Sophia x Bythos (2023)

for Viola and Percussion


"In the beginning were Darkness, Chaos, and Water (skotos, kai bythos, kai hydōr), but the Spirit indwelling in the midst of them, divided them one from another. From the intermingling of Darkness with Spirit proceeds the mētra which again is kindled with fresh desire after the Spirit; she gives birth first to four, and then to other four aeons, and so produces a right and a left, light and darkness. Last of all comes forth an aischros aiōn, who has intercourse with the mētra, the offspring whereof are Gods, Angels, Daemons, and Spirits."

— Epiphanius, Haer. 25, 5


Sophia x Bythos was a collaborative commission from Nathan Sherman and Alex Petcu for their Archetypes Project, inspired by Carl Jung's seminal 1959 work "The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious".

When I was tasked with responding to the theme of the Unconscious itself, my first thought was of water and its reflections, envisioning an immersive piece for viola, aquarium, mirror and light that was an extension of research and design work with artist collective The Water Project. Reading the book during the research phase, I was thus reassured to read: "Therefore the way of the soul in search of its lost father - like Sophia seeking Bythos - leads to the water, to the dark mirror that reposes at its bottom.” This passage seemed a remarkably affirmative coincidence and eventually became, as a redux, the title of the piece itself.  

Diving deeper into the myth of Sophia, the Gnostic goddess of Wisdom, and her father Bythos, the Abyssic Monad from whence she came, I discovered the Panarion, a 4th century work by Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis, recounting, and critiquing, the Gnostic genesis myths of his contemporaries. From one such description comes the epigraph above, which served as both the underlying formal structure for the work and a representation of the arisal process of the conscious from unconscious. Each of the images in the passage figures as a motif in the work, with the aischros aiōn, or broken time, taking the form of the belljar, which dictates the rhythmic architecture for the second, conscious, half.

Lastly, curious about the origins of the Greek word mētra (womb), I discovered that it shares etymological roots with the words 'metre' and 'matrix'. This therefore drew a thread between Sophia and the Creation and Annihilation operators, mathematical functions that find widespread use in the study of quantum chromodynamics and harmonic oscillators...light and the possibility of light. This closing of the circle inspired the final piece of the puzzle, with the centring of the prismatic.

Sophia x Bythos received its premiere in Café OTO, London on Sunday 18th June 2023. 


Nick Roth, Dublin