Nick Roth Music

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 commissioned in 2023 by Nathan Sherman and Alex Petcu as part of their Archetypes Project, which is a response to Carl Jung's seminal 1959 work "The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious".

When I was tasked with the Unconscious itself, my first thought was of water and its reflections, eventually envisioning an immersive work for viola with aquarium, mirror and light. Reading Jung's work during the research phase, I was astonished to find this passage: "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 critiquing then contemporary Gnostic genesis myths. From there 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, awoken, 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'. Another astonishing coincidence, this now connected Sophia to the Creation and Annihilation operators, mathematical functions that have widespread applications in quantum mechanics, notably in the study of quantum chromodynamics and harmonic oscillators. This closing of the circle inspired the final piece of the puzzle, with the inclusion of refracted, prismatic light into the composition.

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