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About Alicia de Silva

Having played in Gamelan ensembles for close to 15 years, Alicia de Silva now feels that her perception of pitch has been altered - going from a full day of Gamelan ensemble rehearsals to a church choir practice, she finds that she needs some time to re-calibrate her ears to the sounds of a Western scale system.

This blurring of lines between Western Classical and Eastern music extends beyond scale systems: de Silva is a composer of contemporary concert music, notably with the composer collective Quinnuance, as well as for Angklung-Kulintang and Gamelan ensembles in schools and tertiary institutes, which she also conducts. A cross-pollination of musical ideas and approaches, both conscious and unconscious, governs her approach to composition; her music for Western instruments often bears characteristics of various other world musics, and vice-versa.

De Silva first encountered the Angklung Ensemble in her Secondary school, which further fueled her interest in the music of other cultures. Today, she has made several contributions to the Angklung-Kulintang ensemble, an instrumental combination with a scarcity of boundary-pushing repertoire. She explains that her intention was to "create a body of repertoire that the [Angklung ensembles] can truly explore in terms of aesthetics and even pedagogical aspects of learning". A piece in this regard is Fire, an energetic ritualistic piece that allows young musicians to encounter dissonant harmonies, aleatoric techniques and irregular rhythmic structures, all not commonplace in the world of Angklung Kulintang music.

A strong focus on rhythmic possibilities is present in much of de Silva’s music – she sees rhythm as the most important parameter in music. Several of her works, like Wu Dao and Stones, Sand and Darkness have a strong focus on pulsing rhythms and insistent ostinato in their development – this intensity and insistence not unlike that of some forms of traditional Gamelan and Anklung-Kulintang music. This focus on rhythmic drive however is also often offset by moments of rhythmic freedom– both Wu Dao and Stones, Sand and Darkness involve highly rhythmic sections of music being juxtaposed with its opposite – in the former, she describes these moments as having a “dance-like fluidity which one may easily associate with those of Javanese court dances”.

Beyond this, de Silva finds working with text in her music interesting, often using it as an impetus for her compositions – In Our Last is a contemplation on death, setting text from the Roman Catholic Mass in exploring the idea of the afterlife. If not setting the texts of others, she is writing her own – the aforementioned Stones, Sand and Darkness is accompanied by a text of hers that contemplates ideas related to space and time. A later work, M, is based on a poem that she wrote – the piece explores the ephemeral nature of memory and the nature of recollection, using the fleeting development of a single note as a metaphor for these ideas. These extramusical interests and philosophical whims, along with her unique compositional sensibility collide to form De Silva’s distinct and powerfully individual output of music.