Aims & Objectives

There are three main aims for the Ontology of Silence:

  • To encourage greater awareness of the sounds that characterise real silence.
  • To act as a buffer between people and the noisy world around them.
  • To show to what extent ideal silence may be imaginary.

The objectives of the project are to create a semantic web ontology (in .owl format) that may be used to interrogate a database of silences. This will enable users to interact via a specially created app and so become connoisseurs of silence. In the process, a deeper scientific understanding of the nature of silence will be reached by examining its acoustic, artistic, philosophical and psychological characteristics.


Anyone may participate in the project by contributing Silences and by adding comments. To discuss making a research contribution, please contact Andrew Hugill directly. Current research participants are:

  • Dr Nicolas Bullot (Charles Darwin University) – philosophy, silence recordings, music
  • Professor Hongji Yang (Bath Spa University) – Fourier analysis, software engineering
  • Mr Lin Zou (Bath Spa University) – database development, semantic web
  • Dr Marie Thomas (Bath Spa University) – psychology
  • Dr Louise Rossiter (De Montfort University) – music
  • Mr Robert Green (Bath Spa University) – mathematics, logic, music

We have also had contributions from Tommy Cliff (Leeds University) (mathematics) and Professor Bret Battey (De Montfort University) (audiovisuals).


This project began during a series of creative discussions with Simon Atkinson. We were working together on an electroacoustic composition based on David Gascoyne’s suite of three poems entitled ‘Night Thoughts’. These were broadcast on the BBC in 1956 as a radiophonic poem with music by Humphrey Searle. The last of the set is entitled ‘Encounter with Silence’. In the end, we did not compose the piece, but the idea of an encounter with silence persisted. I have personal reasons for an interest in this, because I have experienced hearing loss and tinnitus thanks to Ménière’s disease, which have changed my relationship with silence for ever.

In August 2017 I visited Darwin, Australia, and had further conversations with the poet Christian Bök and the philosopher Nicolas Bullot. These, along with my earlier work with Jim Hendler, combined to crystallise the idea of an ontology of silence in my mind. An ontology in computer science is a way of naming the types, properties and interrelationships in a specified domain. The word ‘ontology’ has a long history in philosophy, where it denotes the study of the nature of being. The ‘ontological argument’ has often been used to demonstrate then existence of God.

The Ontology of Silence

In this ontology, the domain (silence) is enhanced by two value propositions: Effect (how something is brought about, its result) and Affect (the influence something has, especially in terms of moods and feelings). When applied to silence, the effect describes the ‘frame’ of the silence, in time and space, whereas the ‘affect’ describes the ways in which a silence affects people.

The Ontology page contains a description of the first version of the ontology that is encoded in silence.owl The latest versions may be downloaded here http://andrewhugill.com/ontologies The .owl ontology details the various data and character properties attached to each class and sub-class, something that is not included in the verbal description on the Ontology page.

Current and Planned Activities

The Ontology of Silence has now been presented at Bath Spa University (as part of the Open Scores Lab) and De Montfort University (in an invited lecture). These two events engaged the attentions of various musicians and composers who are actively seeking to be involved.

Furthermore, a team of Psychologists at Bath Spa University, headed by Dr Marie Thomas, are preparing user trials to evaluate the notions of Affect contained in the ontology. At the same time, a small group of mathematicians is looking at the implications for set theory, some philosophers are beginning to discuss the implications of the ontology, and a PhD student, Lin Zou, is helping to build the database.

Part of the purpose of this website is to develop the ontology further through public engagement and discussion. Contributions of silences are invited, and further discussion of the core ideas is encouraged via the blog. Ultimately, the only way in which this project will be validated is through public engagement, and any resulting impact will come about because of the meaningfulness of the ontology to people from any background or context.

Andrew Hugill, 2017.