Fang Zhao planned on observing the behavior of his "peers" before acting. If he waltzed in right now, he would probably end up being one of the weirdos.
So Fang Zhao decided to set up post there and carefully observe people's responses to the mood of the music and their physical reactions.
Once he decided, Fang Zhao removed a small notebook and pen from his pocket. His ears captured every note that was played, and his eyes were glued to the action in the main performance hall.
The night was still young. The songs being played weren't huge hits, and the performers were no big shots, but the quality was good enough to generate a decent atmosphere and avoid an empty house.
According to Wayne, this club started off with slower songs that were still forceful and explosive before picking up the pace as the evening progressed and the time got late.
Fang Zhao planned on carefully observing this transition. He was approaching the matter with the scientific rigor of academic inquiry.
Perhaps on account of the early hour, the spot the waiter had recommended had great acoustics. As Fang Zhao made his way to his seat, he could tell the acoustics kept getting better and better until he reached his destination.
This was a semi-enclosed box seat without a top. The 3-meter-tall wall behind him was solid, dressed with a few decorations and an electric guitar that had not undergone the types of simplification characteristic of the New Era. It was an exact replica of the electric guitar Fang Zhao was familiar with from the Old Era, although it definitely wasn't from the Old Era. Items from the Old Era were antiques and therefore valuable. As much as the club owner wanted to flaunt, he wasn't silly enough to display real antiques on the wall.
The semi-enclosed box seat was separated from other boxes with glass walls. The transparency of the walls could be adjusted, and different colors and patterns could be added. The side of the box facing the main performance hall was a curtain made of a special material. The curtains could be lifted or draped. There were also different forms of draping. In their default mode, a light curtain descended, the type that could be disrupted by a gentle breeze, but in "total lockdown" mode, the curtains stiffened into opaque boards that couldn't be breached without major force.
Fang Zhao kept the curtains up so he could take in the action in the main performance hall.
As a waiter brought plates of fruit and snacks, he stumbled on Fang Zhao fetching his notebook and pen.
For folks in the New Era, their bracelet doubled as a phone, computer, and credit card. Everyone took notes electronically. People who used physical paper notebooks were a minority. People like Fang Zhao who carried a notebook with them in their pockets were even rarer. A look of surprise flashed through the waiter's eyes when he saw Fang Zhao taking careful notes on the sofa, but the server quickly regained his composure. It wasn't in their place on pass judgment on the fetishes of their guests.
Fang Zhao noticed the curious gaze of the waiter, but he didn't mind. He was busy identifying every single note emitted by the stereo equipment. The New Era was an information age defined by new technology. Musical tastes were different from those of the times Fang Zhao was familiar with. Even though he had been adjusting for a year now, he still hadn't fully absorbed and integrated musical preferences from the New Era. He had absorbed and internalized only to a certain extent. Critics hailed his work as the perfect blend of classical and modern styles, but Fang Zhao knew that his compositions had major shortcomings. This time, he wanted to try something new and overcome those limitations.
The electronic music of the New Era used various contemporary musical tools and advanced post-production software to constantly push the boundaries. This was extremely appealing to Fang Zhao. Even though he still wasn't used to this style, he was willing to learn, to absorb these new elements that had evolved over hundreds of years.
Naturally, watching videos or concert footage through virtual platforms was no rival to visiting an actual concert. The particles of scent floating in the air, the vibrating sound waves, and the scattered ambient noise all constituted elements that could stimulate. Sitting there, watching the scene unfold and listening to the music, Fang Zhao's brain was flooded with ideas.
He recorded his feelings, his observations, and all his discoveries into his notebook. His ears never stopped capturing the melodies playing, even during the process of taking notes. He lifted his head from time to time to watch the people hanging out in the main performance hall.
In the box seats to Fang Zhao's left, a group of young professionals who had just gotten off work were joking around, venting their pent-up emotions from the workday. When they finished chitchatting, they would hit the dance floor and start getting jiggy with it.
A heartbroken young man was drinking in the box to his right. "Don't hold me back. I want another drink! Why did she have to break up with me?" His friends couldn't do anything about it.
Only Fang Zhao's box was eerily quiet.
People who passed by Fang Zhao's box all cast him curious glances. They had probably never seen such an odd scene before.
Just as Fang Zhao was writing furiously, three young men stepped into his box. They were dressed more or less the same, probably colleagues from the same company who had just left the office. The sleeves of their white dress shirts were rolled up to their elbows. Their unbuttoned collars revealed firm chest muscles. Their hair looked messy but had, in fact, been meticulously done. The trio projected a youthful, unkempt flair, the type that was popular with the ladies in the club.
A square-faced man approached and knocked on the table in front of Fang Zhao. "Kiddo, can you do us a favor? Can you switch boxes with us? We've paid our bill already."
Fang Zhao looked in the direction he was pointing. He had passed the box the man was pointing to en route to his box. The acoustics were much worse, and the box didn't have a view of the main performance hall.
Fang Zhao calmly said,"I'm sorry, but why don't you try someone else? I'd like to stay put."
The man's facial muscles twitched, and he shifted his attention to Fang Zhao's notebook. "Hey, are you a primary student? You came here to do your homework after school?"
He suddenly reached out for Fang Zhao's notebook, only to discover a hand carrying a fountain pen pressed on top of the notebook once he touched it. He pulled to no avail, his muscular arm twitching a few times. The notebook wouldn't come out.
The man's two companions also approached. They laughed when they saw Fang Zhao's notebook and fountain pen. "You're actually using a paper notebook and an antique fountain pen. Even primary students don't use this stuff anymore. Perhaps only kindergarten students in diapers do."
The other man also poked fun at Fang Zhao. "You're wrong. Even kindergarteners don't use this stuff anymore. Stuff like paper has long been passé, but it seems people like cultivating an image by using paper notebooks to pose as artsy and intellectual. It's easier for artsy types to score chicks."
Fang Zhao shook his head and ignored his visitors. These kids weren't worth his time.
"Hey, I said..." The tallest of the three rolled up his sleeves and was about to get in Fang Zhao's face when one of the other men held him back.
"What are you holding me back for? People like this deserve a beating. What this mofo can't stand the most is these pretty boys who act all artsy." The man who was restrained fumed. The smell of alcohol sprouted from his mouth.
Fang Zhao got a real kick out of that comment. Pretty boy? He qualified as a pretty boy? There were so many celebrities at Silver Wing. Someone like Fang Zhao was considered a pedestrian. Perhaps when placed among the masses, his looks could pass muster.
Fang Zhao wasn't upset by the insults. He wasn't a hot-headed kid who was easy to provoke. For him, it was like a few kindergarten students telling an adult "don't leave after school." He would just let it pass. An elder like him wouldn't stoop to the level of arguing with these kids.
Wayne had said the good thing about this club was that people didn't dare start any trouble. Folks that did never ended up pretty. So Fang Zhao knew these three kids wouldn't take things too far. Probably all the well-situated boxes had been taken or reserved, so they wanted to swap boxes. Naturally, they'd targeted someone who struck them as a softie. After surveying their options, they'd zeroed in on Fang Zhao. He was alone and looked like he would be easy to bully. They were thinking they could force him out with a few threats, but lo and behold, Fang Zhao wasn't easily intimidated.
The tall fellow wanted to make a move but had been stopped by his companions. They didn't dare behave recklessly here. You had to choose the right venue to start a fight. They didn't have the guts to go all out here, but they could still deliver a covert blow.
After the three men left, they went straight to the club's security chief, telling him that one of their guests looked out of sorts and was perhaps dangerous.
The trio were old customers and knew the security detail well. It just so happened that the head of the detail was on patrol, so they rushed forward to pass on the tip. They coyly used vague language, throwing around words like "maybe" or "possibly."
The most honest-looking of the three described Fang Zhao's behavior. "We're just three concerned customers. We're not trying to settle personal scores or disrupt the atmosphere in the club. We just happened to see the guy when we went to the bathroom just now. That fellow looks quite odd." He was completely earnest and didn't embellish, but he stressed points that he knew would touch a nerve, like the way Fang Zhao observed the main performance hall and how he took notes and drew in his palm-sized notebook at the same time.
"You could never tell from the way he looked at the main performance hall that he was here to have fun. That's the type he is... Anyway, I can't be more precise. The bottom line is that there is definitely something wrong with that man. I think you'd better investigate. Even if it turns out to be nothing, you've ensured the peace of mind of your customers, right? You know, everyone who passed that box found him odd," his companion said as if he was still spooked.
The security chief got anxious right away. People in their line of work assumed the worst when they noticed something out of the ordinary. They then proceeded to eliminate any potential threats to the club one by one. So once he heard the description, his first reaction was that someone was plotting something at the club and had even zoomed in on the main performance hall, which was the busiest and most crowded location in the club. If this was an attempted terrorist attack, such as an explosion of some sort, the club's reputation would end up in tatters. Even though he trusted his security screening equipment, he had to make sure.
So after being briefed, the security chief led a few colleagues to Fang Zhao's box seat.
He checked the number of the box seat, then turned his attention to the serious-looking man who was sitting inside taking notes, doodling and in deep thought. The security chief knew instantly that he had the right box. The scene did seem a bit off.
The security detail in the club donned outfits not unlike the uniforms of any major corporation. The security guards wouldn't come across as threatening or menacing.
The security chief walked into the box with four of his staffers. He remained courteous.
"Sorry to bother you, sir. We're part of the security detail at Space. This is just a routine sweep to ensure the safety of our club. I hope you will cooperate. May I ask what you are doing?" the security chief asked.
"Listening to the music and taking notes. Is there a problem?" Fang Zhao asked.
A problem? Hells yeah! Who the f*ck comes to a club to listen to the music and take notes? Are you nuts?
The security chief scaled back his smile somewhat, but regardless of what he was thinking, he still had to be polite on the surface before he had ascertained that the subject was dangerous. This was a high-class club; even the security staff had to pay attention to their demeanor. They had to be on their best behavior. That was what made for class, not thugs who bared their necks and sported tattoos. If they threw their weight around at the outset and offended a customer, it was their boss who would lose face.
"Do you mind if I take a look at your notes? If they're private, then never mind. Could I also see some ID please? A company ID would be ideal."
Fang Zhao examined the visiting party then nodded. "Sure."
He handed over his notebook.
The security chief was caught by surprise. He had never expected the subject to hand over his notebook without putting up a fight. He still had to examine the notebook carefully.
"Thank you for your cooperation." Even though he was just a security guard, he was exposed to a wide range of people at Space. When he felt the paper as he took Fang Zhao's notebook, he knew it was very high quality, typically favored by professionals. He had noticed a professional author use the same type of notebook in the club. Several of the club's senior executives also liked to carry high-end mini-notebooks in their pockets and tuck custom-made antique fountain pens in their breast pockets. They never had any use for them; it was all for show.
But the person before him was hard to read. He might really be an artist who behaved differently from a normal person.
So when he received the notebook, the security chief turned up his charm. His smile became more beaming, but after flipping through the notebook and reading its contents, his smile turned stiff and tenuous and his cheeks kept twitching.
One of his underlings peeked over this shoulder then shot Fang Zhao a befuddled glance.
What the hell is "acoustic design through non-linear thinking?"
And what the hell is "the complex fission of New Era sound"? Sound can actually fission?
What kind of space is the space in the "irregular virtual simulation, flooding and stereo treatment of sonic space"?
"The expressive artistic potential of electronic music after simulation, a change in quality, reassembly and rebirth..." Oh, this seems a bit more accessible. I understand the first seven words. But what the hell is "expressive artistic potential"? What kind of potential is that?
The security chief felt put on the spot, even though he was the graduate of a top university, let alone his staffer. He felt like he was illiterate.
I... I... I... can't understand any of this!
But even though he couldn't understand the notes, he could tell it was a professional analysis.
He kept flipping.
It was a fairly new notebook. Quite a few pages in the middle were left empty. The last few pages were filled not with words but undecipherable symbols. They appeared in spurts—a few lines would be followed by a gap of two lines, then another few lines. The lines were of varying length. They resembled some sort of code.
The security chief pointed to the scribblings on the last few pages of the notebook. "And these are?"
"Music scores," Fang Zhao responded.
"M-music scores?" That put the security chief in a bind. It was difficult to probe further when it came to scores because privacy and intellectual property were involved, but no one could verify that this was indeed a score. What if it was some type of code, and the club's security hang in the balance? He had a professional tendency to assume the worst, but when personal privacy and intellectual property were on the line, he would stop pressing.
He returned the notebook to Fang Zhao. Just as he was about to ask for identification, Fang Zhao tapped on his bracelet to bring up his professional credentials.
After scanning the information, the security chief's facial expression softened multiple times. He gave Fang Zhao a polite bow. "So sorry to interrupt your listening session. Please accept a small gift as a token of our apologies. Please continue. This is a great spot for listening. There are fewer disturbances. Have a good time."
Fang Zhao nodded and didn't raise his voice when he said, "This is indeed a great spot. Those three folks wanted to swap boxes with me. I refused."
The security chief froze, turned, and signaled his men to leave.
After leaving the box, his men asked out of curiosity, "Boss, who was that?"
"Manager of the Silver Wing virtual projects department, member of the Yanzhou Music Association, honorary lecturer at the Qi'an Academy of Music, and special adviser to Fiery Bird..." The security chief gritted his teeth as he finished his sentence. Even though he maintained a smile, the fear that flashed through his eyes gave his men chills.
"Track down the three men from just now, take them outside, and give them a refresher on our house rules. How dare they play me?" The security chief actually didn't mind being used as long as the tip was accurate. Being used wasn't a big deal if the security of the club was at stake, but who were they reporting as suspicious? An honorary lecturer at Qi'an Academy of Music. A special adviser to Fiery Bird. The words "special adviser" blew him away. More impressively, the man was so young.
Geniuses always behaved differently than normal people. It was understandable for them to be a bit neurotic and act unconventionally.
Fiery Bird was a household name, and any average person knew the weight the title "special adviser" carried.
And Qi'an Academy of Music? Their boss graduated from the Qi'an Academy of Music.
Their big boss was quite sentimental about his alma mater. Who knew if Fang Zhao knew their big boss. If he uttered one word to their big boss, who knows, he could be fired. He had to report the matter to his superiors so he could cover his ass if there was an investigation.
Fang Zhao's train of thought hadn't been interrupted by the sudden inspection. After the security guards left, he kept taking notes. It was already past 8 p.m. The beats in the club started to pick up. More people started hitting the dance floor in the main performance hall.
"Senior alum? Senior alum Fang Zhao?"
"That can't be. What would senior alum Fang Zhao be doing at a place like this? It is him!"
The two shocked students stood in front of Fang Zhao's box to take a closer look. It was indeed the Fang Zhao who had just delivered a lecture to them earlier in the day.
The two students had approached Fang Zhao with questions after the lecture. Fang Zhao remembered them. They were year-six students, students in their final year under the new six-year curriculum. They would be graduating soon and were thus under a lot of pressure. It made sense for them to kick back a bit by partying in the evening.
"Senior alum, is it just you? What are you writing?" one of the students asked.
"I'm listening to the music and jotting down my thoughts and analysis."
"You're such a great role model for our generation."
This wasn't a music appreciation class, it was a noisy club. What kind of person would do something like that?
This was a completely different level of enlightenment. From another planet.