Foxconn Frequency (No. 3) (3 stars)

Foxcon Frequency (No. 3)

credit: Hong Kong Exile

Difficult listening hour

Weaving together the poetry of Xu Lizhi, game mechanics and a commentary on the business practices of Foxconn technology manufacturers, Foxconn Frequency (No. 3) is an oddly cerebral, if brutal, exploration of the pressures placed on workers in the electronics industry. Consisting of a series of games and tests, played out on three pianos, it is a high-concept composition that does little to translate its political intentions into an affective performance.

The three performers ('visibly Chinese', as the score insists) 'move through a series of testing … that have their origins in piano training'. Their successes and failures are printed out, with their mistakes counted, an analogy to the workers' experience in the Foxconn factory. Lizhi's poetry provides sparse critique on these experiences, introducing the misery induced by their conditions, and the cacophony produced by the three keyboards intimates the harshness. The projections are suggestive of the pressure, sometimes showing incoherent information or focussing on the performers. The atmosphere is dense and foreboding – the disappearance of one performer alluding to the suicides pondered in the poetry.

Despite the seriousness of the intention, the composition is frequently and consciously frustrating, acting out a sense of failure and relentless grind. If the later stages articulate a particular contemporary system of abuse, the music resolves into a generic electronic soundscape of noise and tension. Commenting on the Foxconn exploitation, it becomes a geometrical, measured and intellectual work that alienates its performance from expected musicality.

Seen at Tramway, Glasgow, Sat 9 Nov.

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