Pnigos, for solo flute, comes from a much longer work titled Parabasis, which is scored for flute and piano. Parabasis takes as its formal model the section of Old Greek Comedy of the same name, which I first encountered in Roland Barthesʼ essay “The Greek Theater” in his The Responsibility of Forms. His description of pnigos (literally “suffocation”) as “a long period spoken without taking a breath” fascinated me in particular and compelled me to write that entire seven-movement suite.
The idea of suffocation is expressed in the opening of Pnigos, in which a strained and redundant idea is iterated in (mostly) shortening groups, each set off by a clear inhalation by the performer. At the end of each phrase, the performer is instructed to force out any excess air before inhaling anew; as the phrases shorten, this forcing out of the excess air becomes exhausting.
Separately from the idea of pnigos, the movement uses three tempi: slow, medium, and fast (at 84, 126, and 168 beats per minute, respectively), and divides the fluteʼs register into three zones: low, middle, and high. The interplay of these divisions drives the form of the movement, as the sequence of tempi throughout is: fast, medium, fast, slow accelerating to medium accelerating to fast, medium, fast, slow accelerating al fine; and the sequence of registers is: middle, low, high to low to middle, low, middle, and finally all three simultaneously.
Pnigos was written for and is dedicated to Mimi Stillman, who premiered it as a solo work (separately from Parabasis, which she also premiered) at the University of Tucson, Arizona.