Ben Goldberg's Sundance Institute Composers Lab Reflections

Ben Goldberg is a composer and clarinetist who participated at the 2011 Documentary Composers Lab. He is also a member of the Tin Hat Trio and the New Klezmer Trio.

My band Tin Hat played a couple of concerts at the 2011 Sundance Festival. We had a lovely time and I was introduced to Film Music Program Director Peter Golub and Coordinator Corey Brill. When I expressed interest in the Sundance Institute Labs, Peter extended an invitation to participate in the Documentary Composers Lab, which I attended this past July.

To prepare me for the Lab, my friend Mark Orton gave me a crash course in the use of Pro Tools as a sample-based compositional tool (being a clarinetist, until recently my concept of “digital music” was playing the clarinet with your fingers).

Fellow Ben Goldberg at the 2011 Doc Composers Lab. Photo by Jonathan Hickerson.

Based on my time at the Festival, I had an inkling that I was in for a unique experience, but I could not have anticipated the lovely and thrilling week that followed. In my mind, there are two aspects that are fundamental to the construction of this deeply educational experience.

The first remarkable thing became apparent in the days and weeks leading up to the Lab. I received an email introduction to Bernardo Ruiz, the talented filmmaker with whom I was to work, followed by a package of DVDs representing all the Fellows and faculty. Kristin Feeley (Associate Director, Documentary Film Program) called to discuss what I should expect, and Scott Johnson, Sundance’s amazingly talented computer music expert, spoke with me about the system he was preparing for my use and how he could configure it to my needs.

I began to realize that at the Labs, the actual running of the operation has been taken to the highest possible level. Once I arrived, and experienced this same attention applied to lodging, meals, schedule, etc., I felt that not only is this the best way to allow a group of people to accomplish as much as possible in a short time, but that the running of the organization actually embodies and reflects a deep humanist philosophy.

The second amazing aspect of my time at the Lab began at the baggage claim of the Salt Lake City airport when Vivien Hillgrove introduced herself to me. I hope it would be okay with Vivien for me to say that we immediately became great friends (something tells me there are quite a few people who feel this way about Vivien), and I immediately became a student, and beneficiary, of her remarkable intelligence and experience in the world of film editing.

Documentary Film Program Director Cara Mertes had convened an absolutely first-rate crew. In addition to Vivien, there were Creative Advisors Martin Bresnick and Jon Else, and of course Peter Golub, all giants in their fields. If you have people of this caliber on hand there is no question that there will be plenty of knowledge and experience.

But the actual time we spent together was elevated by something deeper than knowledge --an animating spirit expressed in intellectual openness, serious and enlightening conversations and debates concerning the work we were doing, a sense of equality between all the participants, and a profound appreciation of what the work was for.

I could speak about the delightful experience of having my initial efforts ripped to shreds at my first meeting with the faculty (something I had hoped would happen and was glad when it did!), but maybe I will leave it there. Two remarkable aspects of this operation – organization and learning – which in the hands of these dedicated people are shown to reinforce and animate each other, and open new possibilities for important work.

Lead photo: