By Shannon Baker | E-Mail
Voices from the Grave?
Do spirits speak all around us, unheard by the living? Many believers in EVP think so. EVP is short for Electronic Voice Phenomenon: unidentified voices that appear in electronic media recordings. The phenomena was recently popularized by the 2005 Michael Keaton movie White Noise, in which he plays a grieving husband trying to contact his dead wife. Some EVP recordings are accidental but many are results of experiments attempting to prove the existence of life after death. Believers hold the opinion that EVP is a very real phenomenon while skeptics argue that it is, at worst, hoax and, at best misinterpreted, static on low-quality recordings.
While certain groups, such as the American Association of Electronic Voice Phenomena (AA-EVP), are true believers in EVP there are plenty of skeptics. The AA-EVP mission states that it is “a nonprofit educational association that is dedicated to the support of people who are interested in or who are studying Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) and Instrumental TransCommunication (ITC).” (http://aaevp.com/). The group’s founder claims to have recorded the voices of deceased loved ones, strangers and also those of extraterrestrials. Skeptics regard such claims as impossible, stating that the voices heard are misinterpretations of static and background noise in the physical world or potentially fraudulent productions intended to mislead the listener. EVP believers argue that the voices are physically imprinted on tape during recording sessions by those who no longer physically exist or by those who exist in other dimensions.
The field of EVP research began in 1959 when Friedrich Jurgenson, a Swedish documentary producer, was out in the country recording bird songs. When he played back his tape he heard the voice of a Norwegian discussing bird songs although there were no people in the area at the time of the recording. After checking local broadcasts and ruling out radio interference, he decided that this was a mystery worth investigating. He made more recordings, successfully collecting hundreds of phantom voices, some which he claimed he could identify and who he said called him by name. By 1965, psychologist Konstantin Raudive began working with Jurgenson and the pair taped hundreds more samples of EVP. Raudive published their findings in 1971 in a book called Breakthrough and released actual EVP recordings for the public to hear. He wanted to “familiarize listeners with the bizarre rhythms of EVP’s” (Konstantinos, 1995). Teaching people how to listen to the rhythms of EVP is said to be necessary because EVP voices frequently do not sound like distinct human language when first heard, a fact which goes a long way in convincing skeptics that the entire field is fraudulent and inaccurate.
The playback of EVP clips is usually static-ridden, overwhelmingly brief (only a couple of seconds) and monotone in sound. This makes it difficult to discern language, leading some to believe that EVP is more interesting to study in relation to the psychology of the living rather than as messages from the dead. Joe Banks argues in his 2001 article that EVP is more like a Rorschach test for the ears, leaving interpretation up to the individual listener. When an EVP clip is presented, it is often introduced and listeners are told what they will hear. These introductions can be misleading because, if left to their own devices, multiple listeners might hear multiple phrases or perhaps nothing at all. There are plenty of sound clips of reported EVP available online that illustrate this concept. Most clips are labeled or have an introduction that states what the phantom voice is saying and often the provenance of the recording (i.e. “this was recorded at midnight in the cemetery on the grave of a known suicide victim”). Listening to an EVP clip is often similar to listening to a record backwards and making what you can out of the sounds; only occasionally are words clear and easily identified.
The majority of EVP recordings are created by what Tom Butler (2002) refers to as experimenters (amateurs) and researches (people who apply the scientific method to their studies) (p. 216). These two groups purposely hunt down phantom voices on tape by going out in the field, be it a laboratory setting or a graveyard, and take recordings using various methods (the standard method is recording using an analog tape recorder with a microphone, however other techniques are also used).
Butler (2002) theorizes that EVP is a form of mediumship and that spirits are all around us, seeking communication with the living. He divides the communicating entities into four categories (p. 219):
-The disincarnate (i.e. the dead)
-The incarnate (i.e. the living. For example, a sleeping individual at a different location from the experimenters who is called upon to answer questions)
-Those who have not previously had any incarnation, or, those who have not yet lived.
He states that because EVP are frequently in the native tongue of the experimenter/researcher and that the voices are often identifiable (i.e. relatives/friends/acquaintances) it is proof of continuity in EVP (p. 216). These same observations are also cited by skeptics in attempts to disprove the theory of EVP, proving how subjective individual interpretations can be.
Experimenters/researchers who ask questions during their recording sessions tend to receive answers, which to believers stands as proof but is also used against them by skeptics. It is a stalemate situation where believers can say, “The voices are here and they answer me” and the skeptics may respond, “That shows how subjective the research is. The questioner had preconceived notions of what answer the voices should give.” This is the biggest problem facing EVP research—even though people attempt to approach it scientifically there is often a lack of scientific objectivity, particularly if the researcher or experimenter believes that he is talking to loved ones or other people that they have known.
The above examples refer to purposely recorded samples created during experiments. Accidental recordings do occur, like Jurgenson’s taping of the Norwegian bird expert. Another interesting example of this type of recording appeared to tape long lost sounds from a dead world. Taped in the 1970s on the squash courts of Bircham Newton, a former Royal Air force base in Norfolk , England , this recording provided apparent audio evidence of leftover energy on the air force base.
After hearing rumors of ghostly activity, two men attempted to spend the night on the base’s squash courts, located in a former aircraft hangar. They fled in the middle of the night after hearing footsteps, leaving behind their running tape recorder. When the tape was played the next day it revealed the sounds of an active aircraft hangar during wartime. When subsequent recordings were made in the area similar results were noted. Other reports of hauntings on the base have been reported. One ghost is alleged to be a young pilot who shot himself in the Officers’ Mess at the beginning of WWII. Soldiers bunking in the Officers’ Mess later in the war reported feelings of being smothered in their sleep and in the 1970s a player reported seeing an RAF pilot’s ghost on the gallery above the squash courts (Marsden, p. 91).
So in this case it is understood that there have been reported hauntings on this base and one can assume that the men spending the night there did not necessarily expect to find any identifiable phantom noises on their tape. The experiment was replicated by other people at the same site. Does any of this prove or disprove the existence of EVP? Are accidental EVP recordings more legitimate than results gained through experiments? For the moment it looks as if the debate is stalemated, possibly until sometime in the future when more sophisticated technology becomes available for analyzing EVP samples. Until then the mystery remains and both the skeptics and the believers will continue their arguments.
If you are interested in learning more about EVP see Konstantin Raudive’s Breakthrough (1971). There is also a list of related websites below. Some of these websites contain examples of EVP recordings so you can listen and judge for yourself. To learn about recording your own EVP samples see Konstantinos’s article “Ghost voices: Exploring the mysteries of electronic voice phenomena” from the October 1995 issue of Popular Electronics and also the Techniques page located on the AA-EVP website (http://www.aaevp.com/techniques.htm).
Breakthrough by Konstantine Raudive. New York : Taplinger, 1971
E.V.P. [samples]. Ghost Investigators’ Society: http://www.ghostpix.com/gis/E.V.P.html
Electronic voice phenomenon [samples]. Utah Ghost Hunters Society:http://www.ghostwave.com/Ughs2.html
Techniques. American Association of Electronic Voice Phenomena (AA-EVP):http://www.aaevp.com/techniques.htm
2004 Report on Bircham Newton. Harlow Paranormal Researchers:http://www.hprs.org/bnoct2004.pdf
About the American Association of Electronic Voice Phenomena (2005). Retrieved January 18, 2006 from American Association of Voice Phenomena on the World Wide Web: http://aaevp.com/
Banks, J. (2001). Rorshach audio: Ghost voices and perceptual creativity. Leonardo Music Journal, 11, 77-83.
Butler , T. (2002). Electronic voice phenomena: A tool for validating personal Survival.The Journal of Religion and Psychical Research, 25(4), 215-226.
Electronic Voice Phenomenon (2005). Retrieved January 16, 2006 from Utah Ghost Hunters Society on the World Wide Web: http://www.ghostwave.com/Ughs2.html
E.V.P. (1999). Retrieved January 16, 2006 from Ghost Investigators’ Society on the World Wide Web: http://www.ghostpix.com/gis/E.V.P.html
Kostantinos (1995). Ghost voices: Exploring the mysteries of electronic voice phenomena. Popular Electronics, 12, 37-41.
Marsden, S. (2005). The airmen of Bircham Newton. This spectred isle: A journey through haunted England . (p. 91) London : English Heritage.