We report results obtained for two elementary unstable flow configurations relevant to high energy density physics: the ablation front instability and the Rayleigh–Taylor -instability induced mixing layer. These two flows are characterized by a transience of their perturbation dynamics. In the ablative flow case, this perturbation dynamics transience takes the form of finite-durations of successive linear-perturbation evolution phases until reaching regimes of decaying oscillations. This behaviour is observed in various regimes: weakly or strongly accelerated ablation fronts, irradiation asymmetries or initial external-surface defects, and is a result of the mean-flow unsteadiness and stretching. In the case of the Rayleigh–Taylor-instability induced mixing layer, perturbation dynamics transience manifests itself through the extinction of turbulence and mixing as the flow reaches a stable state made of two stably stratified layers of pure fluids separated by an unstratified mixing layer. A second feature, also due to compressibility, takes the form of an intense acoustic wave production, mainly localized in the heavy fluid. Finally, we point out that a systematic short-term linear-perturbation dynamics analysis should be undertaken within the framework of non-normal stability theory.