With some Danny Elfman scores, you may have at least an inkling ahead of time as to what you’ll be getting, given his long history of work with Tim Burton’s whimsically macabre films or the Marvel superhero franchise. With Noah Baumbach’s “White Noise,” though, his palette was completely blank — as the composer and director discussed in a keynote discussion for Variety’s Music for Screens virtual conference.

Says Elfman: “All the early films in my career that I did with Tim Burton, I didn’t realize till later there were guidelines. There was no template for ‘Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,’ ‘Beetlejuice,’ ‘Batman,’ ‘Edward Scissorhands’ — you didn’t even have temp score. When I was doing these movies, there was nothing to tell us what kind of score it is. Who the hell knows?”

He no longer benefits so much from a lack of expectations — but relishes the assignments where there still are none. “When I have a movie like ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ or ‘To Die For’ or ‘Milk’ or, now, ‘White Noise,’ it’s such a pleasure to be in a place where there’s no film to say: ‘Like this.’”

Not that he minds his Marvel, mind you. “If I get a film like ‘Dr. Strange’ and there are many templates now of what it could sound like, how to try to make it still sound unique from that is still really a pleasure. But for me, the pleasure of film composing is invention, and I don’t get to invent from the bottom up very often. … So when Noah Baumbach calls, my ears go up.”

Elfman recalls that first call about “White Noise”: “Noah had a really funny explanation. He goes, ‘It’s all about death and fear of death. It’s just made for you.’ So I guess my reputation preceded me in that regard. … As I was reading it, I thought, the fact that it’s a dark comedy alone plays into my interest levels. Things I like are either dark or twisted, so if it’s just a straight-ahead, contemporary comedy, I’ll usually avoid it with a 10-foot pole, because mainly I don’t know what to do with it. With this, friends and family would ask me, ‘Well, what is it?’ I said, ‘Honestly, I don’t know how to describe this movie. It’s social satire, but that’s not really what it is. It’s almost like a science fiction, but not really science fiction. It’s very much in the end a romance, yet it’s not a romantic film.”

Says Baumbach, “In one of our first calls, we talked about the various parts of the movie. and how the first part is about the routines and strategies and things we invent for ourselves in life to sort of give ourselves the illusion that it’s gonna last forever. The middle part of the movie is essentially having this cloud of darkness come into our life, essentially bringing death to our doorstep. And part three is, how do we go back to all these initial strategies — go back to work, go back to the supermarket, go back to breakfast time with our family — now knowing what we know? This was something we talked about musically, and Danny’s score does this so beautifully and with such complexity. The music is changing as the movie is changing, but also these elements are all baked into the beginning of the movie as well.”

So what is the style of the music beneath all that “White Noise”? There’s no singular answer to that, but there are two essential, overriding strains that make for some very unlikely bedfellows.

As Elfman explains it: “Noah would throw me challenges, which I love because, ultimately, I’m a dog just asking for a new trick. Early on, he said, ‘I want to have an ‘80s electronic influence, an electronic influence, but not overtly specific. Imagine if we were combining something somewhere between Giorgio Moroder and Tangerine Dream with Aaron Copland.’ And I said, ‘Oh, boy. There’s a real trick.’”

For Baumbach, having as much score as he does in “White Noise” is a novel experience, and he credits it being a book adaptation as part of the reason for that.

“Some of my earlier movies, there’s very little score, or would need to play sort of somewhat counter to the scene… I don’t use underscore very much at all. But this movie was different — because it didn’t come from me,” says the filmmaker. “It was different source material and does have all these different aspects to it. So I actually was excited by the fact that we could play score under scenes and the score emphasize moments that were happening… in a kind of more traditional movie way. We kind of embraced movie language in many cases, so, like, an action sequence has the language of an action sequence. …. But then, Danny would find some kind of personality or some other thing in it that would turn it into something entirely different. And as Danny was mentioning, it’s a movie that takes place in the ’80s, so we were mostly working within elements of that decade or before. When, musically, sometimes things would sound a little more contemporary and we would, we would sort of move off of those.”

Elfman recalls that “our own working experience was a little bit like a madap movie in itself, because Noah came out here for a couple of weeks and I offered him an iso room in my studio right across from the glass from where I worked, to set up a little editing room. I’d never experienced anything like this, because I was writing music and I’d go over and knock on the door and say, ‘Hey, come on over.’ And he’d give me immediate input. Normally it would take two, three days to finish a piece and get that input changes. But it was all in real time and a real interesting, fresh way to work.”

Did the chemistry work so well that we can expect more collaborations? “I would love to do many more together,” says Baumbach. “But I don’t know that I can promise Danny I’ll ever make another movie with this many genre elements… This would probably be as exciting as it gets.”