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Ghosts & Hauntings

Electronic Voice Phenomenon

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A reel-to-reel tape recorder.
A vintage reel-to-reel tape recorder. Image Credit: Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago
FACTUAL ANALYSIS: While many recordings of electronic voice phenomena have conventional explanations or can be dismissed as auditory pareidolia, it's impossible to rule out the possibility that some of the more compelling examples are paranormal in nature.
Electronic Voice Phenomenon (or EVP) is the name given to paranormal audio recordings, often said to contain audible voices of deceased individuals. Examples of EVP typically contain a lot of static and ambient noise, with the actual 'voice' often being difficult to make out.

Even so, many investigators remain convinced that such recordings are genuinely paranormal.

History

Since the rise of the Spiritualist movement, efforts have been made to not only photograph the spirits of the dead but to also record their voices. Taking this one step further, many inventors have even attempted to build a technological solution to communicating with the dead, bypassing the need for mediums, seances and Ouija boards by putting together a device that could act as a telephone of sorts - a two-way communicator for talking to the other side.

Famed inventor Thomas Edison had reportedly dabbled with the idea of building a 'spirit phone', having once told Scientific American in an interview that sensitive recording equipment would stand a better chance of communicating with spirits than the methods employed by mediums. He was even alleged to have made a pact with an engineer he was working with - William Walter Dinwiddie - stipulating that the first one of them to die would try to contact the other from beyond the grave.

Sadly though, despite rumurs and hearsay that have endured for decades, no evidence that Edison had ever actually designed or built such a device has ever been found.
Konstantins Raudive

One of the earliest and best known researchers to have focused on recording samples of electronic voice phenomenon was Konstantins Raudive, a Latvian writer and parapsychologist who became fascinated with the idea that the voices of the dead could be heard in audio recordings.

In the 1960s and early 70s he recorded over 100,000 audio tapes and worked with a team of as many as 400 people who were all involved in his research. Tape recorders would be left running "under strict laboratory conditions" with the microphone disabled in the hope of picking up voices from the other side.

Raudive, along with many of his fellow researchers, claimed that they could hear voices in the recordings. In his 1971 book Breakthrough: An Amazing Experiment in Electronic Communication with the Dead, he described how some of the recordings would contain sentences consisting of words spoken in up to six different languages. In others, the voices spoke in "a definite rhythm" or in "telegram-style phrases and sentences."

Spiricom

Between 1979 and 1982, two men - William O'Neil and George Meek - developed what they claimed to be an actual working spirit communication device known as Spiricom. According to O'Neil, the specifications for the device had been communicated to him through psychic means by scientist George Mueller who had died six years earlier.

Consisting of 13 tone generators designed to mimic the frequency range of an adult male voice, the questionable contraption was allegedly capable of holding a two-way conversation with spirits. O'Neil was so confident that it worked that he even made the plans available to other researchers, however nobody else was ever able to replicate his results. Meek suggested that this was because O'Neil himself had psychic powers that were required to operate the device successfully.

Frank's Box

Another example of a spirit communication device was the 'ghost box' or 'Frank's box' that was developed in 2002 by Frank Sumption, an EVP enthusiast who also claimed to have received the designs from a spirit. The controversial device, which was essentially a radio that had been modified to sweep back and forth across the AM band without stopping when it found a station, produced short snippets of white noise which, according to Sumption, contained the voices of the dead.

Such devices are sometimes still used today in paranormal investigations, though critics have long argued that the recordings produced are entirely subjective and totally inadmissible as evidence of communication with spirits.

Sumption himself died of a heart attack in 2014.
EVP in modern investigations

These days, audio recordings are a common part of many paranormal investigations. A digital voice recorder or other device will typically be set up to record in a room and left for hours, often when there is nobody else present so that all it picks up is the static background noise. An alternative form of this experiment involves actively asking questions or calling out any potential spirits present in a room to see if a response is picked up.

Afterward, the audio recording is transferred to a computer and analyzed for signs of anomalous voices. While software can help, listening to large amounts of white noise can be a tedious process. When a potential voice is heard, the timestamp is noted down and the clip is isolated. It is also common for any potential EVP samples to be shown to others to see if they hear the same thing.

The biggest problem with EVP, however, is the subjective nature of it. Most samples are unclear and indistinct and others may disagree on whether there is even a voice there at all. Sometimes the same sample can yield multiple interpretations from multiple different people.

Nonetheless, the capturing of EVPs remains a staple of paranormal investigations.

Related content:

Encyclopedia (Beta)


  Related Entries:
  • Ghost, a disembodied spirit.
  • Orb, a photographic anomaly resembling a white circle of light.
  • Paranormal, a general term for unexplained phenomena.
  • Pareidolia, the tendency for the human brain to see meaningful shapes in abstract patterns.
  • Spirit Photography (Classic), the process of capturing photographic evidence of spirits.

(Note: This feature is a work in progress with more entries being added on a regular basis.)

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