Attention Economy (2020)

String Quartet No. 2

duration: 25 minutes

The scarcest resource in today’s age of never-ending digital content is our attention. Our collective addiction to news and information has changed how we live our daily lives. Social media allows us to connect with people all over the world with a click of a mouse, but it has also drastically shifted how we consume media. When all of this information is seemingly free, corporations need to compete for your eyes and ears. This work, Attention Economy, is a reflection on social consciousness in the age of social media and the 24-hour news cycle. In the guise of a standard four-movement quartet, it is structured to reflect a constantly shifting focus.

 

The first movement of Attention Economy is titled Newsfeed. This represents the deluge of information that we are presented with on a daily basis. Here we hear a cacophony of voices competing for the listener's attention. Small thematic ideas echo, bounce around, stretch, warp, and change over time. Every so often, something new may emerge from the texture but is quickly swallowed by the surrounding voices.

 

Sadly, the only times that it feels we slow down, reflect, and come together is during times of tremendous sorrow and tragedy. Movement 2, elegy, is a tribute to those who have lost their lives due to violence, negligence, and disasters. This moves without pause into the third movement representing how quickly those of us who were not directly affected by the tragedy can move right back into our daily routines. 

 

The third movement, Screens, is a reflection of how we as a society choose to interact with the world around us. For a significant amount of the world, screens have become a key fixture in our human identity. They are our best friends, our teachers, our baby sitters, our time-wasters. They often know more about us than we do about ourselves. This movement uses sounds that mimic notifications and phones buzzing and reflects on how we choose to communicate with each other, how we chose to distract ourselves, and how we can get sucked into digital rabbit holes.

 

The fourth movement, Intention, is a more introspective moment that allows the listener time to reexamine their own relationship with technology and how it affects their daily lives. With a certain intention, we can coexist with these ever-evolving technologies in a way that allows us to communicate, share, and learn, while still maintaining those personal connections that make us human.

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This work was commissioned by Friction Quartet as part of the Friction Commissioning Initiative. It was premiered by Friction Quartet on 01/30/2020 at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

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