experimenting with electronic voice phenomena

Presented by Troy Taylor, Author of the GHOST HUNTER'S GUIDEBOOK and President of the American Ghost Society

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There is no question that a tape recorder is an essential piece of equipment in a paranormal investigation. It can be effectively used to keep notes for the researcher and also as a way to record interviews with witnesses. There have also been many instances when paranormal phenomena has been captured on tape and this activity includes strange voices and bizarre sounds that cannot be explained. Many claim that these strange anomalies, captured on ordinary tape, are communications from spirits.  But are they really the voices of the dead? And most importantly, if they are, can we prove it?

 The practice of attempting to record ghosts is called Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP).  The sounds that make up EVP are apparently sonic events of unknown origin, which can be heard, and sometimes captured in recordings, on various types of electronic apparatus, including tape recorders and even radio equipment.  The voices on the tapes take on diverse forms, sometimes seeming to speak in tongues, singing or speaking in gibberish. The messages often make a sort of backward sense as though communication is difficult. They can also apparently call by name and speak directly to researchers. They can be heard over telephones and as anomalous interference on tape recordings. Some of them seen to enjoy engaging in dialogue, answering questions or supplying personal information about the researchers, possibly as a way of achieving credibility.

Of course, with all science (both conventional and paranormal), there are those investigators who are so keen on finding evidence to support the validity of their field that they will impose meaning on what might otherwise be random sounds or noise. This tendency seems especially prevalent when it comes to the recording and research of EVP.

 In the late 1960's, EVP began to be accepted as a legitimate form of paranormal research, but it has remained controversial ever since. The problems come because of the way that messages are normally recorded. They are rarely simple messages but often are fragments and sounds that require hours of listening to understand. This often opens the research up to criticism, but using by using detailed, restricted and well-monitored techniques to achieve EVP recordings, much of the room for error can be eliminated from your experiments.

Many of us have heard dozens of recordings of what might be voices and the sounds of ghosts on tape. But we often have to ask ourselves just what we are hearing? Are they accidental recordings of the researchers themselves? Sounds that have no meaning? Or real ghosts?

Many researchers make the valid point that there is a natural human inclination to project meaning onto otherwise innocent phenomena. Many tend to do this with EVP. It is an attempt to make the messages simpler or to appear more mysterious than they really are. The human imagination will try to impose meaning on what appear to be intelligent sounds on the tapes. If no sense can be made of them, then an idea will be invented and/or introduced to support what we want to hear. The human mind has a tendency to “fill in the blanks”, which can be a problem with EVP. It has been suggested that if you listen to something enough times, you can hear anything that you want to hear. This problem is most apparent when the researcher announces to anyone who will be listening to his recordings, just what they should be listening for. The power of suggestion can easily take over and destroy whatever credibility this experiment may have had.

In past editions of this Guidebook, and in other places, I have maintained that the authenticity of a recording is almost impossible to prove. I have stated many times that there is no way that a researcher can absolutely prove that the sounds recorded on his tapes are not the result of a hoax, or a result of some natural interference. All that a non-believer (or a debunker) had in the way of evidence is the word of the researcher and unfortunately, that has never been enough to make it qualify as the evidence that many believe it to be.

Further research and experimentation on my part has caused me to change my mind about this.  As already mentioned, I do not condemn the recording of EVP, I only condemn the results of many of the experiments that have been conducted. The reason for this is that I don’t believe in claiming evidence to be genuine if there is no way to back up those claims. Unfortunately, EVP is one of the biggest culprits in this field when it comes to unverifiable evidence. This happens because many ghost researchers are not willing to take the time to verify the results that they come up by simply using some standard safeguards that can actually prove their recordings are authentic.

During the 1970’s and early ‘80’s, EVP was tremendously popular among paranormal researchers and it has caught on again in recent years. You can find websites all over the Internet, maintained by very reputable (and some not so reputable) ghost hunters, that feature clips of recorded phenomena. While the researchers themselves are usually very credible, the problem remains that most of them have not verified and authenticated their research. Far too many “ghost hunters” believe that simply leaving a tape recorder running and walking away from it is enough to prove that there are real ghosts recorded on their tapes. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

So, how can we do it? How can we show even the most hardened non-believer that whatever we captured on tape has no logical explanation? Here are some guidelines to follow:

1. Buy a tape recorder with an external microphone that can be placed away from the machine. Do not (under any circumstances) try to record EVP using a small, hand-held tape recorder. This type of recorder only works in the range of the human voice and in addition, the recording can be polluted by all sorts of ambient noises at your location. The sounds of the motors and gears in the recorder, as well as incomprehensible background noises, can be recorded on the tape and can be mistaken for strange phenomena.

2. If you are using a digital recorder, you should avoid using a handheld device as well. They have the same problems as a standard, handheld tape recorder with ambient noise. My recommendation would be to use a digital recorder that records directly to a CR-ROM but be sure to record as “write-only”. You should also be sure to record at settings that do not compress the recording. Since we are not sure what part of the data actually contains paranormal artifacts, we have to be careful not to destroy that material with compressions for a digital media player.

3. When recording, random locations are not recommended. It is best to take the recorder to a location that you have good reason to feel is haunted. In addition, your EVP experiments should be conducted in the most active spot in the location. This obviously increases your chances for good results.

4. When you arrive, make handwritten notes of the weather and any natural or artificial sounds that can be heard where you plan to do your recording.

5. If you are using a standard tape recorder, use only a brand new tape that comes right out of the factory-sealed package. Never try to record on a tape that has already been used.

6. When you put the recorder into place, be sure to extend the external microphone away from it about three feet or so. It is not recommended to walk around with the recorder. This creates a lot of sounds pollution and takes the experiment away from a controlled environment (more about that in a moment). It is recommended that you place the recorder and the microphone in a secure spot, on the floor or on a table, and preferably on a rubber mat, which would reduce any sound traveling though material to the recorder.

In the Ghost Hunter's Guidebook, you will also find detailed instructions on various types of equipment that you can use to monitor your recording devices. You can monitor your experiment with at least two video cameras and other equipment.

 One of the most important aspects of the experiment is to stick to the question-answer format of attempting to record. Selected questions should be asked with at least a 30 second span between them to allow time for replies. It is best to that the questions be prepared in a way that they can be answered by yes or no, or at least words of one syllable. Once the taping begins, the recorder should be monitored by at least two people and absolute silence must be maintained. It is imperative that verbal notes be made on the recording whenever any outside sounds are heard by those monitoring the tape. If one of the researchers makes a sound (aside from the asked questions) it should be noted on the recording. The same direction goes for automobiles passing outside, noises in the house, etc.

 Good luck with this and I believe that if you follow these guidelines (or at least your own version of them), you can not only be successful at experimenting with EVP but can actually offer some authentic evidence that the voices of the dead can, and do, communicate with the living.


Copyright 2004 by Troy Taylor, All Rights Reserved

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