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Electronic Voice Phenomenon

Electronic voice phenomena (EVP) are sections of static noise on the radio or electronic recording that some listeners believe sound like voices speaking words; paranormal investigators sometimes interpret these noises as the voices of ghosts or spirits.[1] Recording EVP has become a technique of those who attempt to contact the souls of dead loved ones or during ghost hunting activities. According to parapsychologist Konstantin Raudive, who popularized the idea,[2] EVP are typically brief, usually the length of a word or short phrase.[3]

Skeptics of the paranormal attribute the voice-like aspect of the sounds to apophenia (finding of significance or connections between insignificant or unrelated phenomena), auditory pareidolia (interpreting random sounds into voices in their own language which might otherwise sound like random noise to a foreign speaker), artifacts due to low-quality equipment, and simple hoaxes. Likewise some reported EVP can be attributed to radio interference or other well-documented phenomena.

References to EVP have appeared in the reality television shows Paranormal State, Most Haunted, Celebrity Paranormal Project, and Ghost Hunters, the fictional television series Supernatural, Medium and Ghost Whisperer and Hollywood films such as White Noise and The Sixth Sense.


History

As the Spiritualism religious movement became prominent in the 1840s–1920s with a distinguishing belief that the spirits of the dead can be contacted by mediums, new technologies of the era including photography were employed by spiritualists in an effort to demonstrate contact with a 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.[4] As sound recording became widespread, mediums explored using this technology to demonstrate communication with the dead as well. Spiritualism declined in the latter part of the 20th century, but attempts to use portable recording devices and modern digital technologies to communicate with spirits continued.[5]


Early Interest

American photographer and medium Attila von Szalay was among the first to try recording what he believed to be voices of the dead as a way to augment his investigations in photographing ghosts. He began his attempts in 1941 using a 78 rpm record, but it wasn’t until 1956, after switching to a reel-to-reel tape recorder, that he believed he was successful.[6] Working with Raymond Bayless, von Szalay conducted a number of recording sessions with a custom-made apparatus, consisting of a microphone in an insulated cabinet connected to an external recording device and speaker. Szalay reported finding many sounds on the tape that could not be heard on the speaker at the time of recording, some of which were recorded when there was no one in the cabinet. He believed these sounds to be the voices of discarnate spirits. Among the first recordings believed to be spirit voices were such messages as “This is G!”, “Hot dog, Art!”, and “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all”.[6] Von Szalay and Bayless’ work was published by the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research in 1959.[7] Bayless later went on to co-author the 1979 book, Phone Calls From the Dead.

In 1959, Swedish painter and film producer Friedrich Jürgenson was recording bird songs. Upon playing the tape later, he heard what he interpreted to be his dead father’s voice and then the spirit of his deceased wife calling his name.[6] He went on to make several more recordings, including one that he said contained a message from his late mother.[8]


Raudive Voices

Konstantin Raudive, a Latvian psychologist who had taught at the University of Uppsala, Sweden and who had worked in conjunction with Jürgenson, made over 100,000 recordings which he described as being communications with discarnate people. Some of these recordings were conducted in an RF-screened laboratory and contained words Raudive said were identifiable.[5][3] In an attempt to confirm the content of his collection of recordings, Raudive invited listeners to hear and interpret them.[5][9][10][11][12] He believed that the clarity of the voices heard in his recordings implied that they could not be readily explained by normal means.[5] Raudive published his first book, Breakthrough – An Amazing Experiment in Electronic Communication with the Dead in 1968 and it was translated into English in 1971.[13]


Spiricom

In 1980, William O’Neil constructed an electronic audio device called “The Spiricom”. O’Neil claimed the device was built to specifications which he received psychically from George Mueller, a scientist who had died six years previously.[14][5] At a Washington, DC, press conference on April 6, 1982, O’Neil stated that he was able to hold two-way conversations with spirits through the Spiricom device, and provided the design specifications to researchers for free. However, nobody is known to have replicated O’Neil’s results using their own Spiricom devices.[15][16] O’Neil’s partner, retired industrialist George Meek, attributed O’Neil’s success, and the inability of others to replicate it, to O’Neil’s mediumistic abilities forming part of the loop that made the system work.[14][17]


Modern Era (1980s-Present)

In 1982, Sarah Estep founded the American Association of Electronic Voice Phenomena (AA-EVP) in Severna Park, Maryland, a nonprofit organization with the purpose of increasing awareness of EVP, and of teaching standardized methods for capturing it. Estep began her exploration of EVP in 1976, and says she has made hundreds of recordings of messages from deceased friends, relatives, and other individuals, including Konstantin Raudive, Beethoven, a lamplighter from 18th century Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and extraterrestrials whom she speculated originated from other planets or dimensions.

A few German enthusiasts coined the term Instrumental TransCommunication (ITC) to refer more generally to communication through any sort of electronic device such as tape recorders, fax machines, television sets or computers between spirits or other discarnate entities and the living.[14] [18] One particularly famous claimed incidence of ITC occurred when the image of EVP enthusiast Friedrich Jürgenson (whose funeral was held that day) was said to have appeared on a television in the home of a colleague, which had been purposefully tuned to a vacant channel.[14] ITC enthusiastists also look at TV and video camera feedback loop of the Droste effect.[19][20]

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, and the work of “instrumental transcommunication researcher” Mark Macy, as a guide. A radio was tuned to an empty frequency, and over 81 sessions a total of 60 hours and 11 minutes of recordings were collected. During recordings, a person either sat in silence or attempted to make verbal contact with potential sources of EVP.[14] 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.[14]

In 2005 the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research published a report by paranormal investigator Alexander MacRae. MacRae conducted recording sessions using a device of his own design that generated EVP.[21] 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.[22][9][23]

Portable digital voice recorders are currently the technology of choice for EVP investigators. Since these devices are very susceptible to Radio Frequency (RF) contamination, EVP enthusiasts sometimes try to record EVP in RF- and sound-screened rooms.[24][25] Nevertheless, in order to record EVP there has to be noise in the audio circuits of the device used to produce the EVP.[26] For this reason, those who attempt to record EVP often use two recorders that have differing quality audio circuitry and rely on noise heard from the poorer quality instrument to generate EVP.[27]

Some EVP enthusiasts describe hearing the words in EVP as an ability, much like learning a new language.[28] Skeptics say that the claimed instances are all either hoaxes or misinterpretations of natural phenomena. EVP and ITC are seldom researched within the scientific community and, as ideas, are generally derided by scientists when asked.[14]


Explanations and Origins

Those who think that EVP are paranormal manifestations have a number of speculations as to what EVP may possibly be.[29][22] Common explanations include living humans imprinting thoughts directly on an electronic medium through psychokinesis[30] and communication by discarnate entities such as spirits,[31][32] nature energies, beings from other dimensions, or extraterrestrials.[33]

Since EVP has been ignored and derided as fiction by the scientific community[citation needed] and is not generally studied by academic researchers, there is no singular consensus on what all EVP are. However, there are a number of straightforward scientific explanations that can account for why some listeners to the static on audio devices may believe they hear voices, including radio interference and the tendency of the human brain to recognize patterns in random stimuli.[34] A percentage of recordings may be hoaxes created by frauds or pranksters.[34]

The very first EVP recordings may have originated from the use of tape recording equipment with poorly aligned erasure and recording heads, resulting in previous audio recordings not being completely erased. This could allow a small percentage of previous content to be superimposed or mixed into a new ‘silent’ recording.[35][citation needed]


Explanations Based on Psychology and Perception

Auditory pareidolia is a situation created when the brain incorrectly interprets random patterns as being familiar patterns.[36] 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.[34][37] 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,[34] 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.[38] [39] [40] [41]

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 which 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.[4] 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.[42][43] Expectation also plays an important part in making people believe they are hearing voices in random noise.[44]

Apophenia is related to, but distinct from pareidolia.[45] 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.[46]


Physical Explanations

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.[47] Interference from CB Radio transmissions and wireless baby monitors, or anomalies generated though cross modulation from other electronic devices, are all documented phenomena.[34] It is even possible for circuits to resonate without any internal power source by means of radio reception.[47]

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.[34][48]

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.[49][34]


Organizations

There are a number of organizations dedicated to studying EVP and instrumental transcommunication. Individuals within these organizations may participate in investigations, author books or journal articles, deliver presentations, and hold conferences where they share experiences.[50] In addition organizations exist which dispute the validity of the phenomena on scientific grounds.

The American Association of Electronic Voice Phenomena (AA-EVP)[51] averages around 500 members in 47 USA states and 22 countries including the USA (current: 2007).”[52] and the International Ghost Hunters Society, conduct ongoing investigations of EVP and ITC including collecting examples of purported EVP available over the internet.[53]. The Rorschach Audio Project, initiated by sound artist Joe Banks, [38][39][54][55] which presents EVP as a product of radio interference combined with auditory pareidolia and the Interdisciplinary Laboratory for Biopsychocybernetics Research, a non-profit organization dedicated studying anomalous psi phenomena related to neurophysiological conditions.[56] According to the AA-EVP, it is “the only organized group of researchers we know of specializing in the study of ITC.”[57].

Spiritualists, as well as others who believe in Survivalism, have an ongoing interest in EVP.[58] 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 provide evidence of the continuation of life.[59] According to the National Spiritualist Association of Churches, “An important modern day development in mediumship is spirit communications via an electronic device. This is most commonly known as Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP)”.[60] An informal survey by the organization’s Department Of Phenomenal Evidence cites that 1/3 of churches conduct sessions in which participants seek to communicate with spirit entities using EVP.[61]

The James Randi Educational Foundation offers a million dollars for proof that any phenomena, including EVP, are caused paranormally. The prize remains uncollected.


Cultural Impact

The concept of EVP has had an impact on popular culture. It is popular as an entertaining pursuit, as in ghost hunting, and as a means of dealing with grief. It has influenced literature, radio, film and television.


Paranormal Groups and Ghost Hunting

Investigation of EVP is the subject of hundreds of Internet message boards, regional, and national groups.[62][63] According to paranormal investigator John Zaffis, “There’s been a boom in ghost hunting ever since the Internet took off.” Investigators, equipped with electronic gear such as EMF meters, video cameras and audio recorders, scour reportedly haunted venues, trying to uncover visual and audio evidence of hauntings. Many use portable recording devices in an attempt to capture EVP.[62]


References

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