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Electronic voice phenomenon

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Electronic voice phenomena (EVP) are "spirit voices" that are said to manifest themselves on audio recordings. Though there are a number of EVP proponents who insist that the phenomenon is inexplicable by conventional science, skeptics argue there are prosaic explanations for the phenomenon that do not require communication from ghosts or from other paranormal sources.


Contents

Overview

The thought behind EVP can be traced back to the 1920s. In a Scientific American interview, Thomas Edison was quizzed on his views regarding contacting the dead. Edison said that it might be "possible to construct an apparatus which will be so delicate that if there are personalities in another existence or sphere who wish to get in touch with us in this existence or sphere, this apparatus will at least give them a better opportunity to express themselves than the tilting tables and raps and ouija boards and mediums and the other crude methods now purported to be the only means of communication." However, there is no indication that Edison designed or constructed such a device (though his speculations on the subject feature prominently in Tim Powers' novel Expiration Date). The basic idea is that spirits or other entities might have an easier time manipulating white, chaotic noise to some order than they would have moving, for example, an upside-down glass around. The same logic can be applied with other electronic gear not necessarily resulting in voices (see below). All this, of course, assumes that such entities exist and can exert force in our world at all.

History

Perhaps the first time anyone reported hearing anomalous voices in an electronic recording was in June 1959. Friedrich Jurgenson (19031987), after playing back a recording of birdsong in the Swedish countryside, is said to have noticed the presence of a faint Norwegian voice talking about "birds at night". Jurgenson assumed this must have been a stray radio broadcast, although there was no radio receiver at the remote location where the recording had been made. Whatever the cause, it prompted Jurgenson to make further recordings in his home.

According to Jurgenson, voices that were not present during the recording continued to be heard on playback. They were said to refer to him (and his dog) by their names and nicknames, predict an incoming telephone call (and name the caller, Jurgenson's wife), and respond to questions and comment on the people and conversation physically present and accountable for in the room.

Since Jurgenson's report, thousands of people all over the world have attempted to replicate the spirit voices phenomenon, claiming success in many cases. They use no special equipment to capture voices such as these, only a microphone and a means of recording, such as a tape/minidisc/CD recorder or a computer, and patience. It is said it can take months of diligent recording before voices appear. Proponents recommend the use of headphones, because the voices are often faint, and a computer for processing the recordings is very helpful.

Instrumental transcommunication

EVP is a subcategory of Instrumental transcommunication (ITC), a broader term for certain controversial means of communication with the afterlife; investigating communication through ordinary electronic devices such as telephones, television sets, radios, and computers. In the case of telephones; many people report to have received strange phone calls by someone claiming to be a relative or a colleague that has died. The voices can also manifest over the white noise between untuned stations on a radio.

Some of the most remarkable are cases involving television and computers; a ghostly image of a distorted face will sometimes appear on the screen during the conversation. Some of the images even appear as a clear "full body" snapshot of the deceased individual, often standing in the foreground of a beautiful and peaceful looking backdrop. In some of these cases, the spirit will say the ethereal scene behind them is an actual view of the "astral world" and is used to reassure their loved ones who are still living, that they are in a safe and "wonderful place".

Proponents

Proponents theory

Spiritualists and those EVP organizations whose directors are members of the Spiritualist church e.g AA-EVP believe that they are in contact with human spirits who are said to have survived the deaths of their physical bodies, but are still able to communicate with the living. Most long-time researchers in this field will also agree that they have been in contact, at one time or another, with various astral entities who claim to have never incarnated as humans on the earthly plane. There are also those who claim to have been in contact with entities who have identified themselves as nature energies or as beings from "other worlds" (extraterrestrials), while some suggest that the sounds and images seen and heard on electronic equipment might be placed there by living human beings via a kind of psychokinesis. Template:Fact These "other types" of entities are often times described as being either benevolent or trickster-type beings. Many reseachers have found that those trickster-type entities often times seem to "evolve" into more benevolent-like personalities as time goes by. Nevertheless, proponents contend that EVP experimenters must develop a degree of discernment regarding all information recovered via EVP. Fortunately, proponents insist, the longer one engages in such experimentation, the better they are at discerning whom and where their information is coming from; and this is usually based on the actual "content" of the information communicated to them. Proponents claim that EVP is the occurrence of sounds or voices on an audio recording which were not produced by known means. Template:Fact Often times these sounds or voices were not heard by the unaided physical ear of the recorder during their EVP recording session. To some, this suggests the possibility that the voices or sounds were produced directly on the recording device via psychokinesis, or were audible outside the range of human hearing, possibly produced by psychokinetic manipulation of sound waves. [1]

Recording EVP

The quality, volume and durations of recordings are said to be increased by using a sound source placed within audible distance of the microphone during recording. Typically this would be a radio tuned to between stations so only white noise is audible; the theory being that this provides an acoustic basis for the voices to be constructed from, similar to vocoder technology. This need for background noise fits the alternative explanation that the white noise provides random sounds that may be interpreted as voices by people who expect or want to hear voices. This explanation is consistent with the theory that the entire "phenomenon" is an example of pareidolia, in which a vague or random stimulus is mistakenly perceived as recognizable (see the skeptic section). Voices are said to be known for being rapid, faint, and often spoken in grammatically unusual and simplified language—or even multiple languages during the same sentence. The interpretation of such recordings is often highly subjective and may differ from listener to listener; some listeners may hear nothing at all, while others report hearing specific phrases or sentences.

Skeptics

Those who are skeptical of paranormal phenomena insist that there are more plausible explanations for EVP. The Skeptic's Dictionary summarises a number of common observations on the subject: "While it is impossible to prove that all EVPs are due to natural phenomena, skeptics maintain that they are probably due to such things as interference from a nearby CB operator or cross modulation. Some of the 'voices' are most likely people creating meaning out of random noise, a kind of auditory pareidolia or apophenia. And now that the phenomenon has a number of devoted followers [...] some hoaxers have probably entered the fray." Another possible explanation is that people may have used old tapes for EVP sessions, and that the voices they hear come from a previous recording "bleeding through". There are several cases of people being spooked by what turned out to be voices from a radio program or a nearby baby alarm, suggesting that many unexplained voice phenomenon could have equally mundane origins.

Some EVP recording practitioners use digital equipment, only new tapes and/or have created their own source of white noise and shielded it from outside interference, which leaves auditory pareidolia as a primary explanation. When using language, humans are constantly sorting out noise, recognizing speech patterns and so on, all unconsciously. This highly specialized training can also make us pick up words that are not even there, just as it can make people hear something other than what was said. Digital audio recording devices may also be chosen on the basis of a poor Signal-to-noise ratio, believing that they are more "sensitive" to "life energies". Poor quality A/D and DACs on cheaper digital recorders create artifacts not present from the ambience being recorded. For digital voice recorders, the audio compression is also tuned to record only to the frequency bands optimal for properly recognizing the human voice, all other bands are discarded. Any static will therefore not be broad-spectrum and may be confused with garbled speech.

Skeptics claim that these the more plausible explanation, and that as long as it remains a possibility, we have no need to turn to speculation such as spirits, astral beings or psychokinesis. Many of the characteristics noted by EVP proponents themselves (such as Raudive, see below) fit the pareidolia hypothesis, namely that the voices speak fast, in a mixture of languages, with non-standard grammar, telegram-style sentences and are often inventing new words. This suggests that the words picked up by attentive listeners are in fact random and whatever meaning and order they seem to have is constructed by them (such as judging something to be meaningful neologism rather than nonsense). Another argument is that if other entities could change and properly arrange small magnetic charges in our computers and tapes, they would have no problem entering our chat rooms or sending us email. Such alterations would presumably be easier and the absence of such messages count against the premise behind EVP, that supernatural entities exist which affect our world through electromagnetism.

Studies

Raudive voices

Taking their inspiration from Jürgenson's work, EVP phenomena were investigated by the German parapsychologist Hans Bender and by the Latvian psychologist Konstantin Raudive. Following the publication of Raudive's book on his research (Breakthrough, 1971) these phenomena are now often referred to as "Raudive Voices".

Dr Konstantin Raudive (1906-1974), a student of Carl Jung, was a psychologist who taught at the University of Uppsala in Sweden. He was preoccupied with parapsychological interests all his life (especially with the possibility of life after death), and he kept in close contact with leading British psychical researchers.

In 1964, Raudive read Jürgenson’s book, Voices from Space, and was so impressed by it that he arranged to meet Jürgenson in 1965. He then worked with Jürgenson to make some EVP recordings, but their first efforts bore little fruit, although they believed that they could hear very weak, muddled voices. However, one night, as he listened to one recording, he clearly heard a number of voices. When he played the tape over and over, he came to understand all of them, some of which were in German, some in Latvian, some in French. The last voice on the tape, a woman’s voice, said "Va dormir, Margarete" ("Go to sleep, Margaret").

Raudive later wrote (in his book Breakthrough): "These words made a deep impression on me, as Margarete Petrautzki had died recently, and her illness and death had greatly affected me." Amazed by this, he started researching such voices on his own and spent much of the last ten years of his life exploring electronic voice phenomena. With the help of various electronics experts he recorded over 100,000 audiotapes, most of which were made under what he described as "strict laboratory conditions." He collaborated at times with Bender. Over 400 people were involved in his research, and all apparently heard the voices. This culminated in the 1971 publication of his book Breakthrough, mentioned above.

Raudive developed several different approaches to recording EVP, and he referred to:

  • Microphone voices: one simply leaves the tape recorder running, with no one talking; he indicated that one can even disconnect the microphone.
  • Radio voices: one records the white noise from a radio that is not tuned to any station.
  • Diode voices: one records from what is essentially a crystal set not tuned to a station.

Raudive delineated a number of characteristics of the voices, (as laid out in Breakthrough):

  1. "The voice entities speak very rapidly, in a mixture of languages, sometimes as many as five or six in one sentence."
  2. "They speak in a definite rhythm, which seems forced on them."
  3. "The rhythmic mode imposes a shortened, telegram-style phrase or sentence."
  4. Probably because of this, "… grammatical rules are frequently abandoned and neologisms abound."

Spiricom

From the mid-1960s to the early-1980s, research was conducted by the "Metascience Foundation", formerly based in Franklin, North Carolina, on the development of a system of communication with the dead. Two inventors, George W. Meek and William J. O'Neil, supposedly developed a machine containing sophisticated audio electronics that allowed actual two-way conversation with the afterlife. They called it Spiricom. Unlike EVP, where an investigator has to wait and playback a recording to hear disembodied voices, the Spiricom device allowed real-time two-way communication (or "Direct Voice") from beyond the grave. The project was officially defined as "An electromagnetic-etheric systems approach to communications with other levels of human consciousness".

At least five Spiricom machines were said to have been constructed, (named the Mark I through Mark V respectively), each a major improvement over the other previous design. The first systems worked by using a high-frequency white noise generator that would provide a "carrier" wave for a ghost's actual voice. The theory was, if a ghost could record itself to magnetic media such as video cassette or audio tape via manipulating electromagnetic frequencies, the entity could manipulate the electromagnetic fields produced by the Spiricom machine and create a synthetic voice over a speaker through the oscillator of the noise generator.

Experiments began in Philadelphia sometime in 1972. Experimenters claimed that a psychic medium contacted a spirit and "guided" it to the test device. Initially, the Mark I did not produce communication and simply made unexplained buzzing and popping noises, however Meek believed this was an entity trying to communicate. The researchers claimed to take into account possible interference from a nearby airport control tower and devised better shielding for the device.

In 1974, the Mark II was made and was allegedly much more successful. The first somewhat coherent voices were heard although they were very difficult to understand. From the parts of the audio that were comprehensible, the entity claimed the machine was difficult to use.

It wasn't until 1977 when the Spiricom Mark III and Mark IV had been built and produced a more stable sound output with microwave emitters and better shielding that more meaningful communication was perceived.

Though various question and answer sessions with at least three separate entities, (one of which claimed to have died in 1830), the alleged beings supposedly described the events of their death and what it was like on the "other side", saying it was just another level of human consciousness. They supposedly mentioned there are several levels in fact and they supposedly exist among them as mental energy without a physical body. They claim to "see" psychics and the Spiricom device itself as pathways of "light" that they can channel through to the material world and make communication.

Proponents insist that the best reported contact was on April 16, 1980. Meeks and O'Neil claimed they were able to talk to a very clear voice of a deceased physicist, Dr. George Jeffries Mueller, who died on May 31, 1967 from a heart condition. Mueller claimed he was once an associate professor of engineering and mathematics at Orange Coast College, in Costa Mesa, California, and had also worked for at time with NASA. Mueller's voice sounded like a robot, buzzing through hissing background noise.

Meeks and O'Neil claim to have spent months recording many hours of audio with Mueller's spirit, who even helped them "tune him in" better and advised them of how to improve the Spricom device. Supposedly, other entities also tried to talk through the machine, however these communications did not last as long as Mueller's or were very incomprehensible. Some, according to Mueller, were unable to use the device at all. After some time, communication with Mueller was said to become less frequent. Sometimes the spirit would not speak for weeks, and eventually, communication with him ended completely. Spiricom research ended in early 1982.

Spiricom was hardly publicized, if at all, and most reports on the subject have fallen into pseudoscience and obscurity. Many skeptics believe the Spricom experiment is a complete fraud. A few amateur audio enthusiasts have tried to recreate the experiments and claim various degrees of success.

The Spiricom audio tapes of Dr. Mueller have been played on Art Bell's "Coast to Coast AM" radio program. Some of these audio clips can be downloaded from this website: Spiricom MP3's. The Spiricom reports are available for free download from this website: Spiricom Device, including the plans and research papers with technical instructions and diagrams on how to build your own Spiricom device. Meeks and O'Neil patented the device, but they allow anyone to make their own, "royalty free", and conduct further research and development, so long as that person agrees never to sell the research for profit.

EVP/ITC in fiction

  • Pattern Recognition by William Gibson. The main character's mother tries to convince her that the father is communicating with her from recordings after his death/disappearance in the September 11, 2001 attacks.
  • Ubik by Philip K. Dick. The character Glenn Runciter communicates after his apparent death via videophone.
  • Do Det Ike by Gerry Connelly. A science fiction story published in Dream magazine in 1989 has the electronic voice phenomenon used as a means of interstellar communication.
  • Ghost in the Machine. A movie starring Karen Allen about a serial killer who transfers his soul into the power grid and continues to murder victims through strange household appliance accidents. The killer also taunted victims through audio and video equipment.
  • Johnny Mnemonic. A movie starring Keanu Reeves as Johnny who is contacted by the spirit of a woman who has been transferred into a computer system and helps him bring down a corrupt medical company that is withholding lifesaving information.
  • Freejack. A science-fiction film starring Emilio Estevez, Mick Jagger, and Anthony Hopkins, about an ecentric corporate billionare (Hopkins) who stores his soul in a supercomputer called the "Spiritual Switchboard" after death, in hopes of transferring it to a new body (Estevez). The man is able to communicate and interact from the switchboard through video terminals and a holographic devices.
  • Pulse. A 1988 movie about a murderous entity that kills victims through a series of electrical accidents. The entity created bizarre patterns and made voices with the family television set.
  • Ghost Whisperer. In episode 9 of this TV series' first season, a dead woman is trying to reach her son. EVP is the theme of the episode.
  • White Noise. A 2005 movie starring Michael Keaton about a man who experiences the death of his wife and decides to try to contact her using uncontrolled EVP.

See also

External links

Template:WikiProject Supernatural

--MAD