Ilysia Tan searches for 'perfection' at the 2022 ACL Festival New Zealand

With the regular Asian Composers League (ACL) festival rescheduled to 2022 in Christchurch, New Zealand, we profile Malaysia's young composer representative, this time from Penang, currently studying music at Singapore's Yong Siew Toh Conservatory.

Tan's work made its debut officially on Malaysian shores as one of the pieces in MCC's Freehand Anthology I of 21st Century Malaysian piano works, and her propulsive “Drive” can be heard on the web player at the Freehand website.

For her entry to ACL's Young Composers Competition this April, Tan has written another compulsive work for string trio titled, intriguingly, "Addiction to Perfection".

Tan writes about the piece:

"It's the second piece of my 'Addiction to ...' series. The conception of this series started during my trip to Darmstadt in 2018. This trip took place after my first year of living and studying in Singapore.

"That year was difficult. I was a complete newbie to music composition, the working culture in Singapore and to romantic relationships. My environment exerted pressure and stress on my mental health. I had to excel; catch up with my peers (who have had more exposure to music composition); be better.

“And the term 'better' is infinite. Mankind hasn’t stopped progressing. I was consumed by the thought of wanting to be better, but it seemed far out of reach.

“'Addiction to Perfection' is somewhat a rendition of my first piece 'Addiction to Progression', but with a different instrumentation and focus. When I think about this false notion of 'perfection', I relate it to the balancing of activity, purity of sound/intention, and the hope for harmony. This piece is written for ACL, so I am excited to hear it for the first time,” writes Tan from Holland where she is on an exchange programme.

The Penangite says she has always loved music. “You can check my primary school report cards. In the 'Ambition' column, it says 'musician'. Music has been my companion for as long as I can remember. I enjoyed fiddling around with keys on the piano. A more formal term I didn’t know at that time would be “improvising".

A section from Tan's 'Addiction to Perfection'
At 16, she took an interest in music production and film music composition. “The creative collaborations between different media in hope of fulfilling a greater vision was mesmerising. I wanted to be a part of that. So I started learning how to compose,” she wrote.

Tan says she has absorbed, learned and been influenced by “everything and everyone” she has come across, from teachers, friends, strangers, theatre shows, poetry, visual art and so on. She says great composers she has studied like Ravel, Bartok, Ligeti, Lachenmann and others play a role in her current compositional aesthetics.

“My approach to composition varies for each piece. A method which stuck around consistently was sketching lines and weird diagrams. It helps me visualise the elements I want to play with in my music.”

Tan is excited about ACL New Zealand and looks forward to “an amazing experience” meeting all the many composers from Asia and learning about their craft. “I hope to make new friends and be inspired by the talented and dedicated musicians I will meet there.”

Meanwhile, she has formed a group with her friends called “The Assembly Line”, which is currently working on audiovisual improvisations with the intention of expanding their areas of exploration.

“Who knows what might come out of that! My ideal future would be having fun while working on artistic projects with friends and creating compositions that can be voices to the little fascinating things in the world.”

Listen to Addicted to Perfection:


Listen to more of Ilysia Tan's work at

NB: New Zealand earlier postponed this year's ACL Festival till 2022 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

MCC, the Malaysian representative at the ACL, has consistently sent  young talents to represent the country at the organisation's regional festivals since it joined in 2009. They are:

2011 Taipei - Jessica Cho, 3rd Prize
2013 Singapore - Ainolnaim Azizol
2014 Tokyo - Ainolnaim Azizol, 2nd Prize
2015 Manila - Sayyid Shafiee
2016 Hanoi - Raja Mohamad Alif 
2018 Taipei - Rayner Naili
2022 Christchurch - Ilysia Tan