The Term EVP stands for Electronic voice phenomenon. (EVP) is a term used to refer to sounds that are captured on recorded media or other electronic devices and believed by some to be voices of paranormal origin. EVP are said to be typically short, usually the length of a word or short phrase, although longer segments have also been reported. EVP is a branch of Instrumental transcommunication (ITC) that deals exclusively with audio.
Explanations proposed by those who believe EVP is of paranormal in origin include that they are the voices of deceased human beings, psychic projections from EVP researchers, and/or communications from intelligent non-human entities.
Explanations proposed by those who believe EVP is of normal origin include cross modulation, interference from external RF sources, and pareidolia (the human propensity to find familiar patterns amongst random stimuli).
The term itself was coined by publishing company Colin Smythe Ltd in the early 1970s. Previously the term Raudive Voices, after Dr. Konstantin Raudive whose 1970 book Breakthrough brought the subject to a wider public audience, was used. References to EVP have appeared in pop culture such as in the Reality TV show Ghost Hunters, the fictional Supernatural and the Hollywood films White Noise and The Sixth Sense.
There is an urban legend that American inventor Thomas Edison was the first EVP researcher. In the 1920s, he told a reporter with Scientific American that he was working on a machine that could contact the dead, and the story was printed in many newspapers. A few years later, Edison announced that he had been making a joke at the reporter's expense, and that he had not been working on such a device. Though Edison did not attempt to create such a device, others have attempted to do so.
Attila von Szalay (Sealay) was among the first to definitively claim to have recorded the voices of the dead. Working with Raymond Bayless, von Szalay conducted a number of recording sessions with a custom-made apparatus, consisting of a microphone in an insulated cabinet connected to an external recording device and speaker. Szalay reported finding many sounds on the tape that could not be heard on the speaker at the time of recording, some of which were recorded when there was no-one in the cabinet. He believed these sounds to be the voices of discarnate spirits. Von Szalay and Bayless' work was published by the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research. in 1959. Bayless later went on to co-author the 1979 book, Phone Calls From the Dead.
In 1959 Swedish film producer Friedrich Jürgenson captured, while recording bird songs, what he said was the discarnate voice of a man speaking Norwegian. He went on to make many more recordings, including one that he said contained a message from his late mother.
Latvian psychologist Konstantin Raudive, who worked in conjunction with Jürgenson, made over 100,000 similarly natured recordings some in a RF-screened laboratory and some containing what are believed by proponents to be identifiable words. In an attempt to confirm the content of his collection of recordings, Raudive invited listeners to hear and interpret them. Raudive believed that the clarity of the voices heard in his recordings implied that they could not be readily explained by normal means.
Since their release, Raudive's interpretations of his recordings have been criticized as being highly subjective, and for the fact that the speech they are said to contain is often unrelated to questions that investigators posed during their recording. Both Jürgenson and Raudive's recordings were said to contain sentences that were made up of several languages.
Post-1980In 1980, William O'Neil constructed an electronic audio device called "The Spiricom". The device itself was said to have been built to specifications received psychically by O'Neil from Dr. George Mueller, a scientist who had died six years previously. At a Washington, DC, press conference on April 6, 1982, O'Neil said that he was able to hold two-way conversations with the spirits of the dead using this device, and O'Neil provided the design specifications to researchers for free. However, nobody is known to have ever been able to replicate O'Neil's results using their own Spiricom devices. O'Neil's partner, retired industrialist George Meek, attributed O'Neil's success, and the inability of others to replicate it, to O'Neil's "psychic abilities" forming part of the loop that made the system work.
In 1982, Sarah Estep founded the American Association of Electronic Voice Phenomena in Severna Park, Maryland, a nonprofit organization with the purpose of increasing awareness of EVP, and of teaching standardized methods for capturing it. Estep began her exploration of EVP in 1976, and says she has made hundreds of recordings of messages from deceased friends, relatives, and other individuals, including Konstantin Raudive, Beethoven, a lamplighter from 18th century Philadelphia, PA, and extraterrestrials whom she speculated originated from other planets or dimensions.
In March 2003, paranormal investigator Alexander MacRae conducted some recording sessions where a person was connected to a device of MacRae's design known as ALPHA. MacRae reported that ALPHA is able to convert electrodermal responses into more speech-like forms. Recordings were made and analyzed by him. In an attempt to demonstrate that different individuals would interpret the recordings the same way, MacRae asked seven people to compare some selections to a list of five phrases he provided and choose the best match. He concluded that the selections were not a form of "audible Roscharch (sic)" but genuine voices whose origins could not be explained through conventional means. MacRae's work was published by the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research in 2005.
Investigation of EVP is the subject of hundreds of Internet message boards, regional, and national groups. According to paranormal researcher John Zaffis, "There's been a boom in ghost hunting ever since the Internet took off." Investigators, equipped with electronic gear such as EMF meters, video cameras and audio recorders, scour reportedly haunted venues, trying to uncover visual and audio evidence of hauntings. Many use portable recording devices in an attempt to capture EVP and a number of ghost hunting organizations feature audio files on their web sites. One popular ghost hunting organization, the International Ghost Hunters Society, states that it is "the largest ghost research society on the Internet" with over 1,000 "EVP ghost voices" on file.
Others represent members of various organizations dedicated solely to EVP and a related pursuit, Instrumental transcommunication. These individuals participate in investigations, author books, deliver public presentations, and hold conferences where they share experiences. Some groups, such as the AA-EVP's Big Circle, maintain that their mission is different from those who wish to record spirit voices in reportedly haunted locations, saying, "It is our intent to establish contact with one or more individuals we know and love that are now in the spiritual world."
Also among those having ongoing interest in EVP are Spiritualists as well as others who believe in Survivalism. Many of these believe that communication with the dead is a scientifically proven fact, and experiment with a variety of techniques for spirit communication which they believe provide evidence of the continuation of life. According to the National Spiritualist Association of Churches, "An important modern day development in mediumship is spirit communications via an electronic device. This is most commonly known as Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP)" An informal survey by the organization's Department Of Phenomenal Evidence cites that 1/3 of churches conduct sessions in which participants seek to communicate with spirit entities using EVP.
Various paranormal explanations have been put forward for EVP. Examples include:
- Discarnate entities: Communications from discarnate entities, such as the spirits of the dead, that are unable to communicate verbally with humans, but are able to imprint information on recording media by an unknown method.
- Psychokinesis: Communications imprinted directly on a medium, by a living human, through an unknown form of matter/energy manipulation. Some EVP proponents say they have received messages from a sleeping colleague.
- Extraterrestrial entities: Contact with nature energies, beings from other dimensions, or extraterrestrials.
Virtually no scientific literature on EVP exists, although skeptics have put forward various naturalistic explanations for the alleged phenomenon. These include:
- Interference: Certain recordings, especially those recorded on devices which contain RLC circuitry, represent radio signals of voices/sounds from broadcast sources. Interference from CB Radio transmissions and wireless baby minders, or anomalies generated though cross modulation from other electronic devices, are all documented phenomena. It is even possible for circuits to resonate without any internal power source by means of radio reception.
- Auditory pareidolia or Rorschach Audio: A condition created when the brain incorrectly interprets random patterns as being familiar patterns. In the case of EVP it could result in an observer interpreting random noise on an audio recording as being the familiar sound of a human voice. The propensity for an apparent voice heard in white noise recordings to be in a language understood well by those researching it, rather than in an unfamiliar language, has been cited as evidence of this, and a broad class of phenomena referred to by author Joe Banks as Rorschach Audio has been described as a global explanation for all manifestations of EVP
- Apophenia Related to, but distinct from pareidolia. Defined as "the spontaneous finding of connections or meaning in things which are random, unconnected or meaningless", has also been put forward as a possible explanation.
- Capture errors: Anomalies created by the method used to capture audio signals, such as noise generated through the over-amplification of a signal at the point of recording.
- Processing artifacts: Artifacts created during attempts to boost the clarity of an existing recording through methods such as re-sampling, frequency isolation, and noise reduction/enhancement, until they take on qualities significantly different from those that were present in the original recording.
- Hoaxes: A percentage of recordings may be hoaxes created by frauds or pranksters.
Skeptical explanations and published works
Of attempts to capture EVP, administrator of SkepticWiki and sound engineer David Federlein says:
- ...one website says to set the "sensitivity level" of the microphone to the highest possible setting as ghosts are apparently afflicted with laryngitis. Doing this raises what's called the "noise floor" - the electrical noise created by all electrical devices - creating white noise. If I were to filter white noise (the audible equivalent of watching the snow on a detuned TV) I could make it say just about anything. This is really no different than using a wah pedal on a guitar. It's a very focused sweep filter moving about the spectrum creating open vowel sounds. Was Peter Frampton channeling? I hardly think so, however his use of the "talkbox" effect on his guitar sounds exactly like some of these recordings. When you factor in other aspects of physics, such as cross modulation of radio stations or faulty ground loops in equipment, you have a lot of people thinking they are listening to ghosts when in fact it is nothing more than a controlled misuse of electronics.
Of EVP recordings, Michael Shermer, founder of The Skeptics Society, wrote in Scientific American:
- ...What we have here is a signal-to-noise problem. Humans evolved brains that are pattern-recognition machines, adept at detecting signals that enhance or threaten survival amid a very noisy world [...] if you scan enough noise, you will eventually find a signal, whether it is there or not.
Professor Chris French, from the Psychology Department at Goldsmiths College, University of London, and editor of The Skeptic magazine, says the common thread behind all the alleged examples of EVP he's heard is that people are "reading meaning into what's actually random noise":
- For obvious reasons, people want to believe there's an afterlife and that means the evidence doesn't need to be very good for people to be convinced by it.
Professor of Psychology at Pace University, Terrence Hines characterizes EVP as a pseudoscience in his book, Pseudoscience And The Paranormal: A Critical Examination of the Evidence:
- If one expects to hear voices, constructive perception will produce voices ... the Indians used to believe that the dead spoke as the wind swirled through the trees. The tape recorder has simply brought this illusion into a technological age.
In 1997, Imants Barus, of the Department of Psychology at the University of Western Ontario, conducted a series of experiments using the methods of EVP investigator Konstantin Raudive, and the work of Instrumental Transcommunication (ITC) researcher Mark Macy, as a guide. A radio was tuned to an empty frequency, and over 81 sessions a total of 60 hours and 11 minutes of recordings were collected. During recordings, a researcher either sat in silence or attempted to make verbal contact with potential sources of EVP. Barus did record several events that sounded like voices, but they were too few and too random to represent viable data and too open to interpretation to be described definitively as EVP. He concluded: "While we did replicate EVP in the weak sense of finding voices on audio tapes, none of the phenomena found in our study was clearly anomalous, let alone attributable to discarnate beings. Hence we have failed to replicate EVP in the strong sense." The findings were published in the Journal of Scientific Exploration in 2001.
The Rorschach Audio project, initiated by sound artist Joe Banks, presents EVP as a product of radio interference combined with auditory pareidolia, and discusses possible methodological shortcomings of EVP research and the (sometimes involuntary) misdirection techniques that may be used when EVP researchers present their work to the public.