Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - April 11, 2014

Electronic expressions

Teen hits right notes in musical compositions

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

We've all been there. We press the number sequence for the department or person we need, and we hear, "Please hold."

Then it begins — music that we like, or hate, or somewhere in between.

Enter Danny Burns, a senior at Amador Valley High who has been composing electronic music since he was 10. Two years ago he got a gig from TiVo, the digital recording service where his dad Matt works, to write songs for its customers to hear while they are on hold.

"It was kind of a challenge for me but I worked a couple of themes out — calming, soothing, upbeat — and they were really happy with that," Danny said. "After a while they were saying no one was complaining about the hold music."

TiVo had some specific instructions, Matt Burns noted: "Don't make it repetitive, make it light. People on hold are frustrated."

TiVo is still using the four pieces written by Danny and is considering hiring him to do more.

"Composing comes very easily to me," Danny said. "I hear that some composers stare at computers trying to think of a tune."

Danny has Asperger's Syndrome, which means that although he's smart, he faces everyday challenges, from socializing effectively to attention and organization skills.

"But one area where he has always excelled is music. He has been obsessed with music since he was a toddler," Matt Burns said. "At age 4 he could tell you the specific three notes that make up the harmonics of many different train whistles he had heard in the train videos he was also obsessed with at the time."

His Asperger's is an asset with his music, Danny said.

"Socially it gives me difficulty, with auditory processing, paying attention and knowing what people are feeling at certain times," he said. "But in another sense, it helps me with getting more detail into my music. I have a heightened sense for certain parts of the music and song."

Often he thinks of songs during the day but can't get to them until he is home and his homework is finished. Then he sits at his laptop to get down the musical notation for the parts he remembers, and the rest follows. Next, he must find the right instruments in his library to record the music, and then he combines the individual tracks to deliver the right sound.

"I don't want it to be the same tune over and over," he said.

As Danny honed his electronica skills, he acquired more than a hundred instruments, called motifs, and found more and more outlets.

He composed the music for a production in Oregon of a post-apocalyptic "MacBeth" in which his grandfather portrayed Duncan.

"It's 12 years after the apocalypse. Everybody's forming tribes and all the 'MacBeth' characters are in these tribes," explained Danny, who traveled to Oregon for a performance. "They introduced me because I was in the audience, and after the play everybody was saying, like, it made the show."

He has also worked on music for the video game MacBrickout.

"The challenge was to make it go with the mood of the level and not have it be repetitive or annoying in any way," Danny said.

Video game music is a genre he has embraced.

"I've gone to a couple of live performances of Video Games Live, an organization that tours around the world playing video game music in live symphony," he said, noting the San Francisco Symphony as one example.

Electronic music is also used extensively in movies and TV shows, Matt pointed out.

"He's so prolific, we feel this is something he could crank out," Matt said.

Although Danny enjoys it all, he said, "I mostly like composing soundtrack music — epic, exciting, adventurous."

"I definitely plan to go into the soundtrack industry," he added.

But first he will go to Las Positas College, then he plans to attend the Academy of Art University in San Francisco to pursue a bachelor of fine arts in music production and sound design for visual media.

Danny's website, technocinema.com, includes his soundtracks for "MacBeth" and MacBrickout as well as "Evening with Friends," jazz music he composed for a production of "Art" at the Columbia Center for the Arts in Hood River, Ore.

An album called "Danger and Destiny" features 26 tracks of cinematic music he describes as "action, adventure, suspense and joy." And his latest recording, "Void," has many styles, including chill, dance and rock, plus his vocal single, "Artif1cial W0rld."

Or, if you want to hear his music, you could just call TiVo and get put on hold.

Comments

Posted by Debby Andrews, a resident of another community
on Apr 12, 2014 at 5:50 pm

I've known Danny Burns since he was born, and I know first-hand of his love for making music. He obviously has a natural ability and it's been exciting to watch (or rather, hear) him grow as an artist! I can't wait to see what he does with his talent.


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