Experimenting with Electronic Voice Phenomena
Electronic Voice Phenomena, or EVP, is the observation of disembodied voices or sounds captured on audio equipment that were not present or heard by the observer at the time of recording and are attributed to communication with spirits; this is also related to Electronic Video Phenomena. The concept of EVP has had an impact on popular culture as its popularity in entertainment, in ghost hunting, and as a means of dealing with grief has influenced literature, radio, film and television.
Various explanations have been put forward for EVP by those who believe it to be an example of paranormal phenomenon. These include discarnate entities, such as spirits, communicating on recording media, living humans imprinting thoughts directly on an electronic medium through psychokinesis, nature energies, or beings from other dimensions.
Mainstream science has generally ignored EVP, finding them less than credible, and sites a percentage of recordings that turn out to be hoaxes created by frauds or pranksters. Many also regard the examples put forward by proponents as simply misinterpretations of natural phenomena. These explanations include a variety of known psychological and physical phenomena. The tendency of the human brain to recognize patterns in random stimuli and radio interference are respective examples.
Many Spiritualists believe that communication with the dead is a scientifically proven fact, and experiment with a variety of techniques for spirit communication which they believe provides evidence of the continuation of life. According to the National Spiritualist Association of Churches, “An important modern-day development in mediumship is spirit communications via an electronic device”. An informal survey by the organization’s Department Of Phenomenal Evidence cites that a third of churches conduct sessions in which participants seek to communicate with spirit entities using EVP.
The origins of the formal study of EVP dates back to a period between the 1840’s and the 1920’s with the Spiritualist religious movement. New technologies of the era including photography could be employed in an effort to demonstrate contact with the spirit world. So popular were such ideas that Thomas Edison was asked in an interview with Scientific American to comment on the possibility of using his inventions to communicate with spirits. He replied that if the spirits were only capable of subtle influences, a sensitive recording device would provide a better chance of spirit communication than the table tipping and Ouija boards mediums employed at the time. However, there is no indication that Edison ever designed or constructed a device for such a purpose.
As sound recording became widespread, despite the decline of Spiritualism through the latter part of the 20th century, attempts to use portable recording devices and modern digital technologies to demonstrate life after death continued to be promoted in popular culture and by a handful of dedicated believers.
Some EVP enthusiasts describe hearing the words in EVP samples as an ability, much like learning a new language. As my own experience with analyzing audio has increased, so has my ability to differentiate between true voices and just simple noise.
Instrumental transcommunication (ITC) is a more general paranormal term than EVP and refers to communication between spirits or other discarnate entities and the living, through any sort of electronic device such as tape recorders, fax machines, television sets or computers. ITC include visual and other anomalies, rather than only auditory effects. The term was coined by physicist professor Ernst Senkowski, of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Mainz, Germany. Instrumental transcommunication has gained no notability within the scientific community, and is not accepted within science.
The modern research model dates back to 1976 with paranormal researcher Sarah Estep. In 1982, Sarah Estep founded the American Association of Electronic Voice Phenomena (AAEVP) in Maryland, a nonprofit organization with the purpose of increasing awareness of EVP, and of teaching standardized methods for capturing it. Estep says she has made hundreds of recorded messages from deceased friends and relatives, to other individuals, including Konstantin Raudive, Beethoven, a lamplighter from 18th century Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and extraterrestrials whom she speculated originated from other planets or dimensions.
In 1997, Imants Barušs, of the Department of Psychology at the University of Western Ontario, conducted a series of experiments using the methods of EVP investigator Konstantin Raudive as a guide. A radio was tuned to an empty frequency and over 81 sessions more than 60 hours of recordings were collected. During recordings, a person either sat in silence or attempted to make verbal contact with potential sources of EVP. Barušs stated that he did record several events that sounded like voices, but they were too few and too random to represent viable data and too open to interpretation to be described definitively as EVP. He concluded: “While we did replicate EVP in the weak sense of finding voices on audio tapes, none of the phenomena found in our study was clearly anomalous, let alone attributable to discarnate beings. Hence we have failed to replicate EVP in the strong sense.” The findings were published in the Journal of Scientific Exploration in 2001, and include a literature review.
Nero Wave Editor
In 2005 the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research published a report by paranormal investigator Alexander MacRae who conducted recording sessions using a device of his own design that generated EVP. In an attempt to demonstrate that different individuals would interpret EVP in the recordings the same way, MacRae asked seven people to compare some selections to a list of five phrases he provided, and to choose the best match. MacRae said the results of the listening panels indicated that the selections were of paranormal origin.
Skeptics such as David Federlein, Chris French, Terrence Hines and Michael Shermer say that EVP are usually recorded by raising the “noise floor”- the electrical noise created by all electrical devices- in order to create white noise. When this noise is filtered, it can be made to produce noises which sound like speech. Federlein says that this is no different from using a wah pedal on a guitar, which is a focused sweep filter that moves around the spectrum and creates open vowel sounds. This, according to Federlein, sounds exactly like some EVP. This, in combination with such things as cross modulation of radio stations or faulty ground loops can cause the impression of paranormal voices. The human brain evolved to recognize patterns, and if a person listens to enough noise the brain will detect words, even when there is no intelligent source for them. Expectation also plays an important part in making people believe they are hearing voices in random noise. It is interesting to note that a common practice in EVP techniques is to have some manner of white noise in the background. Older cassette recorders require the use of white noise generators for the purpose of capturing EVP while the modern digital recorders are capable of producing their own white noise.
Interference, for example, is seen in certain EVP recordings, especially those recorded on devices which contain RLC circuitry. These cases represent radio signals of voices or other sounds from broadcast sources. Interference from CB radio transmissions and wireless baby monitors, or anomalies generated though cross modulation from other electronic devices, are all documented phenomena. It is even possible for circuits to resonate without any internal power source by means of radio reception. Such interference is commonly observed in home speaker systems which pick up the transmissions of nearby CB radios and transmit the sound through the speakers generally scaring the socks off of home owners, especially if they are home alone at the time.
Capture errors are anomalies created by the method used to capture audio signals, such as noise generated through the over-amplification of a signal at the point of recording.
Artifacts created during attempts to boost the clarity of an existing recording might explain some EVP. Methods include re-sampling, frequency isolation, and noise reduction or enhancement, which can cause recordings to take on qualities significantly different from those that were present in the original recording. In many ghost hunting groups audio software like Nero Wave Editor is utilized to filter EVP samples in order to “clean up” the sample and aid in clarifying the sounds for analysis and presentation. This software also helps by displaying a graphical representation of the audio sample in which you can observe a visual modulation of the sound source. I have used this application myself when conducting examination of sound recordings from investigations. Sometimes the software does help clarify the samples as not belonging to a group member or to shed light on the exact words or phrases captured; other times it has the opposite effect of distorting the sounds. It is for this reason that I keep the original raw data files I collect from investigations unaltered on a separate folder or network drive and work exclusively with a copy. In this way if a question arises that the noise reduction or filtering techniques employed are what created the sample, then the original file is available for independent analysis.
Pareidolia and Apophenia are the basis of arguments against the legitimacy of EVP. Auditory pareidolia is a situation created when the brain incorrectly interprets random patterns as being familiar patterns. In the case of EVP it could result in an observer interpreting random noise on an audio recording as being the familiar sound of a human voice. The propensity for an apparent voice heard in white noise recordings to be in a language understood well by those researching it, rather than in an unfamiliar language, has been cited as evidence of this, and a broad class of phenomena referred to by author Joe Banks as Rorschach Audio has been described as a global explanation for all manifestations of EVP.
Apophenia is related to, but distinct from pareidolia. Apophenia is defined as “the spontaneous finding of connections or meaning in things which are random, unconnected or meaningless”, and has been put forward as a possible explanation.
If an English-speaking group such as Ghost Hunters International is in Germany on an investigation would it not seem logical that any samples recorded be in German rather than English? If a group’s members are walking around an Italian castle asking questions in English how do they expect any possible spirit to understand the question, let alone respond in English? When they analyze the audio are they listening for both English and Italian words or perhaps another language entirely?
I have developed a theory that attempts to explain Rorschach Audio. As with many things, everything about life or about magick I learned from watching Star Trek. Ever wonder how the intrepid crew of the Enterprise can travel the galaxy and always find alien cultures who speak perfect English? Well, they have an ingenious little device called a universal translator that puts the spoken words through a sound algorithm that searches for patterns and then correlates them to the correct English vernacular. Neat trick, I think. In Jungian psychology there is a belief in a part of the unconscious mind that is common to a group, a society, or all of humanity, which is the product of all the ancestral experiences of a people and shared by all termed the Collective Unconscious. Based on this model, if, as many cultures believe, we are all related, and taking into account the scientific theory that we revert to pure energy after the death of the physical body, then it stands to reason that as we pass from the material world into the realm of pure energy we have access to all of the knowledge of our fellow man. Therefore, if one was Russian in physical life, then such a being would have knowledge of the English language after death and thus would be able to communicate freely and fluently with an English-speaking researcher conducting an EVP session.
All this history and scientific theory is informative, but the true fun and exploration comes when you can put that knowledge into practice. Below are some common techniques and some tips and tricks of the trade that I’ve picked up over the years while conducting my own EVP sessions.
In addition to deceased spirits, various paranormal investigators say that EVP could be due to psychic echoes from the past and psychokinesis unconsciously produced by living people. In this respect I would suggest that you go into an EVP session with plenty of rest, a clear and positive frame of mind, and an objective viewpoint. Some people like to ‘provoke’ or antagonize the spirits into manifesting or communicating. First of all this is dangerous and should only be done with careful and proper training. This is such a hot-button issue that I will talk about this at a later date in a discussion of its own.
According to parapsychologist Konstantin Raudive, who popularized the idea, EVP are typically brief, usually the length of a word or short phrase. Don’t expect complete conversations or lengthy narratives.
Conventional audio cassette or digital voice recorders are used in experiments with EVP. The claim is that ghosts can talk perfectly well but can only be heard on an electronic recording. This means that recording gear has the ability to convert inaudible frequencies into audible ones, which may seem contradictory since they were created specifically for the capture of audible signals!
Recorders are also useful in recording notes, member movements, report anomalies or mention things for the analyzing team to pay close attention to when reviewing data. The type of tape that is most often recommended is high bias tapes or metal tapes.
You have to use an external microphone when recording. The internal microphone will also be recording the internal gears and motors and this will make your tape worthless. Any sound you hear on the tape could not be used as evidence because of this. Digital recorders may not have any moving parts but still require the use of an external microphone. It is highly recommended to use an omni-directional microphone (pictured right) that can be purchased at most electronics stores. These provide full-area 360° coverage. Also, remember that the older tape recorders need the addition of white-noise devices; digital recorders create their own white noise.
When recording investigators names it would be wise to have each individual present state their own names, which will make it easier for distinction amongst voices heard on the tape during review.
Skeptics of the paranormal attribute the voice-like aspect of the sounds to the aforementioned apophenia, auditory pareidolia, artifacts due to low-quality equipment, and simple hoaxes. Likewise some reported EVP can be attributed to radio interference or other well-documented phenomena. This viewpoint is similar to the matrixing effect in still photography, which coincidentally I’ll be covering next month.
Portable digital voice recorders are currently the technology of choice for EVP investigators. Since these devices are very susceptible to Radio Frequency contamination, EVP enthusiasts sometimes try to record EVP in RF- and sound-screened rooms. Nevertheless, in order to record EVP there has to be noise in the audio circuits of the device used to produce the EVP. For this reason, those who attempt to record EVP often use two recorders that have differing audio circuitry quality and rely on noise heard from the poorer quality instrument to generate EVP.
Each individual will have their own style of gathering evidence. Some groups walk around repeating the same questions monotonously- “Is anyone here?” “What’s your name?” and so forth over and over again… *snore… Personally I like to start with these but then turn to a more conversational style like you would when chatting with a friend or small talk amongst strangers. Start with simple, broad questions, and then push for more personal information especially if you know who the spirit may be or if you have some knowledge as to the history of the location. It is also important to never whisper. Always keep your voice in a quiet but constant conversational tone and volume. This will help differentiate your voice or those of your fellow investigators from any anomalous source.
When asking questions or when making requests always pause for at least 3 to 5 seconds between statements in order to give an entity time to respond. An EVP is much more discernible when it’s not under the rushed sound of your own voice. Have you ever tried to converse with someone who’s speaking a mile a minute or not allowing you a chance to respond? You wouldn’t like it if it were done to you, so just imagine how frustrating it must be for someone who can’t as easily make their discomfort known.
When conducting EVP sessions make note of environmental and astronomical factors. Many of the best EVP recordings and other strong evidence for hauntings occur near streams or in close proximity to groundwater. Early studies suggest that running water may generate a frequency that renders some people more sensitive to psychic phenomena. There is also room for speculation about lunar cycles and increased paranormal activity, or perhaps more awareness of it. With any activity that involves environmental, psychological, or spiritual factors please keep in mind that you do so of your own free will and risk.
As with any research, a lot of it is trial and error. Mix and match, see what works best for you and fits into your comfort level. Also keep in mind that just because a technique has worked well for you, don’t immediately discount someone else’s technique or be afraid to try something new. Not everyone likes to be talked to in the same way. I like to treat any possible entity as an intelligent and mature adult and speak to them accordingly, but if it is a child or otherwise, I will try to speak to them on their level. This may provide far better results.
Various examples of EVP can be found online that you can download and listen to. Most reputable ghost hunting groups post their finding on their websites and you are invited to listen and make your own judgment. For some examples that I have caught personally while investigating sites you can go to http://prism.deepforestproductions.com/library.htm.
Happy hunting and until next time keep your minds sharp, your spirits high, and always looking with an open mind toward the great unknown.