Attention to Ephemeral

In his book How Music Works (link) David Byrne suggests our attention to media, in his case, music, may differ when we know it is not recorded, that it is ephemeral.


As Walter Murch, the sound editor and film director said, “Music was the main poetic metaphor for that which could not be preserved.” Some say that this evanescence helps focus our attention. They claim that we listen more closely when we know we only have once chance, one fleeting opportunity to grasp something, and as a result our enjoyment is deepened.

Murch’s statement is from an interview (link) was discussing the way music was understood in ancient times, before there was notation, or an alphabet, or recording technology, to preserve it. He added after the quote Byrne uses:

Music evaporates as soon as it is performed.

This element of ephemerality where there is no possibility of being recorded, is different than the kinds of digital ephemera media (book) that exist only temporarily, e.g. Snapchat and media that may expire.

Some suggest these new forms offer avenues for creativity (link). However, the relationship of attention to the media ought to be different if it is known there is but one chance to listen.

It’s that concept that Byrne poses is why the live performance is essential to be considered as its own form, not a reiteration of what is recorded.


How Music Works by David Byrne (book)
The Heliocentric Pantheon: An Interview With Walter Murch (link)

Attention to Ephemeral

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