I wrote this article for ParABnormal Magazine, and it appeared in the March 2012 edition. I have included some new graphics, a few hyperlinks, and the Chris Moon video.
From offerings in ancient Egyptian necropolises to seances in Victorian parlors, people have searched for ways to communicate with the dead. Now, as we begin the 21st century, television reality shows, non-television-ready paranormal groups, and curious individuals are using electronic devices to help understand the afterlife.
On investigations with two ghost hunting groups, I have collected and analyzed recordings which I believe are communication from the other side. This article will show how to use electronics found in your own home to record spirit voices, and explore some of the more complicated methods being used for spirit communication.
Electronic voice phenomena (EVP) is one of the major types of evidence found by ghost hunters.
EVPs are voices which appear on recording media when no one seems to be speaking. Paranormal investigators believe these voices to be communication from the other side. Skeptics believe these voices are the product of static, stray radio transmissions, and background noise combined with confirmation bias and auditory pareidolia, a psychological phenomenon where the human brain attempts to interpret random signals.
Generally, EVPs can be classed into three groups: Class A, Class B, and Class C.
- Class A EVPs are easily understandable and clear. They may be so clear that they are difficult to distinguish when compared to the voices of other people in the room.
- Class B EVPs are still audible but not as easily discernible as Class A. Different listeners might disagree on what’s being said. This ambiguity could be caused by a variety of factors, such as the need for additional amplification or other enhancement.
- Class C EVPs seem to carry characteristics of human voice, but their message is unclear. A Class C might even be arguably not an EVP.
Recording an EVP is neither difficult nor costly. Any electromagnetic recording medium can be used, from audio tape recorders to digital camcorders. However, it should be noted that tape recording devices are more prone to print-through, where two pieces of tape pressed tightly together cause a double signal, causing the illusion of an EVP. Fortunately, digital voice recorders are now available at reasonable prices, and yes, there’s an app for that.
The method for recording EVPs is surprisingly simple. Start your recorder, ask questions, and make sure you leave time for answers. If there are spirits present who want to talk (or radio signals or white noise infecting the recorder), EVPs should happen when you listen to the recording. It goes without saying that this process is easier in haunted places.
Once the recording is made, any audio editing suite can be used to review the data. A popular one is Audacity http://audacity.souceforge.com, a free and very capable audio editor. Any voices on the recording which don’t belong to someone who was in the room are EVPs. A good pair of over-ear headphones is a desirable investment costing as little as $20.
Don’t try this at home. Many people believe that contacting spirits via a recorder can be dangerous. The simple process of asking for spirit communication will draw spirits. They may be good. They may be bad. They may stick around. So, if you’re looking for somewhere to record EVPs, consider the home of a skeptic. Even if their house ends up with a pissed-off spirit, they will not have to believe in it.
So once you have your shiny, new, irrefutable, Class A EVP, you can run over to your skeptical friend’s house and they will tell you about white noise, pattern recognition, confirmation bias, and in extreme cases, evil ventriloquists. Here’s the sad part: to a certain degree, they’re right.
EVPs can be compelling evidence. Even hearing the smallest snippets of unexplained voice on a self-made recording can be chilling and amazing. However, the quality of the EVP and the good intentions of the person making the recording does little to answer the arguments of those who blame interference from CB radios and cell phones.
Beyond the EVP: Instrumental TransCommunication
While EVPs made with a voice recorder are the most common type of voice phenomena, there are some other methods which should be noted. These fall under the umbrella term of Instrumental Trans-Communication (ITC), defined as the use of electronic devices to attempt communication with spirits or ghosts.
Thomas Edison’s Telephone to the Dead
In an interview with Scientific American in the 1920s, Edison stated he believed it possible to create a machine for communication with beings in other realms. He purportedly spent time working on such a device, popularly referred to as the “Telephone to the Dead.” However, it is not believed that Edison ever used that terminology. Though Edison’s diaries at the time confirm his interest in the paranormal, no plans or prototypes for the device have been found. Some claim the devices have been hidden due to fears their existence would tarnish Edison’s legacy.
While very little evidence of this device exists beyond speculation, it is worthy of mention for its many appearances in fictional stories. Also, if Edison did create such a device, it would have been the earliest known example of Instrumental Trans-Communication.
Perhaps the most prominent of the ITC devices is the Ghost Box or the Frank’s Box. The Frank’s Box is a device designed by Frank Sumption, an EVP enthusiast and HAM radio operator. The basic way the boxes produce sounds is rapidly sweeping up and down radio frequencies, similar to the search function in car radios, but much faster.
Proponents of the box believe spirits can interact with the box and allow their voices to come through. However, the workings of the Frank’s Box is practically an early Christmas present to skeptics. Whereas skeptics accuse recorder-based EVPs of radio interference, the Frank’s Box depends on it. Also, the device constantly throws out random noises, making auditory pareidolia seem much more possible. Even some strong proponents of the paranormal are skeptical of the workings of the Frank’s Box.
Sumption makes only a handful of these devices and gives them to researchers he knows. A May 2010 article stated under one hundred in existence. However, plans for building your own Ghost Box can be found on the Yahoo EVP_ITC group, which is moderated by Frank Sumption. Also, there are third party boxes available.
Digital Dowsing is a company which produces ghost hunting devices that can be seen on many different television shows. Included in their many inventions is a series of devices designed for ITC, often under the name Ovilus. The Ovilus series of devices are described as “a hand held device that takes energy readings and creates speech.” Unlike the Frank’s Box which actually plays the radio signals, the Ovilus has an internal dictionary of either English words or phonemes (distinct sound units which are the building blocks of pronunciation) which are triggered by the use of electronic environmental detectors.
Tell you skeptic friends about this. Make sure they’re on a nice, thick carpet, because they’re going to fall down laughing. Despite this, Digital Dowsing sells as many units as they care to produce.
Ghost Radar is a smart phone and tablet app by Spud Pickles, available for iOS and Android. The theory behind ghost radar is that an intelligent energy will be able to manipulate the energy fluctuations and use the device to communicate. It uses sensors built into the hardware device it is running on, along with proprietary algorithms, to mark changes in energy around the device. It then uses these fluctuations to produce a graphic representation of the area around the handheld device, modeled on an old radar screen. Different intensities of energy show up in different colors, blue for a weak signal, and red for a strong signal. In addition to its radar feature, Ghost Radar uses its algorithm to produce words, hence its inclusion in this article.
I splurged and paid the $0.99 for the app, and I have tried it a handful of times. During the few minutes I last had the app turned on, I saw several blue and a few red blips on the radar screen. However, it should be noted that, according to the makers, the application is more susceptible to false positives when it is first turned on. After a few minutes passed, I did not seeing any blips at all, save for a brief moment of furious activity. In the half hour I had the device on, It said: Slipped rain else figure including toward October broad use England model shore ready unless process Mark.
Recently, I spent a night at the Mason House Inn, called one of the most haunted bed and breakfasts in America by the Today Show. During the evening several of the guests were playing with Ghost Radar on phones and tablets. While I received many voices on my device, I do not personally believe anything recorded could be considered evidence of intelligent communication. This being said, $0.99 is such a low barrier for entry, I could hardly caution anyone against trying it for themselves.
So far, I have gone on four investigations looking for evidence of haunting. One was in a beautiful, modernized public library and one was in a dirty building, under construction and ripped apart, with one of the creepiest basements I’ve ever had the displeasure to see. While many people think this would be scary, once I had become used to looking through a creepy old basement in the dark, I found the actual process quite mundane. I didn’t scream and swear like the ghost hunters on TV. I walked around with my digital recorder, asking questions to the thin air for hours.
Sitting with my first recording in my cozy basement, in front of my computer, was when I got the chills. I was reviewing a section of the recording, a conversation being held between two other investigators. The voices of the investigators were far away, faint and filled with the reverberating echos of the large upstairs area, with its twelve foot ceilings and wood floors. A third voice, not my own, came through clearly as if they were standing right next to me and whispering into my recorder. The message was a single word, a loud whisper of “Creeps.” Apparently, whatever entity was inhabiting that space, they didn’t like us poking around.
That was not the only EVP I found on that recording, but it was, by far, the clearest. A skeptic might chalk it up to wishful thinking, auditory pareidolia, or radio interference. However, to me, it was a clearly spoken message, a rude communication from the other side.