Updated: May 28
Article written by Ian Liston-Smith
The electronic voice phenomena (EVP) is generally described as voices captured on analogue or digital recording equipment which are then interpreted as spirit communication, and is a principal feature for many paranormal investigators. The subject’s history goes back as far as Thomas Edison, if not further.
One of the main methods to acquire EVPs is to just use a microphone to record voices that are not audible at the time.
EVP is an aspect of instrumental transcommunication, but ITC encompasses communication with presumed spirit entities from a broader collection of electronic devices: telephones, fax machines or specifically constructed electronic equipment. There is also at least one well-known example of a computer being used for spirit communication. In the 1980s Ken Webster’s BBC Micro was said to have been used by a sixteenth-century spirit and is fully documented in his book The Vertical Plane.
I have been interested in EVP ever since reading Breakthrough by Dr Konstantin Raudive. As a 14 year old lad interested in the paranormal – and already busy messing with electronics – Breakthough seized my imagination, particularly when I reached the chapter describing Raudive’s electronic diode circuits for capturing voices onto tape. These devices are intended to replace a microphone and pick up voices directly from the “aether” without inadvertently recording real voices or sounds that could be interpreted as voices.
Dr Konstantin Raudive
I built one of the diode circuits in a sweet tin. On replaying the results on my Philips’s cassette recorder, I vividly remember being rewarded by the sound of loud mains hum with Radio Blackburn faintly in the back ground! No spirit voices. None at all.
Many years later I acquired the flexi disc that originally came with the book Breakthrough – missing in 1972 from my Bury (Lancashire) library copy!
Flexi disc that came with Breakthrough – link to tracks shown below
The Ghost Orchid
One of the most prominent collection of EVP captures is The Ghost Orchid CD. It consists of the combined work of Konstanin Raudive and another well-known EVP researcher, Raymond Cass, whose work makes up the bulk of this recording.
Extract from promotional material:
The Parapsychic Acoustic Research Cooperative [PARC], in association with Ash International [R.I.P.] is proud to present the first ever fully comprehensive investigation into the paranormal phenomenon of EVP, otherwise known as Electronic Voice Phenomena.[…]
This CD is the first ever fully comprehensive (and digitally remastered) investigation into the paranormal phenomenon of EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena), an unexplained mystery related to ufology, life after death and poltergeist activity. […] The audio has been copied from cassette tapes, some of which were recorded over 35 years ago, and so may be of an inferior quality compared to standard compact disc releases.[…]
I have listened carefully (twice!) to both the Breakthrough flexi disk and The Ghost Orchid CD. In my opinion the contents of both are very disappointing. They appear to contain only weak voices recorded from a noisy radio. The voices are sometimes said to speak in multiple languages – often in the same sentence. Very useful if you think you hear something in English, but can’t make out the rest, so use your knowledge of say German and imagine a few words that you can wedge in.
One clip from the Ghost Orchid CD is clearly an announcement from the BBC World Service on short wave (see “Untangling Edith” in the OTPG facebook files section – link below). Many of the other clips also have characteristics that to a trained ear, suggest they are normal signals recorded from a short-wave radio. We are also told what we’re supposed to hear in this clumsily cacophony, each example edited to fit a narrative. Is it any wonder that EVPs captured using this method are widely described as being disjointed, abrupt or have an air of irrationality?
The late Italian experimenter Marcello Bacci appeared to have considerable success with the Direct Radio Voice method using his old valve radio, where voices are heard in real time. Although the voices sound like they’re from a wobbly tape, descriptions of his work are interesting. Apparently: “After exhaustive tests, scientists have been completely convinced that his spirit voices are not a hoax.” It is unreported how knowledgeable the “scientists” were in the subtleties of hidden radio transmitters or what equipment they used to rule out a hoax.
In the 1980s the Spiricom device promised advancement for reliable, transcommunication. It was developed by George Meek and his the Metascience Foundation - as described The Ghost of 29 Megacycles – with help from the spirit of Dr. Mueller, a scientist who had died about 15 years earlier.
The apparatus was claimed to facilitate real-time two-way conversations between humans and spirit, but required an operator “with a very special type of psychic energy”. Unfortunately research reveals that one of the drama’s central characters – psychic Bill O’Neal - was also a stage ventriloquist who also just happened to have access to an early artificial larynx. Some believe these facts are irrelevant. I’m not so sure.
Some years ago I was presented with a tape of “discarnate voices” recorded from an FM radio tuned between stations. The rushing noise was an attempt to create noise out of which the spirits are said to create voices. I immediately recognised the brief snatches of speech and short clips of music as the obscure phenomenon known as meteor scatter, where distant radio stations are briefly reflected from the trails of meteors or shooting stars.
To demonstrate the effect I made my own recordings, but in doing so I heard a very unusual voice amongst the short bursts of distant East European radio stations. It was clear, in English and completely unlike the other sounds I captured that night. I think I know what it was, but it took some considerable research to find out. (The recording and technical details are posted on the Out There Paranormal Group’s facebook page in the files section under “Meteor Scatter” – links below.)
Firstly, it is important to listen to these recordings with headphones. This keeps out extraneous noise and facilitates concentration. Nevertheless, there are many pitfalls for the EVP researcher. Insufficient knowledge of what various radio signals sound like on different types of equipment, sound artefacts that are generated by the recording equipment itself, and of course the hearing version of pareidolia (auditory Apophena) – making patterns out of randomness - are all areas to be aware of. What makes matters even more difficult is that some people claim to hear clear speech when others hear gibberish.
Most EVP recordings come with a brief transcript or voice prompt of what the listener is supposed to hear – something that should never be done as this greatly shapes expectations. There have been some interesting hearing psychology and speech pathology experiments suggesting that EVPs are physiological mechanisms at work, tricking us into hearing things that aren’t there.
I have heard many supposed EVPs. Some have been so weak as to be identifiable only as noise. (After a career in radio communications, I have spent many, many hours listening to and identifying weak radio signals – so I recognise noise when I hear it!) Others were misidentified radio signals, some were radio breakthrough in audio equipment and a few were obvious hoaxes with the claimed voices of Nickola Tesla, Mozart and Florence Nightingale amongst others, just lifted from YouTube.
This article only scratches the surface of an intriguing phenomenon, but after all these years of work what have researchers discovered? As far as I can see, very little. Most of the older recordings I’ve heard are pretty unconvincing. We now have audio processing software that is supposed to help pull the faint voices out of the noise, but it doesn’t appear to have significantly advanced research. I’ve seen electronic random word generators suggested that may be manipulated by spirit, but nothing came of that. Variations in scanning radios (The Spirit or Ghost Box, etc.) seem to be the latest tool to generate words that sound relevant at the time, but I doubt it’s proof of communication from beyond.
Maybe a weird suggestion, but could we use Morse code somehow? It removes any ambiguity from the sound (it’s either there or it isn’t) and can be easily filtered with audio processing software and read by a computer if necessary. I’m sure the other side could assemble some willing telegraphists to help! A group has already tried Morse, but again, the results were unconvincing.
There is interesting work in the field of very weak signal communication, but trying to get developers to explore this particular esoteric area is going to be extremely difficult. Do analogue and digital devices receive the same voices at the same time in the same place? If so there’s a clue. But clear, unambiguous voices seem so elusive this will be difficult to prove.
The late Gilbert Bonner and I met in 1993. He warned me against “perusing the subject from a purely technical point of view as this would achieve little”. This may well be true, but how else does mankind make repeatable experiments to confirm new discoveries? Nevertheless, he thought there was a spiritual dimension to the subject, although he didn’t necessarily believe they were voices from the dead.
If this is the case then maybe EVP technology is in part irrelevant, and results depend upon the mediumistic ability of the researchers. More specifically, what are those who are sensitive to spirit actually detecting? If we can generate technology that can replicate our five senses, what is the sixth sense detecting that our technology cannot…?
Despite the tone of this piece, I’m still minded to think there is something to investigate. There are researchers who have spent decades in this sphere and are convinced the phenomenon is real. I hope they are right.
An unsettling case study
As an end piece to this article, I thought I would share this case study with you all.
About 25 years ago I investigated the case of what I was told was a very consistent direct radio voice communication from a couple’s son who had tragically committed suicide some months before. His mother (I’ll call her Margaret) explained in a letter that through the radio her son told her - amongst other things - trivial domestic predictions that were fulfilled. One being that she and her husband would soon receive a letter from a friend that was incorrectly addressed but would still reach them. Apparently this happened a few days after their son’s message.
When I arrived at their home it was clear the pair were comfortably off and told me they had been in show business together in their younger days. They seemed a perfectly ordinary middle-aged couple.
Margaret “communicated” with her son with a simple portable short-wave radio. She switched it on each day at 5pm.
When the time came I watched as she almost shouted into the radio while the sounds emanated continuously from its loudspeaker without pausing as she spoke. The words from her radio were indistinct, but obviously had the rhythm of a voice. It was clear to me what she was listening to; she had tuned into the short-wave signal of a US maritime North Atlantic weather station, but the mode of transmission was not properly detectable by her basic domestic radio.
The radio I took with me could clearly reproduce the voice of the announcer. I showed her the matching dial frequencies and let her listen to both radios so she could match the clarity from mine with the distorted but matching cadence from hers. She was having none of it. She could hear her son on her radio. It was his voice.
When I discretely asked Margaret’s husband about the situation, he was non-committal. However, he said he saw no reason to contradict her as it was “helping”. This case gave me cause for reflection. Was it for me to expose Margaret’s illusion? Almost certainly not. Was it really helping her with unimaginable grief? Quite possibly. Was she really receiving minor domestic predictions from her son? I really don’t know…
The Vertical Plane:
Raudive and Breakthrough
Audio from Breakthrough flexi disc:
Audio from The Ghost Orchid:
The Raymond Cass Foundation
Link to the Out There Paranormal Group’s facebook file section. The individual files are linked in here under Meteor Scatter, and Untangling Edith