Penka Kouneva Interview
The Composer of Mummy VR game, Prince of Persia, NASA exhibit
How did the opportunity come about to work on The Mummy Prodigium Strike VR game?
One of the greatest joys of my career is that I've reinvented myself three times - from concert composer to film to game composer and now venturing into VR scoring. This experience gives me emotional depth and broad frame of references. I was recommended by a composer friend to score The Mummy VR game. All my friends know that I am passionate about learning the newest frontier, VR, and its possibilities in gaming, storytelling, and beyond. I enjoy being a “pioneer” in my field.
How is scoring VR different from traditional games?
The rules of VR are being written now. Often, the VR music tends to be more ambient and closer to sound design, rather than traditional music with themes. Scoring this game was a thoughtful process and took quite a few revisions and trial-and-errors. Since The Mummy is a big Universal franchise, first I studied the scores to all past Mummy films. But this was a VR experience, not film or game, so I had to find a unique and fitting “sound.”
Could you tell us your process while working on The Mummy VR Game?
The music ended up being ambient, without big bombastic themes and without much orchestra. I used tension music for the heroes and ambient horror music for the enemies. My score also had to blend with the sound design and voiceover. The instruments are synths, orchestral pads and textures. The music is heard on headphones so I had to take this into a consideration. Audio in VR enters your brain directly... Check the game out, in the IMAX VR Theaters (and if you are in Los Angeles, in the Hollywood & Highland Escape Rooms.)
What was one of your favorite moments working on this project?
I had a fantastic boss, the senior producer at Starbreeze Studios, Mark Harwood. He gave me great conceptual guidance and feedback. The studio brought me in and had me play a prototype of the game at my hiring interview. Playing a prototype is crucial for VR scoring because VR is a visceral experience. It's not enough just to watch a 2D render or read a concept presentation.
Could you also tell us a little about your third concept album, Rebirth of Id?
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 (a futuristic Sci-Fi story about a young woman leader in a dystopian land; a period drama about a former composer prodigy; a supernatural romantic thriller in the vein of Black Mirror where a woman uses a VR device to travel back in time to a past life).
What drives you to make concept albums in addition to your scoring jobs?
These artist CDs are my own private laboratory where I experiment with new ideas, new music, new sounds. Composing them has made me genuinely happy. I'm driven by endless curiosity and commitment to artistic growth. The result is fantastic - these albums lead to bigger & 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...
What advice would you give others looking to become a composer?
1. Write fantastic music. Write music that inspires people so much that they would be dying to collaborate with you.
2. Learn, compose, learn, compose, learn, compose... the craft of music is a deepest ocean of possibilities .... being fluent in your composing skills is paramount.
3. Be a caring human being, and cultivate circles of creative communities around you. Your circles of friends will bring the most inspiring scoring jobs to you. It's a great career that's very hard to build and sustain, but if you write great music and have deep friendships with people who genuinely care about you and your music, you will be successful.
Do you have any projects coming next that you can talk about?
Check out 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.
Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us!
I wish all my readers a happy and fruitful holiday season and much success! I am grateful and humbled by the love and support of my fans - you make all our work meaningful.
Penka Kouneva - Official Website
Penka Kouneva - IMDb
The Mummy Escape Game - Official Website