Penka Kouneva is a Sundance Composer Fellow and a Hollywood film composer
who blends her native Eastern-European influences with modern orchestra,
medieval chant, rock, and electronica. Recently, she composed additional
score for the video games PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE FORGOTTEN SANDS and
TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN working alongside composer Steve
Jablonsky. Her solo scores include the horror feature MIDNIGHT MOVIE, the
crime drama THE THIRD NAIL and music for FORENSIC FILES, DOG FIGHTS
and MODERN MARVELS.
My grandmother sang about 50 songs to me (nursery rhymes, folk tunes, pop
songs). Then around 1st grade I discovered Grieg’s Piano Concerto No. 1
played by Svyatoslav Richter. I remember bonding incredibly strongly with
that piece, imagining paintings, stories. I began piano lessons around 6.
I found music notation fascinating, loved coloring my piano method books
(which my mom encouraged) and around the age of 8 began writing down my
own “compositions” on music paper. The first 2 were called “Fish” (in
triplets, with rocking motion) and “Bunny on the Field.”
2. Who has had the greatest impact on your music?
An amalgamation of my deep love for classical music since childhood, then
Bulgarian folk music, Middle-Eastern folk music, prog rock of the 70’s,
Pink Floyd, The Doors, Medieval chant, the Dutch postmodern minimalist
Louis Andriessen, Steve Reich’s minimalism, gospel and blues. Bach,
Beethoven, Debussy, Durufle, Brahms. Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams,
Mychael Danna, Cliff Eidelman, Steve Jablonsky.
3. How did you come to work in the film / video game music industry?
I first identified myself as a “composer” at the age of 12 when I wrote
short incidental pieces for a children’s theater show in Sofia. My friends
(flutist and percussionist) and I played weekend matinees for one year
(earning $15 per show). I composed music for theater during my college
years in Bulgaria, and also during my Grad. School years at Duke
University. I love collaborating, love film, and my music naturally lends
itself to dramatic storytelling. In 1987 (still in Bulgaria) I saw Terry
Gilliam’s “BRAZIL” with Michael Kamen’s score – a gigantic creative
illumination, an earth-shaking experience that resonated deeply with me. I
credit Michael Kamen as my formative influence – “Brazil” and “Die Hard”
were the lightning that made me want to become a film composer. It took
many years of education, immigration and cultural adaptation before I was
ready to pursue it as a career. I moved to Los Angeles in 1999 and began
working as an orchestrator for the Emmy-winning composer Patrick Williams
while scoring AFI thesis shorts and other indie features. In 2004 I first
orchestrated for Steve Jablonsky and later orchestrated on his games
“Transformers,” “Gears of War 2,” “Sims 3” which, in turn, led to
composing additional score for “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” and
“Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands.”
4. What film or game scores have had the greatest impact on you?
In my 20’s: “Magic” by Jerry Goldsmith had me spellbound – a link between
20th Century dark classical music and genre scoring. “Paris, Texas” by Ry
Cooder ignited my passion for Americana. “Passion” by Peter Gabriel was an
illumination with its fusion of Eastern and Western sound. Anything by
John Williams, Ed Shearmur, Thomas Newman. More recently, the music of
“World of WarCraft” I found immensely inspiring, also Steve Jablonsky's
score to “Gears of War 2” and Chris Young’s “Dark Half.” The earlier
scores to “Prince of Persia” by Inon Zur, “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves” by
5. What is your current hardware / software configuration for
I use Digital Performer, Giga samplers and soft synths (Omnisphere, Stylus
RMX, East West RA, etc). I work with a gifted composer Chris Lord who
sequenced all synth elements, percussion and sound design on the “Prince
of Persia: The Forgotten Sands” and “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”
games. I always begin with a pencil and paper and work out all the themes
in my mind before turning the computer on. Then composing and sequencing
goes very fast.
6. What other musical genres influence you?
In the mid-90’s I was fascinated by electronica (“intelligent dance
music”). I’ve always loved non-Western and traditional folk music. The
modernism of Ligeti and the sonoristic experimentations are a big part of
my skill set (though I consider myself “postmodernist” – combining
elements from East and West, early and modern music). U2, Daniel Lanois
and Roots music/Americana on any day.
Used by Permission
Prince of Persia: The
By Steve Jablonsky, Penka Kouneva Review by Christopher Coleman
When you hear franchise names
like THE MATRIX, STAR CRAFT, WORLD OF WARCRAFT, TRUE BLOOD, TRANSFORMERS,
GEARS OF WAR, or PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, some of the biggest names in
the movie and game music industries come rushing to mind. PENKA KOUNEVA
has been quietly making orchestration, arrangement and compositional
contributions to these anything-but-quiet-titles. Among her most recent
projects is her collaborative effort for PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE FORGOTTEN
In 2010, the PRINCE OF PERSIA franchise has no shortage of big names
attached to it. The Summer would-be-blockbuster, PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE
SANDS OF TIME was notably helmed by veteran film composer, HARRY GREGSON-WILLIAMS
and while composing duties were given to TOM SALTA for the PSP, DS, and
WII version of THE FORGOTTEN SANDS, Kouneva found herself, once again,
teamed up with composer STEVE JABLONSKY. Going back to 2004, with Kouneva
handling orchestration, the two worked together on titles such as THE
TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2, DRAGON WARS and TRANSFORMERS.
This time for PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE FORGOTTEN SANDS, Kouneva steps up her
duties to composing some 2 hours of music based on original themes penned
by STEVE JABLONSKY. Taking Jabonsky's thematic framework, Kouneva builds a
richly layered score which features a truly exotic assortment of
instrumentation. With heavy percussion and uneasy synths, the resulting
musical vibe is one far darker and menacing than it's movie-sibling. The
thematic presentation may not be as consciously memorable as GREGSON-WILLIAMS
score, but in the end, JABLONSKY and KOUNEVA's work proves to be just about
7. What is your personal motto or favorite quotation?
"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." John
“Music is the greatest gift to humanity.”
“Live simply, work hard, love passionately, cherish everything good. Keep
a smile in your heart.”
8. What would be your dream project?
To compose music and collaborate on fantasy, sci-fi or dystopian film or
game like “Brazil,” “The Matrix,” or “BioShock.” I adore fantasy, sci-fi
and especially dystopia because I enjoy how these narratives play with
allegories and criticize human nature but are packaged as a wild ride. I’d
love to also work on a drama or documentary that tackles tough subjects.
Or a non-Western game that, like “Prince of Persia” will allow me to
combine my Eastern roots and Hollywood experience into a great hybrid