Superimposing Silences

Progress has been made, thanks to the combined efforts of Robert Green, Tommy Cliff, Lin Zou, Professor Hongji Yang and myself. The starting point was the question raised by Robert: what happens if one silence is superimposed on another? In other words, if we combine a silence that has a joyful affect with one that has a tense affect, what is the result?

Given that every silence is a new silence, we may be certain that the result will not be simply a combination of the two previous silences. The affect will be unknowable. However, we may nevertheless undertake some analysis to get some idea of the result.

Mathematically, this leads to set theory, in the first instance, and possibly to group theory in the long run (although that may be overkill). Robert suggests:

The Space (S) of all Silences is partitioned into L disjoint sets of silences (where L is infinite) S1, S2, Sn… Su is a (hopefully empty!) set of silences unclassified by a particular method of partitioning – i.e. the remnants.

We can refine this partitioning by affect and effect, as follows: Sa1, Sa2, Sa3 etc. and Se1, Se2, Se3 etc. It is possible that certain sets have no common elements (silences) then another from the other partition e.g Sa2 ∩ Se3 = ∅. This introduces the idea of incompatibility, i.e. that there silences that cannot coexist at the same time.

When compatible silences are superimposed, therefore, a third silence will be the result, which itself may be judged under the variables in the ontology. This process may be written as follows:

∫:SxS→S, where S is the space of silences. S is two dimensional (affect/effect). The axiom:

  • I. Closure – every product of superimposition is another silence.
  • II. Associativity – the order of superimposition is not relevant and produces the same product.
  • III. Identity – There is an element such that superimposition by it makes no change.
  • IV. Invertibility – that every silence could be superimposed with another to yield the identity.

Robert went on to speculate about how this relates to group theory. If I-IV all hold, it forms a group. If I and II hold, it forms a semi-group. If I, II and III hold, it forms a monoid.

Tommy Cliff commented further that: I. is a question whether two silences combined make a silence. For III, the identity element is ideal silence as well, since if you superimposed a Silence with the identity, you would want to get exactly your original Silence out. I cannot think how you could have the invertibility property (IV) though, ie. for any silence, there exists another silence such that when superimposed, you get ideal silence as your output. If you can’t have this, then you only have a monoid.

Clearly this all  has some way to go, and we settled on using more empirical tools to analyse the silences for now until we can arrive at a judgment as to how much of this is purely subjective speculation (most of it, one suspects).

Hongji Yang proposed using Fourier transforms to analyse the silences. This has the great advantage that it will work across any media type, providing a scientific method for structuring the database. Lin You has undertaken a survey of databases. We have to go for a free platform (there is no budget for this project yet!) so it is a choice between NoSQL and MySQL solutions. Having something that works effectively with semantic web queries is essential. However, this also led on to a discussion about the extent of the use of semantic web in the project. As Jim Hendler puts it: “a little semantics goes a long way”. This is to be resolved. In the meantime, we are absorbing Lin’s survey to make some decisions.

At the same time, the psychological tests being undertaken by Dr Marie Thomas and her team could include superimposed silences. Perhaps something will emerge from that process that gives us an objective measure.

I stressed that user interaction will be key to this project. Whatever decisions we may make about the effect/affect of a given silence, users may well have a different opinion. They will be given the opportunity to record these opinions and the app will learn from their interactions. I envisage something quite alchemical: combine a drop of this silence with a dollop of that one, to produce something quite extraordinary. It could be magical!

Finally, I note that we have already had some uploads of silences. The individuals are beginning to appear! It’s exciting.







Ontology of Silence


The Ontology of Silence is a project by Andrew Hugill. Please spend some time investigating the site at to get an understanding of the project.

You are invited to contribute silences and to get involved in discussion via this blog page or contact me directly.

Future blog posts will update you about the project and include the most recent discussions. This is very much work in progress, so it is to be expected that these pages will evolve and change over the coming months and years.

Meanwhile…. ssshhhh!


If you wish to contribute, please upload a silence using the UPLOAD link below. If there is a problem with that method, please email me using the Contact Form.

Your silence could be a sound file, image file, text file, etc. Sound files will be recordings of silences. Image, text, and other similar files will evoke silence in some way. To understand how that might work, please read the ontology carefully.

Name uploaded files with your name and any title, separated by underscores, as in the following example: andrew_hugill_wry_silence.aif

Files may be in any format, but please try to achieve the best quality.

Uploading a file indicates that you are willing to make the contents available to the Ontology of Silence project. Files must therefore be free from any copyright restrictions.

Along with the silence itself, please also upload a text file with the same filename as the silence. The text file should contain a very brief description of the silence. Do include any relevant factual information such as: sound recordist, artist, writer, date, location, etc. Finally, indicate the Affect and Effect of the silence, from your perspective.



Ontology of Silence

Domain Concept

  • A silence is a duration containing no intentional sound.
  • An intentional sound is that sound which is intended to interrupt a silence.
    • Unintentional sounds may have local intentionality but are made without awareness of the silence.
      • A silence in a forest may include the singing of birds who make intentional sound but without awareness of the silence.
      • Two lovers falling silent as they gaze into one another’s eyes in a crowded restaurant sustain their mutual silence despite the many unintentional sounds around them until they are interrupted (perhaps by a waiter bringing a menu).
    • A person disrespectfully calling out as a rugby union player tees up a kick at goal intends to disrupt the silence.
      • The extent to which an interruption successfully breaks a silence is a matter of common agreement. In some instances, a silence is deemed to have continued despite an attempted interruption. In this case, the intentional sound becomes absorbed into the silence.
  • A duration may be specified or unspecified, but silence will always have a duration.
    • The limits of the duration of a silence are set by the intrusion of intentional sound.
      • A duration may be measured in seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, lifetimes, or eternities.
  • Silences may be Real or Ideal.
    • Real silence is full of sound.
      • Since “a complete absence of sound” (OED) is an ideal condition, there will always be some sound in a real silence.
  • A Real Silence is an experience which can be either recorded or unrecorded.
    • A recorded silence is not the same silence as that which was experienced, but is rather a new, mediated silence.
  • Recorded silences have a Recording Type, which refers to the conditions under which the recording was made.
    • An Accidental Recording is an unintended silence on a recording.
    • An Ambient Recording is a silence in a given space.
    • A Concert Recording is a silence in a musical concert.
    • A Field Recording is a silence recorded in a specified location.
    • A Personal Recording is a silence recorded by an individual for private use.
    • A Studio Recording is a controlled silence recorded in a studio situation.
  • An unrecorded silence is an actual experience that may be represented in any medium other than recorded sound or may not be represented at all.
    • The typology of unrecorded silences is: Image; Music; Verbal; Written; or Unrepresented.
      • Image Types of unrecorded silence represents silence in an image, that may be: a movie; a painting; a photograph; a sculpture; any other image.
      • Music Types of unrecorded silence include both silent pieces of music and music that otherwise attempts to represent silence. They may be either composition or performance.
      • Verbal Types of unrecorded silence represent the silence through spoken words.
      • Written Types of unrecorded silence may be either poetry or prose.
      • Unrepresented Types of unrecorded silence are silences that are experienced but not represented in any way. This type exists but is necessarily void.
  • An ideal silence can only be evoked, but not experienced.
    • An ideal silence is the one described by the dictionary definition of silence as: “a complete absence of sound” (OED, 2017).
      • The silence in a vacuum is ideal, because it cannot not be experienced by a human being, but only evoked.
      • The “silence of the grave” is similarly ideal, because it cannot be experienced but only evoked.
  • The evocations of ideal silence are: Gestural; Imagistic; Sonic; Verbal; Written; Unclassified.
    • A Gestural Evocation conveys the ideal silence through gesture.
    • An Imagistic Evocation conveys an ideal silence through image.
    • A Sonic Evocation conveys the ideal silence through sound.
    • A Verbal Evocation conveys the ideal silence through spoken words.
    • A Written Evocation conveys the ideal silence through written words.
    • An Unclassified Evocation uses some other means than gesture, image, sound, or words (written or spoken) to convey the ideal silence.

Value Propositions

  • The Effect of a silence is defined by its frame (that which surrounds the silence in time and/or space).
    • Absolute Silence is the effect of a total absence of sound in a period of time or a given space.
    • Electronic Silence is the effect of an absence of signal in an electronic medium.
    • Environmental Silence is the effect of silence in an environment.
    • A Hush is the effect of a silence that is collectively willed.
    • A Silent Interlude is the effect of a silence that occurs during some event.
    • An Outer Silence is the effect of a silence manifested by an individual or group.
    • A Silent Postlude is the effect of a silence that follows some event.
    • A Silent Prelude is the effect of a silence that precedes some event.
    • Quiet is the effect emanating from a silent source.
    • Radio Silence is the effect of no signal from a broadcast medium or a normally communicative group.
    • Ritual Silence is effect of a silence that forms part of some ritual.
    • A Still Silence is the effect of stillness.
    • Silent Space is the effect of silence in a given space.
  • The character of a silence is determined by its Affect.
    • Affect is a subjective perception of the personal or emotional consequences of a silence.
      • An Ambient Silence surrounds you.
      • An Amiable Silence is friendly.
      • An Amusing Silence makes you smile.
      • An Angry Silence is an expression of rage.
      • An Anticipatory Silence makes you expect something.
      • An Anxious Silence is a troubling experience.
      • An Attentive Silence is the respect shown by a listener.
      • An Awkward Silence is when words will not come.
      • A Bittersweet Silence produces mixed emotions.
      • A Boring Silence seems to never end.
      • A Brooding Silence suggests that something is going on.
      • A Cheerful Silence is a happy one in which sound is unnecessary.
      • A Contented Silence occurs when all sonic needs have been fulfilled.
      • A Crepuscular Silence feels like the “still of the evening”.
      • A Deafening Silence is a notable absence of response.
      • A Disgusted Silence occurs when it is better that no sound is made.
      • A Dramatic Silence is a silence used for effect in some performance.
      • An Empathetic Silence is the shared moment when you become lost in someone else’s profound thoughts
      • A Fascinating Silence is one which does not wish to interrupt.
      • A Fearful Silence is afraid of the consequences of making a sound.
      • A Good-natured Silence is the natural product of wellbeing.
      • An Incidental Silence goes unnoticed by most people.
      • An Inner Silence may be achieved through meditation or religious contemplation.
      • An Interested Silence is polite but nevertheless engaged.
      • An Interrupting Silence is intended to interrupt sounds.
      • A Joyful Silence is when there are no sounds left to express the joy.
      • A Longing Silence awaits fulfilment.
      • A Meditative Silence accompanies some inner process of spirituality.
      • A Mindful Silence attends only to the present moment.
      • A Moody Silence occurs when one’s emotions get the better of one.
      • A Musing Silence is quizzical yet contemplative.
      • A Mute Silence cannot make a sound
      • A Mysterious Silence is inexplicable.
      • A Performative Silence is perceived to have a function within a performative setting.
      • A Polite Silence will eventually be broken by the need to utter.
      • A Political Silence is both the suppression of a voice and a strategic form of resistance.
      • A Silly Silence is unnecessary and ridiculous.
      • A Stunned Silence is a reaction to a shock.
      • A Sullen Silence is a reluctant response to some perceived oppression.
      • A Surprising Silence jolts one into a reaction.
      • A Sweet Silence is seductive and delightful.
      • A Tense Silence creates a palpable atmosphere.
      • A Transformative Silence changes a situation.
      • A Valedictory Silence bids farewell to something.
      • A Visceral Silence is raw, emotional and affecting to the core.
      • A Volatile Silence behaves unpredictably and wildly.
      • A Whimsical Silence is some kind of joke.
      • A Wistful Silence is full of a vague sense of regret.
      • A Witty Silence is all about timing.
      • A Wry Silence is used to mock.

© Andrew Hugill, 2017.

Winter Moorings


We have relocated to Union Wharf, Market Harborough, for the winter. Here is ‘Froth’ lying in her new mooring, and taking on water. As you can see, we have the advantage of a quayside running the length of the boat, which is great because we can get on and off at the front as well as the back if necessary. It’s also good for washing and painting the hull.

We love Market Harborough. Lots of great shops and restaurants, a good park for Rosie, and the basin has a well-kept towpath and its own restaurant and gin/fizz bar. Even so, we were sorry to leave Yelvertoft. It’s a great marina in a fabulous setting with lovely people. No doubt we’ll be back one day. But, for various reasons, Harborough is the best place for us this winter.

Union Wharf is also home to a hire fleet. It can get very festive when there are stag/hen parties setting out on the little day boats:


The larger boats are moored in front of the restaurant:


But all the hiring has stopped now for the winter, so it will be relatively quiet until March.

Froth has had some work done on the cratch covers at the front, because they were leaking when the wind got up and drove the rain in hard. To prevent that, Kinver Canopies have fitted this rather stylish scalloping, which is mounted on a rail that acts as a gutter. A perfect marriage of form and function.


We had been noticing that the propellor was not turning very well, so Andy got his long sleeved rubber gloves on and lifted the weed hatch to investigate. This is what he found:


Old mooring rope, wrapped tightly around the shaft. It took a lot of sawing with a blade to get it off. Still, at least it was proper rope and not a plastic bag – those things are a nightmare!




Harborough Nights

Market Harborough in beautiful sunny weather has a continental feel and there is a terrific restaurant where we can sit outside and enjoy gin cocktails and good food.


We have made two trips there recently, so this blog entry has some pictures of those journeys. It takes a day to go from Yelvertoft to the top of Foxton Locks, then a morning (or more if you are unlucky with the lock queues) to go down Foxton locks and along the Harborough Arm to Union Wharf. The trip from Yelvertoft to Market Harborough can be done in 30 minutes by car! Canal travel is slow, especially when the canals follow the landscape as the Grand Union does. It takes us a couple of hours just to leave the village of Yelvertoft.

The trip involves going down Foxton Locks. This amazing 10-lock flight has been covered before in this blog, so here are just a few videos from these particular trips:

On the second trip, the Foxton Festival was in full flow. We have now got our trader’s licence for ‘Froth on the Daydream’, so one day we will probably join in with these trading boats that sell a range of wares to the passers-by. In the meantime, Louise continues to sell her leather roses across the world.

Going through Foxton Locks turns Froth into an instant tourist attraction!

IMG_6525 2

These “gongoozlers” did everything except climb aboard! They peered through the windows, taking photos of the interior (quite what they expected to see is anyone’s guess) and peppered both Louise and I with endless questions. These ranged from: “is this boat really your home?” to “when is your wife going to get on board?” People sometimes find it hard to accept that Louise operates the paddles. They see sexism in the division of labour, as Andy does the ‘easy’ business of steering the boat into the locks.

The Harborough Arm is a very beautiful and winding stretch. There are a few houses along the way, including this peculiar one which is apparently something to do with the Scottish Clan Kerr. The motto translates as: “late, but in earnest”.


There are also two swing bridges to navigate. This one involves actually stopping the road traffic.

The prize for all this is to arrive at the moorings at Harborough Basin or Union Wharf. It costs £10 per night, but it is well worth it for the electricity hook-up, free water, facilities, and the general ambience, which is fabulous…

…even at night!



The Winds are complete

After five days in the studio, and quite a lot of advance preparation on the boat, the winds for Movement 1 have been completed. Each wind comprises a collection of sound files which add up to its character. The sounds include natural/environmental recordings, instrumental and synthetic timbres. All of them are treated in some way, at the very least embedding directionality as described in previous posts, but in some cases spectrally treated and processed.

The bass clarinettist behaves like a kind of weather vane in the performance. He will face a given wind and play from a menu (yet to be composed) of material in response to the sounds that emanate from that direction. When he tires of a particular wind, he will turn to face another direction.

Meanwhile, the computer will trigger anything between one and the maximum number of sound files available in a given wind folder. The triggering will occur randomly within a 30 second window. Since some of the sound files last more than a minute, it is likely that the ‘tail’ of one wind will still be playing when a new one is faced. This should add richness to the musical experience.

The material in the wind folders is unified according to the timbral map given in a previous post, i.e. by shape, timbres, pitch centre (where appropriate), gesture, envelope, etc. Even so, there is a lot of diversity. It will be a blowy and slightly chaotic piece, just like the experience of standing on Kelston Round Hill!

The Movement will begin with the North West wind, which consists entirely of unpitched sounds from the computer and from the bass clarinet, who makes various air noises and clicks. After that, the shape of the composition is determined on the fly by the performers  (Roger Heaton and myself, in this case).

Watford Flight


The Watford Flight is located near to the Watford Gap services on the M1 motorway. The road can be heard here and occasionally glimpsed through the trees. The whole flight is seven locks, consisting of two single locks, a staircase of four locks, and a final top lock. A ‘staircase’ is a sequence where you emerge from one lock directly into the next, whereas single locks have a pound between them.

Traffic through the flight is strictly controlled by a CRT volunteer lock-keeper, because these are single boat locks and the staircase can only accommodate boats going in the same direction. On the day we went through, there were three boats coming down, so we had to wait a while at the bottom before being allowed to enter.

Here is a video record of the ascent through the staircase.

And here is the familiar view that greets you as you emerge from the top lock. You do get a great sense of achievement when you come through. We stopped at the services on the left before heading on to moor up for lunch after the second bridge, and then the final journey back to the marina described in the previous post.


Return journey

“Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” (The Wind in the Willows).

We’ve dawdled. It’s been a very relaxing trip. Some days we did not travel at all. Louise made some roses. Andy did some composing. There was quite a lot of sitting about.

The outward journey was consequently not a great distance: a matter of 18 miles or so to Gayton Junction. The return journey took us slightly less time because we decided to come back a day sooner than predicted. The weather is closing in and a cold snap is forecast. But for most of our trip, the weather has been very good, with some days of brilliant sunshine, even if it was a bit chilly.

Gayton Junction, our half-way turning point, is a busy place, with boats coming from three directions.


We stopped at the neat and well maintained service station to fill up with water and empty the toilet cassettes. It took quite a long time, and we enjoyed chatting with a gentleman who was doing the same thing.


The other junction on our trip was Norton, where the Grand Union canal turns south towards Brentford and London (our direction) or west towards Braunston.


This is a very pretty junction, with a lovely house on the corner and good services round the bend.


We had a nice meal and a pint or two at the nearby New Inn. But the best meal out was on our 18th wedding anniversary, last Sunday, when we dined at the Narrow boat Inn, Weedon Bec. The food there is very good.

Most days, though, Louise cooked meals on board. This was a particularly delicious one: Italian Veggie Cottage Pie

For a few miles north of Norton Junction, the M1 motorway and the main railway line to London flank the canal on either side. Three historical transport routes in close proximity. The railway finished off the canals, and the roads rendered large parts of the railway network obsolete. I know which I prefer! I shot this video to capture that experience.

And here are a couple of stills of trains (these are the ones I take to Euston station when I go to work).

Rosie has really enjoyed the whole trip, and is getting very grown up. She behaves well at locks and really does not need to be put on a lead any more, but watches everything with keen interest. She also does not bother passers-by (unless they are on bikes, unfortunately) if they do not pay her any attention. More often than not, though, they cannot resist giving her a cuddle.

We have seen lots of widlife, including this pied wagtail (a relatively rare sight these days, sadly) and a rather handsome mandarin duck, who seems to be mixing with the mallards with no problem.

But mostly, it has been slow cruising through beatiful countryside and occasional villages. Here are a few pictures to give the flavour:

Hanging out washing on the back deck was a happy experience, after the long winter.


We also see some peculiar boats, like this one made from a shipping container:


On the return journey, Louise was pleased to stop at Anchor Cottage canal shop, near the top of the Long Buckby locks. It’s full of wonderful stuff, but the lady was camera shy so we took these pictures from the boat. We bought a couple of lovely planters for the roof. More pictures will follow when they have been planted up.

The last big adventure on the way home was acending the Watford Flight. I shot a video record of that, which will be a separate blog post.

After the flight, we cruised the last few miles back to the marina. The entrance is now a familiar sight, but getting throgh the narrow opening is always a bit of a challenge in a 67 foot boat!


Holiday Dawdle


Spring has sprung and it is time to set forth once more. Andy has two weeks’ annual leave (well almost – minus the one day the university chose to have a Very Important Meeting) and both of us could do with a break!  So, we resolved to dawdle down the Grand Union Canal to nowhere in particular and back again. Gone are the destination timings and anxieties of last summer’s trip round the Leicester ring. Instead, the emphasis is on relaxation and slow travel, with some creative work too (roses, music).

We set off yesterday, after taking down the pram cover, checking the engine, filling the water tank, etc. etc. As you can see from the splendid photo above, the blossom is out and weather is not bad at all, although there is a chilly wind. That picture was taken at the bottom of the Watford flight. The one below shows us waiting at the top, with the M1 barely visible in the background.toplock

The locking crew were waiting too. It took 40 minutes for the boat at the bottom to come up. Since these are single locks, this was necessary before we could descend


Everything is controlled by the Canal and River Trust volunteer lock-keeper, who has a little office by the top lock.


Next door is this useful facility:infobookswap

And here is Peter the volunteer, talking to Cap’n Andy as the boat goes down…volunteer

Rosie oversees the procedure, watching concernedly as her home descends into the hole:rosiewatching

Rosie does have her uses. Here she is carrying the walkie-talkie, a proper comms-dog!commsdog

Before we reached the Watford Flight, we had to pass yet again through Crick tunnel. Here’s a photo showing that you can see all the way through to the end before you enter:


There were some pataphysical moments during the trip past Crick marina too…ubique

So now we are moored up in a lovely spot in the middle of nowhere (somewhere north of Long Buckby and Norton Junction) and have enjoyed a day of doing not very much. Last night, Louise cooked this recipe for cheesy spinach bake. The comes highly recommended. Here is what it looked like before serving:


We had some for lunch today too. All gone now…