The Woman Astronaut
Music Composed By: Penka Kouneva
Distributed by: Varese Sarabande Records
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
The Woman Astronaut is an original concept album, broken into three acts, that tells the life journey of a female astronaut from adolescence, young adult and maturity. Beginning as a Kickstarter campaign that raised $35,000 funding for the recording, The Woman Astronaut was produced with Hollywood Studio Orchestra, top Los Angeles soloists and choir.
The music of The Woman Astronaut was created by Bulgarian-American composer Penka Kouneva, whose musical career began at six when she studied piano. By the age of twelve, Kouneva was already composing and performing music for a children’s theater show. She would eventually receive a degree in piano from Sofia High School of Music and a degree in music theory from the National Academy of Music. In 1990, she was awarded a fellowship to study composition at Duke University, where she studied under Stephen Jaffe, Scott Lindroth and Louis Andriessen. She received Duke University’s first Ph.D. in composition.
In 1999, Kouneva moved to Los Angeles where she began working under mentor Patrick Williams. Her career in scoring started with independent features and thesis films for graduates of the American Film Institute, but by 2004 Kouneva began creating scores for television specials and films for the SyFy Channel, including Chupacabra: Dark Seas, Ice Spiders and Nuclear Hurricane. She would go on to create musical scores for such notable video games as H-Hour: World’s Elite, Rollers of the Realm, Ironkill and Hades and another concept album entitled A Warrior's Odyssey.
According to the composer, with The Woman Astronaut, “I wanted to show how passionate I am about growing my craft, my vision as an artist, and that I can definitely do the job. I’ve aimed to create a piece with a universal resonance - tackling the themes of perseverance, love, hope, destiny.” The score, a mix of orchestral and electronic sound, takes us on a journey. There is incredible beauty in some of the tracks like The Forest and Looking Up. Strings take the lead in these tracks, expressing the beauty and naivete of the astronaut in her youth. Moments in which the astronaut begins her journey towards the occupation she longs for contain an action-based sound featuring a blend of orchestral and electronic. Choirs are used to heighten emotions and express awe in the astronaut.
Had I not known that this was a concept album, I would have believed The Woman Astronaut was the soundtrack of a major motion picture. The score perfectly expresses the story and actually made me picture events in my mind to accompany the music. Perhaps someone innovative can create a movie based on the musical score by Penka Kouneva – that would be new and refreshing. Until then, I would definitely recommend listening to The Woman Astronaut by a composer who knows her way around dramatic storytelling through the art of music.