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By Jessica Brown On 14 Nov, 2017 At 05:01 PM | Categorized As Featured, Interviews, PC Games, ROG News | With 0 Comments

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Penka Kouneva is an award-winning composer who recently scored the NASA exhibit “Heroes and Legends” at the Kennedy Space Center. She has also provided the soundtrack for The Mummy VR game, worked with composer Steve Jablonsky to score the Prince of Persia: Forgotten Sands soundtrack, and has been involved with various other game and film musical scores. Beyond that, she has put out her own albums such as The Woman Astronaut and the recent Rebirth of Id. Overall, Penka has worked on games, films, and other venues which have grossed over $15 Billion combined.

Penka was extremely courteous and was able to answer some of our questions we had for her.

Q: While critics often rave about visuals, graphic quality, and storytelling in video games, I often feel like they overlook another equally important pillar: audio (music and sound). Do you think music gets overlooked sometimes?

Penka Kouneva: Music works the best when it’s perceived subliminally. While engaged in gameplay or watching a film, music should not be too present or too distracting. There are moments where the music really needs to soar for us to experience an emotional payoff. I believe a great, impactful score that fits the aesthetics of the game will always get noticed – consider Bloodborne, Journey, Uncharted scores.

Q: Over the years I’ve come to realize that a game’s soundtrack (or lack thereof) can make or break a game. In fact, there are a few games I think the soundtrack saves from being mediocre. Is this something that you have observed too?

Penka Kouneva: Yes, the music is a very powerful branding tool for the game. Games use music to set themselves apart from the competition. Music makes gameplay emotional and memorable. In every game I’ve ever played, I vividly remember its music, visual style and how the game made me feel playing it.

Q: When coming up with a musical score for a video game, what helps you find your inspiration to come up with appropriate themes?

Penka Kouneva: Conceptual conversations with the developers about their ideas. The vision of the developers. The characters and environments. The past history of the franchise. Music that my collaborators love. Challenges they have experienced in game development. The storytelling, the visual style, the maps. My job is to create a sonic world which the story will inhabit.

Q: I’ve wondered in the past if it would be harder to create a soundtrack for a game or movie vs. coming up with something completely original (such as a personal album)?

Penka Kouneva: When I compose a soundtrack, I collaborate with another artist – with their vision, their ideas and expectations. My music breathes life into their story. I love it! When I write my passion CDs, I work with my own original stories. Rebirth of Id is my third artist album (after The Woman Astronaut and A Warrior’s Odyssey). I returned to my formative inspirations (classical orchestral music and Minimalism) and blended them with innovative electronic arrangements. The album has a unique structure – four mini-soundtracks, each telling its own story. These artist CDs are my own private laboratory where I experiment with new sounds. They make me a better composer! The result is fantastic – these albums lead to bigger and better scoring jobs. The Woman Astronaut lead to scoring the $30 million NASA exhibit Heroes and Legends at the Kennedy Space Center that will live on for decades…

Q: Do you ever find yourself stuck with “composer’s block?”, and if so, how do you cope with it and overcome it?

Penka Kouneva: Yes, it does happen. I deal with it in three steps: A./ I remove myself from the aggravation – usually the computer – and go for a walk to clear my head. B./ I listen to music to inspire me for this project. Sometimes I listen some of my most favorite music that brings me to tears. And C./ is the most personal approach and takes willpower to do – I do a visualization: I remember a moment in time when I felt elated to be a composer (a concert of my music, or praise, or getting an award). I remember how it felt to be a composer at that happy moment. Then, with renewed passion about composing I return to the project where I got stuck. I keep listening to other music and ideas until some idea feels right and I push forward. I’m always on a deadline so I can’t afford to waste too much time in “writer’s block”.

Q: Have you ever come up with a piece that you personally felt was really great, but just didn’t fit the overall mood or theme of what you needed it for? If so, what do you do with “discarded” pieces?

Penka Kouneva: Oh, yes, very much so. If the music is great but just not fitting with the visual media, I write a new piece for my client that they like and eventually release my own music on my passion CDs.

Q: What can you tell us about any upcoming projects you may be working on?

Penka Kouneva: I’m proud of The Mummy VR game available at the IMAX VR Theaters and some arcades. Check out also a terrific supernatural horror feature Devil’s Whisper which tells the story of the 16-year old Alejandro. It’s a beautifully produced and richly layered film about fighting demonic forces, coming of age, courage and perseverance. (Sony Pictures released it on DVD and VOD in November). Two other features are coming out soon – Paul Salamoff’s Sci-Fi thriller Encounter premiering at the Berlin Film Festival, and the drama feature, Blue. If you visit Orlando, FL don’t miss the Kennedy Space Center and their newest attraction Heroes and Legends which I scored.

Q: When you aren’t directly involved in the musical space, what else do you like to get involved with? Do you have any other passions?

Penka Kouneva: I have a family and 11-year-old daughter, and she keeps me busy. I love the outdoors and we hike a lot on the weekends. I am extremely passionate about mentoring the younger generation of composers, so I help a lot of young composers. I love reading (books and articles online), art, and visiting with friends.

Q: I have to ask: Do you play through all of the games that you come up with soundtracks for?

Penka Kouneva: Yes, absolutely. We are a family of big gamers. Right now I am playing COD: WWII and yes, I have played all the games I’ve scored. I wanted to feel how my music works in gameplay. My kid plays mobile games all the time. I pinch myself every day because I’m living my dream. I wish for my readers to follow their dreams!

 

Thank you again for doing this interview.