The Art of the Phantom Interview or...
"If there's a ghost in the house, could you please speak directly into the microphone?" The art(?) of EVP or "Electronic Voice Phenomena" has really taken off over the last few years. Many websites worldwide (including our own) are actively are seeking out the ability to capture what could be the voices of ghosts... or, at least, unknown speakers on tape.
This article, more or less, is kind of a "How To" document if you will and as usual, a 'caveat emptor' warning of sorts to those who wish to try their hand at capturing mysterious voices and sounds.
FIRST: The obligatory history lesson...
Historically speaking, (other than looking at the fact that Thomas Edison practically invented the phonograph desperately trying to figure out a way for the dead to communicate with the living,) EVPs first came to the fore through Friedrich Jurgenson who, while trying to record birdsongs outside his house in the 1950's, ended up having voices come over his tape as interference. Jurgenson, deciding that it might be "the voices of the dead" tried to record them in a small forest hut near his home.
His first clear EVP from this was a voice in German saying "Friedle, little Friedel, can you hear me?" which apparently could not have come from a "living" person.
From that point, Jurgenson invested a lot of his time into the study of EVPs until he passed away in the late 1980's.
Since then, literally THOUSANDS of researchers hit the field with tape recorder in hand trying to capture anomalous sound with mixed results and success. Even we at the GHRS have had our "sound" moment at Oak Hill (Merritt House) in St. Catharines. That sound, such as it is, is available on a page that you can get to by clicking here. (A new browser will open up.)
Also, while we were at the same location a while later, ParaResearchers also captured ANOTHER sound that truly is a wonder as videotape clearly showed that the room in which the voice was recorded in was at least empty of all the "human" elements of the investigating group (and everyone else at the house) BUT the tape picked not just a voice whispering, but one telling me, your humble correspondent, by name to "shut up". That sound can be accessed by clicking here.
So, is there "something" to this? Well, let's just say that I believe that there is... actually, I believe there is more to this than "orb and mist" photos for sure!
Strikingly enough, this does *NOT* have to set you back a ton of dough!
Basically, like all forms of data and phenomena collection, unless you are gathering for strictly self interest and don't mind an argument (see below), analog is KING!
This is NOT saying "Digital is Bad!" it's just in the grand scheme of recording either via film or tape, a digital ANYTHING comes down to "witness testimony" only once presented. With an analogue device, any phenomena captured can be scrutinized from the point of the equipment and the tape or film whereas with digital, once it is dumped from the equipment to a computer or similar source, it is your word that indeed, there has been no tampering because, indeed, it is much easier to create a credible looking hoax with digital than it is to create a "foolproof" hoax with analog. Again, digital is FINE provided you are not going to loudly proclaim "THIS IS GENUINE!" and not expect a louder argument. The "true believers" will never completely argue the merits of your findings but trust us on this one, the sceptdebunkers will and they will do it loudly and with as much venom and issue as they can.
Closing: The way I say it to people is imagine you have been charged with a murder. The only evidence that you did it is a DIGITAL image from someone's camera dumped on to a computer. Would you not see the fallacy of this in your own defense?
Addendum to the Above: While doing a recent radio program, the host suggested using a "digital mini-disc" recorder, which are fine instruments. We mentioned to him the issues with "digital" vs. "analog", but in thought, we came up with an intriguing idea... use both.
This may answer a couple of questions... like, is the magnetic media (of the tape) necessary for these things? What if the sound only is recorded on one of the devices and why might that happen? What if the sound is caught by both devices?
Basically, using multiple devices with differing medias may pose or answer some questions.
It's a good idea, but costly and we would still recommend if you're going to use only one piece of equipment, analog is still the media of choice... but if you have an extra bit of money and wish to look into things very clinically, using both in tandem would be ideal.
So, basically a standard, ordinary DECENT cassette recorder is preferable. I don't recommend "mini-cassettes" too much as the recording ability on the ones under $100.00 is sketchy and the tapes are prone to stretching and therefore contorting sounds. Also, do not purchase or acquire a machine with a built in radio as the mechanism might cause some "spill" from radio frequency onto the tape.
Marantz, Sony, General Electric, Panasonic and even good old Radio Shack (Realistic) make perfectly acceptable models of standard cassette recorders with no radio functions.
Microphones are a little trickier. You SHOULD try to find a microphone that extends at least three feet away from the tape recorder mechanism to avoid catching the "grinding" noise from the tape gears. Again, Radio Shack has some you can purchase by clicking here. They (Radio Shack) are not alone. Check out the electronics stores near you as well for more options. MAKE SURE the mic you buy FITS the recorder you have or, if all else fails, get an adapter.
Next, something we've recently (Jan 2003) come up against, TRY to find "shielded" microphone cable or a mic with "shielded" cable. Radio frequencies bleed through the cord like there's no tomorrow in certain places. Two forts (Fort York and Fort Erie) we worked at experienced this problem very badly. No one needs to be straining to hear anomalies while Rush's "2112" is playing semi-audibly in the background because the local rock radio station is coming through the microphone cable.
If you can't get a "shielded" cable, you can purchase shielding separately from most good electronic stores and then do it yourself.
Tape should NEVER be longer than the 90 minutes variety and do not use "metal" or Cr02 tapes if the deck you bought cannot handle this type. Again, this is for static and 'bleed through' reasons and the "length" of the tape is to avoid stretching and breaking.
Normal C60s or C90s are fine and (good news) VERY inexpensive.
To avoid criticism, make sure you ALWAYS use fresh, sealed tapes OPENED ON SITE in front of AT LEAST one other person to avoid the inevitable call of people screaming "FRAUD!" If the tape was factory sealed, opened in front of at least one witness and a new tape is used on EACH session (not opened and then re-used because you used half or part in one location and decided to "kill" the rest of the tape) then the "fraud" factor is decreased significantly.
BATTERIES, BATTERIES, BATTERIES! Make sure that you do two things... First, always TRY very hard to use battery power rather than an outlet to avoid interference and feedback from the power current from the wall. Secondly, bring EXTRA batteries. If you figure you MIGHT go through two sets of batteries for your unit, bring four sets. Nothing worse than paying extravagant prices for batteries at an all hours convenience store when you could have stocked up MUCH cheaper earlier in the day.
As far as "reel-to-reel" decks or other specialty tape decks, that's entirely up to you but as a reminder, you MAY want to abandon or leave the machine alone somewhere... Just in case, the less expensive the unit, the less tears if, on recovery, it's broken or missing...
"Vox" or "Voice Activated" units CAN be the enemy! Turn off the VOX settings and let the tape roll. As evident, EVP can be EXTREMELY quiet (to a whisper) and therefore may not 'trip' the recording abilities of the machine.
Make sure, also, you TEST the machine and recording BEFORE heading out to a location!!! Getting to a site and finding out then that the machine is not functioning... well... sucks.
LASTLY, try to use "normal" record and tape speeds. Although "double-speed" is a clearer form of recording and "slow-speed" extends the tape, it also leads to stretching and can make it VERY difficult to transfer to another tape or computer later.
We have really only EVER come out with two good possibilities for capturing these events. Both are listed below...
Abandon and Retrieve Method: This is the most "foolproof" way of ensuring that the possible recorder sounds are indeed anomalous in nature.
In a good spot, set up the mic (three feet away from the unit and shielded) in a good "recording" spot. Open a fresh tape in front of a witness. Place the unit on record. Announce the time, date, location and who's around (at the initial point of starting) and leave the tape rolling. MAKE SURE that before doing this, you test with A DIFFERENT TAPE for audio interference and double-check for possible "natural sound sources" that might be misconstrued later on while listening. NOTE ALL POSSIBILITIES IN WRITING! Always ensure 100% fresh (factory sealed) batteries are used in the tape recorder from the beginning.
Next, "seal" (as best as possible) the area the unit is in. Put a note on a door (or whatever) warning people that might enter that an experiment is in progress and IF they HAVE to enter, they should announce their name, the time they enter the room near the microphone and announce the time that they are leaving the room.
In an ideal situation, a video camera of some sort could ALSO monitor the cassette deck and area for possible "human" intervention. If you can afford to do this, make sure the "Time and Date" stamp are on the video tape.
Once 30 or 45 minutes have passed, two people can enter the room and either retrieve or "flip" the tape. MAKE SURE EACH UNIT IS ASSIGNED TO ONE TEAM! We have had situations of tapes being flipped thrice (losing the initial recording and voiding the tape as being "re-used" and therefore unreliable) and moved without the recorders "owning" team being informed or involved. This is a HUGE no-no!
After the investigation is done, take the tapes to a "good" playback unit (if the recorder isn't "great", try a 'boom-box' or home stereo) and listen to the tapes CAREFULLY. Remember to double check the noted "natural" causation for some noises.
As stated, with this method, it's almost a given that indeed, any 'odd' sound recorded is indeed, anomalous but remember, be your own watchdog and debunker and if presenting, make sure you can, if possible, debunk yourself. It will save you arguments and aggravation later.
Interactive Recording: This is the more "human fallible" of the two methods.
In this case, an ideal scenario is a team of THREE using the machine. Either it is "taken" on a walk (again, ensuring that the mic is away from the mechanism, fresh batteries, fresh tape, etc.) and the researchers simply converse or even possibly ask questions. The person with the microphone MUST do two things...
#1: Stay in VISUAL range (front facing) the other two team mates to avoid possibly being asked if "they" are the mysterious sounds/voices that are being presented. If two researchers validate that this is NOT the case and the sound/voice was caught WITHOUT the mic-holder's assisting it, that's pretty convincing testimony.
#2: Watch for "natural" explanations for possible captured sounds. The mic person must be vigilant for things like other people, nearby sources of sound or "natural" causation (such as wind or the like) and make note of it.
Again, when playing back later, listen for ALL sounds with the team and make sure you honestly write off any "normal" interference so it is not mistake for the "paranormal".
Also, in the interactive method 'realm', is the more interesting type that we are currently (Jan 2003) working with.
Again, preferably three (but two WILL do provided a video cam is available) actually sit or at least stay in one area. The mic and machine are placed in a central location and left on recording. The researchers MUST face each other or a video camera should be trained on them.
While there, a series of questions SHOULD be asked aloud to "anyone" other than the visible to answer. Leave at least ten seconds between each question for an answer and try to do "reasonable" questions for the environment.
For example, the basic questions good in any location are...
- Is anyone else here?
- Who are you?
- Do you know why you're here?
- How old are you?
- How do you feel?
- Is anyone else here?
- Are you waiting for or looking for someone?
After this, you can tailor the questions... Let's say you're at a restaurant...
- Did you work here?
- Do you like the restaurant?
...and so on.
Again, you MUST make sure all things are taken into consideration. As "common sense" as it seems, doing the above at a restaurant during the "dinner hour" with other patrons around of COURSE is going to net you some sound(s) or voice that would match.
Same thing applies, AFTER doing this, take the tape and let the team listen to it intently.
REMEMBER no matter how honest you are and how good you are and how compelling the evidence is to you, there will ALWAYS be those that will argue. It's best to accept this and if there's any reasonable argument, learn from it, adopt preventative measures into your techniques and move on QUICKLY. No one needs or wants a flame war over data unless it's being presented as ABSOLUTE proof or evidence or is being presented poorly to all.
If you look hard enough, you'll find something... even if it really was never there.
This will probably be my LEAST favourite and most controversial part of this document but I must say it.
Some people believe that when an audible, clear sound or voice is not evident, you need to push the sound through multiple filters via something like Cool Edit (which we did purchase and use for 'dumping' analog tape to computer... but we still keep the tapes!) or "back track" it and play the noise backwards.
As someone who is familiar with synthesizers (musically) I can and will attest to the fact that with enough tweaking, I can make your dishwasher sound like it's ordering Chinese food in Cantonese. "White noise" can be manipulated into anything.
Also, many of the "backtracking" samples I've heard are clearly voices (probably human and sometimes, even admittedly so) where the person is straining and reaching to hear something more... "unusual".
I liken this to "orb and mist" photos in the fact that whereas I can't say for certain there is ZERO validation in this, it's amazing that we try to do things like this as researchers when there's so many apparently good, "normal", no-editing-needed voices and sounds... Why would we need to (depending on your view) either create or attempt to decipher something when indeed, it may not be there to begin with?
It reminds me of the latest (again, Jan 2003) batch of "orb" enthusiasts who are TRYING to say that orbs are the ONLY way 'ghosts' can be photographed. This is the equivalent of saying "Take all those silly full and partial apparition photos we've all seen and chuck them in the garbage! They are WRONG!" (Forgive me, but I have far more faith in the images like The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall or even our own (GHRS) photos from Nevada and Ontario than the standard orb shot.
How does this relate?
Simple, there SEEM to be THOUSANDS of clear, "normal" audio captures of possible anomalies... Why do we "need" to accent them so much to try and pull out more???
So, remember, if you're off to go and record 'ghostly' voices, remember these rules...
- Get Permission to be on the site you're doing this at.
- Use discretion and don't disturb other "living" souls to do it.
- BE YOUR OWN SCEPTDEBUNKER and always try to answer all your own (and other's) questions in advance!
- Remember, nothing is ever going to be perfect so understand that there may be people that WILL question your findings.
- Take from the above SOME (if not all) the recommendations. I'm sure they will help.
- Be honest, be respectful and do your best... and have fun!
I would close this with the obligatory "Happy Hunting" but, nah... Just let it suffice to say, I hope your efforts are VERY successful!
Oh yeah, I forgot my usual disclaimer... "This document is how "we" at the GHRS are doing things and what has worked for us. It does not represent the ONLY way of doing things nor does it represent the way other groups and researchers do their job. It is presented for you to read and possibly use (part or all of) for your own studies. Again, we (the GHRS) are CERTAINLY NOT the "end all of be alls" in ghost research so please, look around at other's work and decide what works best for you."
Addendum, January 2005: In response to those using a TV, radio or other item to achieve "white noise" to then attempt to grab EVPs from this static, I posted this (below) on our message board...
The intrinsic problem with using a TV, radio or any electrical device to generate "white noise" is that NOTHING is RF (radio frequency) shielded prefectly... well, at least, not without spending a WHACKLOAD of money to literally re-do the walls of a spot with shielding, then ALSO shield the current coming into the devices then shield the devices themselves.... and all cables...
ONLY THEN could you have true RF shielding and could 100% rule out any interference from a radio, television or even TRUE cellular signal... (not "digital", but true "cellular"... it's a misnomer to refer to a digital phone as a "cell phone".)
What makes "me" an expert on this???
Back in the bad old days of computers, we used to have to "add" an RF shields around video cards and modems... this was because the other components would interfere with them. Remember your old computer case? Remember how it weighed about 700lbs? That was because the case was "shielded".
At the time, I was studying ways to lessen interference... guess what? We found NOTHING worked and eventually computer cases started being made thinner and lighter and video cards and modems stopped being separately shielded... Error correction "firmware" was added instead.
In doubt still? Ask anyone with a HAM radio... if it's near a TV or radio... cordless phone... they will tell you it "bleeds" badly... on any station on any frequency. Heck, back in the day, you COULDN'T run a HAM set in the same room as a computer!
If the signal is near enough and/or strong enough, no matter what the frequency that the electronic device is set to and no matter if you've "made sure" you didn't hear any "bleed through" for an indeterminate length of time, you STILL could not perfectly guarantee that a signal did NOT bleed though. That signal COULD be from those "two-way radios" that are so popular nowadays, cell phones and whatever... someone walks past the site and WHAMMO! you got a bleed...
Even "in the middle of nowhere", again, ask a HAM operator... Signal gets boosted for any reason and boom! Bleed! Even in outer Shwabovia!
...and these bleed can last minutes... or seconds... depending on the source, medium and power of the signal.
Lastly, radio and television signals CAN and WILL go through "electrical current". Again, modern devices "error correct" for this, but in the case of straining through "white noise", to NOT hear a voice or sound would be odd.
Then there's the whole concept of "white noise". Ask a keyboardist what makes those wonderful sounds emanate from the synthesizer... Guess what? It's white noise "tweaked" by messing with the registers of the tones.
The long and the short of it is, "White noise generator enhanced EVPs" especially ones that used a TV or radio, are completely flawed ways of gathering EVP phenomena... That's just a fact... and yet another "damned inconvenient" one too.
One site (who will remain nameless... but is still around and "large as ever" in the states) had a message board and when they suggested this method of EVP collection, I did chime in and mentioned the horrendous issues with RF bleed through... As always, I wasn't answered, I was branded a "skeptic" (read: non-believer... as I am an admitted sceptic... I do need to have better evidence to put my entire faith in anything... but to them, "skeptic" = "Non-Believer/Out to Ruin Our Fun") and the thread, notes and information eventually (quickly) were deleted... Darn my inconvenient facts!
Like I said, to those thinking about this method, PLEASE ask a HAM radio operator, an old computer technician and/or a radio engineer... They will back me up.
LAST NOTE: There has been GOOD success without using "extra tools" with EVP... Why did anyone ASSUME we needed to "enhance" this... especially without FULL scientific or even logical evaluation???
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