Paranormal Community + Acronyms = True Love
The paranormal community loves acronyms. I've come to the conclusion that amateur ghost hunting groups are required, by law, to have a clever (well, not really) acronym of their group name. Is it the 'chicken or the egg' conundrum? What comes first, the acronym or the name? I can visualize the members sitting around a table with a semi-clever (well, not really) acronym, trying to make a name fit. That's my clever (well, not really) segway to yet another acronym: EVP, or Electronic Voice Phenomenon...
Electronic Voice Phenomenon is believed by some to be voices of the dead imprinted on a recording medium or device, i.e. magnetic tape, digital recording device, etc. How it gets there is anyone's guess, and usually the voices are not heard at the time of recording, only on playback. However, for others, it's nothing more than radio transmissions, static, background noise or digital artifacts (if using a digital device). Skeptics chalk it up to auditory pareidolia (interpreting random sounds as language) or apophenia (finding significance in the insignificant). You want my take? It's both.
EVP rarely consist of an entire sentence, more often only short phrases or single-word answers to questions asked by the paranormal investigator. The speech can sound normal, but frequently sounds a bit 'off ', with unusual inflection or intonation. If we are to believe that the sound is somehow being produced by a disembodied spirit, this does start to make sense. "Elvis has left the building" doesn't mean that he's only left Graceland (although some still insist that he hasn't) but that he's also, obviously, left his body. That means no larynx, tongue, mouth or any other organ or physical structure to produce sound and form human speech. Why then, would we expect his ethereal rendition of Hound Dog to sound anything like the broadcast from The Ed Sullivan Show? In other words, you may record an EVP of a word or phrase Grandpa often used, but it will almost never sound like Grandpa. Just remember that the sentiment is the same, even if he can no longer use his voice box to express it.
True to form, this area of the paranormal cannot be neatly packaged in black and white. Without a doubt, many have been fooled by very earthly, non-paranormal causes. I wish I had a nickel for every example touted as legitimate EVP that was not. However, even as we've become more sophisticated, aware and not so easily fooled, the 'voices' continue.
The Quality of the Digital Recorder Makes a Difference
Some stalwart EVP researchers continue to use old, bulky analog reel-to-reel stereo tape decks with outboard dynamic condenser microphones which, properly maintained, are excellent. Portable, however, they're not. The world jumped on the digital bandwagon years ago, and transferring analog sound to the digital format is somewhat cumbersome. Additionally, the tapes are becoming increasingly difficult to find, with fewer and fewer manufacturers as demand has faded. Still, if you tend to be "old school", some can be snagged for a decent price on eBay. Old Marantz decks were especially good, but others can certainly do the job.
Today, many investigators use cheap, low-quality digital recording devices with notoriously noisy circuitry. I use them as well, but not in an attempt to record EVP, only to take notes during an investigation. That noise, due to auditory pareidolia, often sounds like human speech, sometimes convincingly so. There is a long-discontinued model of recorder, the Panasonic RR DR60, that is going for astronomically high prices on eBay and is coveted by the ghost hunter crowd. Its ability to record what they believe to be EVP is the stuff of legend in that community. It also had some of the noisiest digital circuitry of any recorder of that time. Now, isn't that a coincidence! Like I said, some are still fooling themselves. I use very high-quality digital recorders, such as the DAS RT-EVP
and Samson Zoom H2
, among others. At their highest-quality settings, these can record at 2x the fidelity of a CD and have an extremely low noise floor, making it possible to catch even the slightest whisper.
One TV ghost hunting program, Ghost Adventures, uses relatively low-end digital recorders almost exclusively. They also get an unusually high percentage of what they say is EVP, although most are far from 'Class A', the highest quality, cleanest and clearest EVP. That is exactly what one would expect from cheap digital recorders with noisy circuitry. The viewer should ask, "With their budget, why do they continue to use those recorders?". The answer is obvious. I know I'm hard on paranormal TV but, much to the credit of the Ghost Hunters crew, they do use a Samson Zoom H4n, a very capable recorder. As a result, their EVP evidence is often quite good.
It's Time to Go 'Organic'!
Food isn't the only thing best left unprocessed; the best EVP evidence is also 100% natural. There are several sound editing/processing programs available but, by far, the program most overused and misused by the amateur ghost hunter crowd is Audacity. Like most tools used in paranormal investigation, it wasn't developed specifically for that purpose. Nonetheless, while a competent program, its main attraction is that it's available as a free download.
There is almost no reason to use software such as Audacity when attempting to discern whether you've captured a legitimate EVP. Why? Because the 'voices' are either there, or they're not. If you feel such a program is necessary, it's time to step up to a higher-quality digital recorder. Cheap, inexpensive recorders have cheap, inexpensive circuitry. The result is an entire feast of digital noise and artifacts, along with limited information recorded in a 'lossy', compressed format, recorded at a low sample rate. The problem is, with software such as Audacity, you really can make something out of nothing. And if you use a cheap recorder, nothing is basically what you have to work with; very limited digital information. Digital information is digital information, regardless of device or application. Think of it in terms of a digital camera: if you take a photo at a lower pixel resolution, you cannot enlarge that photo as much as one taken at a higher resolution without loosing clarity. The reason? There is less digital information in the lower resolution photo; fewer ones and zeros to begin with. The same holds true for digital audio. The end result? Twinkies. Yes, Twinkies. The ultimate in processed food, almost nothing in Twinkies is real, although they look real. They're artificial, man-made concoctions, originally developed in a food chemistry lab. Damn, but they certainly do look like something your grandmother lovingly baked in her oven, don't they? And that limited, processed tidbit of digital nothingness really does sound like a "Yes" or "No" response to your question, doesn't it? Yes, it may sound real. And yes, you may even be convinced that it is real. But what you end up with is not real. It's just processed and manufactured; nothing more than an audio version of Twinkies.
The solution to your unhealthy EVP lifestyle? Buy a good digital recorder. Like anything else, you can spend a fortune. And, like anything else, you don't have to. Many can be found in the $100-$300 price range; the main difference between the two extremes being features, not practical recording quality. The important specs? Look for one that can record audio as an uncompressed WAV file (avoid MP3 recording because of loss and compression inherent in the format), A 44 or 96 kbps (kilobit per second) sample rate, and 24-bit A/D (analog to digital) conversion. Always record at the highest audio quality setting that your recorder offers (which is usually 44 or 96 kbps/24-bit A/D conversion). Don't get too caught up in the name game; unless you have a brand preference, any recorder meeting these specs will be fine to record EVP. Your main consideration should be price and features, remembering that many advertised features will be little, if ever, used. Be certain the recorder can download files to your computer; nearly all but the least expensive now have that capability. One often-overlooked but extremely important consideration are the controls. Are the buttons too small? Too easy to press one button when you meant to push another? That's the unfortunate downside of downsizing. How easy is it to negotiate the menu? Check some online reviews, as that aspect will almost always be discussed. One recorder I often use, the DAS RT-EVP, makes awesome recordings, but is a real pain in the ass in that regard. The menu is unnecessarily cumbersome, which is especially irritating and problematic in the locations and conditions paranormal investigators often find themselves.
Okay, you're ready to take a shot at recording an EVP. What to do? If applicable with your recorder, set the the microphone sensitivity to "High". Forget what you've seen on TV and avoid hand-holding the recorder, as the internal microphones are usually so sensitive that even the slightest hand movement against the case will be audible. The best method is to attach the recorder to a tripod or, at the very least, positioning it on a steady surface. To avoid low frequency vibration if using a hard surface, I've found that placing a computer mouse pad under the recorder helps to isolate the unit. If recording outdoors, use a windscreen over the recorder's microphones to reduce wind noise. Ask everyone in the room to turn off their cell phones, as even the 'silent' vibration mode can often be picked up by the recorder's sensitive microphones. Once the recording has started, state your name, date and location, then ask everyone to state their name one after the other, in roll call fashion. The reason is to be better able to identify a voice of someone in the room if, by chance, you believe you may have captured an EVP. Do not attempt to rely on your memory of the recording session! Explain to any entity who may be present what you are trying to do in as basic terms as possible, remembering that the entity may have been alive well-before the advent of recording technology. Ask them to please answer your questions (remember your manners!) and that you will give them time (usually 15 seconds or so) to respond between questions. It is always best if only one person in the room is designated to ask the questions to avoid confusion. Ask simple questions, consisting of only a few words. When ending the session, thank the spirit for his/her cooperation. Try not to review the recording on location unless absolutely necessary, as quiet and perspective away from the session are important in evidence review. Always review the evidence with a good set of headphones or earphones, not the recorder's internal speaker.
As I stated in the beginning, the 'voices' are either there, or they're not. If you still feel that you need to use software such as Audacity on a recording after following my advice, guess what? They're not.
What About EVP and "White Noise"?
Some EVP researchers believe cheap digital recorders are actually preferable, as they claim spirits use the noise produced by the inferior circuitry to form speech. As proof, they claim to hear many more EVPs from cheap recorders. Well, of course they do! But what they're actually hearing are many more false positives because of the reasons mentioned elsewhere on this page. They compound the problem by running the recorded digital noise and artifacts they believe to be speech through sound processing software such as Audacity or GoldWave, process it out the wazoo until they get it to sound somewhat like a word or short phrase, then get excited believing they've connected with the other side. It's a classic case of "garbage in, garbage out" or, more precisely, "digital garbage in, digital garbage out".
Combing through some EVP websites, you'll read suggestions ranging from using a "white noise" generator or CD to running a fan and even running the tap water while recording. Throw in the cheap digital recorder, some sound processing and add the human tendency of pareidolia and...voilá! They've created a spirit, not contacted one.
Is All EVP Spoken In English?
No, of course not. EVP is most likely to be in the native language of the spirit when he/she was alive. For example, in Brazil? Probably Portuguese. In Italy, Italian, and so on. The United States? Now, that's where we run in to problems. Today, this country is a melting pot, with diverse languages and cultures. However, that was arguably even more true in the past. It's easy to forget that in the early part of the last century, less than 100 years ago, the United States experienced an unprecedented tide of immigration. People from all over the globe poured into the country and started their new lives. Most did learn English as a second language, some better than others. However, their native language was usually spoken in their homes and among family members. We tend to think in terms of "now", in terms of our own perspective. But ponder this for a moment: your resident ghosts may not be speaking English with a non-rhotic Bostonian accent, with dropped R's being the least of their communication problems. In fact, they may not be speaking English at all. Is the former owner of your home trying to tell you that he hid the cash in the basement? Is the neighbor who mysteriously disappeared in 1920 after allegedly having an affair with him adamantly insisting that he abruptly (and rudely!) ended the relationship by burying her under the attic floor boards? You may never know if he's speaking one language, she another, and you're stuck in American English mode. And that's where we can help...
We are multilingual, fluent in Arabic, Basque, Catalan, Esperanto, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Latin, Portuguese and Spanish...and English. Latin is particularly useful when shooting the breeze with imaginary demons, the ones that keep demonologists in business writing books and selling movie rights. You know, normal demon conversation like, "Vestri matris eats cattus feces in Abyssus" which roughly translated means, "Your mother eats dirty kitty litter in Hell". Obviously demons, if they truly existed, would not be the first choice to write sentiments for Hallmark. Anyway, yes, there's always a chance that EVP could be in yet another language, but we'll figure it out. Ancient Sumerian? Okay, we might be stuck with that one, but luckily there's not much demand for it in New England ;-)
Ahhh...the controversial Ovilus. This device drew a line in the sand in the paranormal community. Actually, it still does, with many investigators on both sides of that line getting their panties in a bunch whenever it's mentioned. There are very valid arguments on both sides. While technically not an EVP device, it nonetheless fits well in the category.
The Ovilus (there have been several incarnations) is a hand-held device with a SpeakJet synthesized voice chip, programmed word library, and ability to create words out of phonemes, small bits of human speech. In short, its purpose is to give a voice to the dead, a voice for them to manipulate and use. Supposedly, it does this in a variety of environmental ways, to which the device is sensitive. I know, I know...the device sounds no different than the myriad of others offered to a gullible public over the years. You know, "A sucker is born every minute..." Some are convinced it's a toy, no more than a very expensive Speak & Spell. In fact, much has been made by detractors that "For Entertainment Purposes Only" is printed on the front of the device. Those same investigators and ghost hunters obviously are unable to recognize a basic, standard legal disclaimer when they see one, even when written in layman's terms. Yet, they feel qualified to enter someone's home and tackle a subject as intractably complex as the paranormal? Go figure? Those four words are no reflection on the manufacturer's opinion of the device, only a necessary bit of 'CYA' (to enlighten the chronically wholesome, that's an acronym for Cover Your Ass). Just as I have a legal disclaimer on this website, the buyer of an Ovilus must check the "I agree" box on a series of legal disclaimers before purchasing the device from the manufacturer's site. The lawyers require it on the device, as well. Why? It's simple: if the device utters a word such as "kill" and a mentally unstable person acts on it, the manufacturer could be held liable if not for the disclaimer. Perfectly logical and obvious, eh? Well, apparently not to some in the paranormal community, but I digress...
I, too, was extremely skeptical of the Ovilus. That is, until it began giving contextual, one-word answers to questions posed on the Gettysburg
battlefield, culminating in reciting a 'roll call' of names etched on one of the monuments. Yep, that experience certainly made me scratch my head and say, "Whoaaa..." Does the device work? I'd have to say yes. How does it work? I haven't a clue, but how does anything in the paranormal field work? Am I being compensated by the manufacturer for plugging the device? Absolutely not.
Ghosts In the Machine: The Kinect Conundrum
Dancing skeletons and gaming consoles are a bit off-topic under the Electronic Voice Phenomenon heading but, like the Ovilus, also fit well into the category. And, as with the Ovilus, the Microsoft Xbox 360 and Xbox One with Kinect technology are causing quite a bit of controversy in the field of paranormal investigation.
What is of interest is not the gaming consoles, but the Kinect structured-light 3D scanner/camera bundled with them. A structured-light 3D scanner is a 3D scanning device for measuring the three-dimensional shape of an object using projected light patterns and a camera system. The projected light utilized in Microsoft's Kinect technology is in the infrared spectra and, therefore, beyond the range of normal human vision. It is an elegant, sophisticated technology with many possible and still-untapped applications, but I doubt finding 'ghosts' was on Microsoft's radar. The first generation of Kinect in the Xbox 360, and the much-improved current generation in the Xbox One, are used for wireless motion sensing and control so the player can interact with games in real time. In relation to the paranormal, you may have seen this technology in action on various episodes of Travel Channel's Ghost Adventures. They sometimes use a portable structured light camera based on Kinect technology. Their unit was built by Bill Chappell of Digital Dowsing, a paranormal equipment manufacturer that also, coincidentally, developed the Ovilus. 'Ghosts' captured by their camera appear on the screen as skeleton-like stick figures. The technology was also showcased and was central to the plot of the film Paranormal Activity 4. It's a bit of a 'chicken or the egg' scenario, as the movie was responsible for stirring interest in Kinect as a ghost hunting tool, but was only featured in the film because Xbox owners had long been noticing that phantom players would sometimes appear on their screens when using the system.
Many who are knowledgeable of Kinect, and even Microsoft itself, claim that system is only registering false positives due to improper calibration or simply suffering the inevitable teething pains of a new technology, and they may very well be correct. I don't claim to be a tech guru, and individuals much brighter me have written online that the Kinect/paranormal connection is anything but, and the technology cannot possibly capture ghosts. Why? Because ghosts do not exist. They often point to the fact that Kinect needs a physical body for its infrared light beams to reflect off of so that its infrared camera can recognize and register the image and produce the corresponding 'skeleton' on the screen. Ahhh...but here is where mainstream science gets a bit murky! The key is the camera. Kinect works because its camera can record the infrared spectra, which is a very similar operating principle and technology utilized in the full-spectrum and infrared video and still equipment we currently use in the paranormal field, cameras we have used to capture some amazing and perplexing images. Are the infrared light beams, invisible to the naked eye, reflecting off a figure only visible in the infrared spectra and captured by Kinect's infrared camera? But that couldn't possible be, right? Why? Because ghosts do not exist. However, keep in mind that the vast majority of those making that claim likely have all of their eggs in the mainstream science basket. As stated elsewhere on these pages, while the field theoretical physics may someday explain the enigma that is the paranormal, classical physics cannot. Mainstream science cannot explain theoretical physical theory, yet scoffs at the mere mention of the paranormal. Why? Well, you already know the answer: "Because ghosts do not exist".
As mentioned previously, mainstream science may well be correct with regard to Kinect's limitations, but I can only relay what I have personally witnessed and experienced using the technology on paranormal investigations. True, a stick figure 'skeleton' on a video monitor is one thing, but when that figure responds to verbal commands and does what you ask it to do, I believe it's time to legitimately question whether your new baby is just experiencing teething pains.
Much more information regarding the history and techniques of EVP, as well as the Kinect conundrum, can be found on the Internet. Please feel free to contact me
if you have questions or if I can be of assistance. I strive to respond to all inquiries within 24 hours.