January 2012 Featured Musician Danny Elfman

IMDB As Danny Elfman was growing up in the Los Angeles area, he was largely unaware of his talent for composing. It wasn’t until the early 1970s that Danny and his older brother Richard Elfman started a musical troupe while in Paris; the group “Mystic Knights of Oingo-Boingo” was created for Richard’s directorial debut, Forbidden Zone (1982) (now considered a cult classic by Elfman fans).

Musician and composer Danny Elfman

Musician composer Danny Elfman

The group’s name went through many incarnations over the years, beginning with “The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo” and eventually just Oingo Boingo. While continuing to compose eclectic, intelligent rock music for his L.A.-based band (some of which had been used in various film soundtracks, e.g. Weird Science (1985)), Danny formed a friendship with young director Tim Burton, who was then a fan of Oingo Boingo.

Danny went on to score the soundtrack of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985), Danny’s first orchestral film score. The Elfman-Burton partnership continued (most notably through the hugely-successful “Batman” flicks) and opened doors of opportunity for Danny, who has been referred to as “Hollywood’s hottest film composer”.

Filmtracks For two decades, Danny Elfman has masterfully scored the darker side of Hollywood. From monsters to super heros, innocence to malevolence, Elfman adds a mystical touch that distinguishes him from other newcomers of the 1980′s and early 1990′s.

“The music was such a blend of sentimental and peculiar. I could have done variations on Edward’s theme forever.” — 1996, on Edward Scissorhands

Born into a family of artists, Elfman has been known the longest as a flamboyant member of the rock band “Oingo Boingo,” to which he belonged from 1979 to 1995.

(L-R) Mali Elfman, composer Danny Elfman and wife actress Bridget Fonda arrives at the 81st Annual Academy Awards held at Kodak Theatre on February 22, 2009 in Los Angeles

(L-R) Mali Elfman, composer Danny Elfman and wife actress Bridget Fonda arrives at the 81st Annual Academy Awards held at Kodak Theatre on February 22, 2009 in Los Angeles

Mostly due to his connection with director Tim Burton, Elfman experimented in film scoring in the mid-1980′s. After several blockbuster hits both on the screen and in record stores, Elfman established himself as a renegade personality in Hollywood’s otherwise conservative film scoring community.

Even after his multiple Academy Award nominations in 1998, Elfman is considered by many to be an outsider in his own field. Extremely talented in musical theory and performing skills, Elfman is self-taught, a trait that distinguishes him from every other major composer of his era.

He jokingly refers to himself as a “Graduate, with Honors, American College of Hard Knocks” with post-graduate studies at “Nose to the Grindstone University.” Defending his art, Elfman states, “Film composition is a unique art with unique requirements. It is not the same as writing a symphony– something I’ve never professed to be able to do.

With its outrageous script, Men in Black was a perfect match for composer Danny Elfman, an artist with a keen sense of how to treat the wacky and the bizarre in his music.Read more

Film music is written for no other reason than to accentuate the images on the screen, to underline the emotions of the characters, and hopefully, when we’re lucky, to help breathe life into a two-dimensional medium. A film score is not ‘pure music,’ and should be judged on its dramatic, emotional, and/or visually enhancing merits.”

No matter his training, his skill in thematic expression was exhibited in full force in 1989, when his Grammy-winning score for Batman became both a cult and popular classic. The same happened within the next few years, when Edward Scissorhands forever defined Elfman as a master of orchestral beauty.

His most impressive display of raw talent was put into motion with The Nightmare Before Christmas in 1993, for which he wrote the score and songs as well as performed the voices of multiple characters.

“It was a lot of fun too, because Halloween has always been my favorite night of the year. For me, writing something in the spirit of Halloween is like Mother Teresa writing on charity and sacrifice. It’s just second nature to me.” — 1993, on The Nightmare Before Christmas

While some fans were discouraged by Elfman’s move towards rock and minimalism in some of his late-1990′s efforts, the dauntless composer continued to tread closely to the dark side of film scoring. Even in his dramatic efforts, Elfman often finds himself composing for films that are demented, quirky, and abnormal.

The popularity of his theme-making talents have caused his services to be rendered for the title themes of such programs as The Simpsons, My Favorite Martian, and Spy Kids.

No matter your opinion of his work, Elfman represents a much-needed wildcard in the film music industry. Even with much of his post-2000 work existing for mainstream projects such as Spider-Man, Red Dragon, and the musical Chicago, Elfman keeps his roots in the “Forbidden Zone.” His personality is one which contains an infectious smile and a clever wit, both influencing his musical ideas. Expecting the unexpected from Elfman is a refreshing change from the majority of composers in the digital era who, with the help of synthetic sampling, often repeat themselves more often than not. Elfman isn’t afraid to take a chance and have fun doing it.