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Scorefront:  Penka Kouneva


Composer Penka Kouneva

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.

Official Website

The Quick Eight:

1. What was your first memory of music?

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 Greg Edmonson.

5. What is your current hardware / software configuration for composing?

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


Music Review

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands
By Steve Jablonsky, Penka Kouneva
Review by Christopher Coleman

The Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (Soundtrack) by Steve Jablonsky and Penka Kouneva

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 SANDS.

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 as intriguing.

You can hear for yourself at Amazon.mp3

7. What is your personal motto or favorite quotation?

"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." John Lennon
“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 score.


Scorefront Composers:

Penka Kouneva
Assaf Rinde
Stephen Harwood Jr.
Colin O'Malley
Duane Decker
Karl Preusser



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