place. I am always awed by the fact that Robert Redford took his fame and fortune and created a haven away from the machinery of business where our "tribe of artists" can gather, explore, and learn. My daughter was nine years old the first time I took her with me. She, Phillip (Peter's son), and Chelsea (Doreen Ringer Ross’ daughter) would play kickball on the lawn near the chairlift. I brought Jessica back with me again this year as a 21-year-old senior at NYU. Getting to hang with Doreen, Peter, other Advisors, and the Lab staff is another great perk in being on the mountain--that and the Owl Bar. 

There are things that have changed since the early days of the Lab. The trailers that house the composers' work stations are no longer on the hot asphalt of the Art Shack parking lot. They are now across the bridge along a shady path that is next to the river. No longer does everybody crowd into the individual composer's little workroom, turn off the air conditioner to better hear their music, and swelter as we all discuss it. Thanks to the technical wizardry of Nate Pennington and Scott Johnson, we are able to view everything in the comfort of the screening room. The gear provided to the Fellows is always state of the art and has evolved accordingly over the years. Peter is always tweaking the program to make it a better, more fulfilling experience. Along with the Advisors, he often invites exceptional musicians to do workshops and actually record on the Fellows’ cues. 

As I am writing this, I realize that the most obvious changes at the Lab over the years are those having to do with technology. But the basic creative premise that Peter described that night at the BMI dinner is the same and, in fact, it has matured into a life-changing experience for Fellows and Advisors alike. It is unique and world-renowned. I feel honored to be a part of it and am sure that I have learned more from the incredibly talented Fellows over the years than they ever learned from me.