“I’m optimistic about the US’s future because its people are conscientious. The people I work with are hard working, honest people — the overachiever type. The privilege of aging is to choose whom I work with, and I surround myself with great people. America truly is the land of unlimited opportunities, because people will open doors for you if you are good. I am a perfect example of it — a hard working, idealistic person who came with raw talent and no money, followed my dreams and succeeded.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Penka Kouneva. Penka is a pioneer woman composer for film, video games and emerging technologies (VR). She is known in Hollywood as an “exquisite talent” (NPR) and has arranged and produced soundtracks on studio blockbuster films and games grossing over $20 billion (Skyscraper, Elysium, Ender’s Game, Ninja Turtles, all Blizzard games — Overwatch, World of Warcraft, StarCraft II; Gears of War, Sims 3, Bloodborne). As a composer on her own, her scoring credits include Prince of Persia and Transformers video games, The Mummy VR game, a NASA attraction Heroes and Legends, and dozens of festival feature films.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I was born and raised in Sofia, Bulgaria and studied classical music and piano since age 6. I began composing around the same time, and was not discouraged by the condescending attitudes towards a girl composing music — a vocation that for thousands of years has been inaccessible for women.
I earned my first money playing my own compositions for children’s theater at age 12 and this gig gave me my sense of self. In 1990, I graduated from the Bulgarian Music Academy about the same time the Berlin Wall fell down and the communism collapsed. My parents encouraged me to pursue post-graduate degree in composition in the US, and to immigrate.