by Rachel Browning
This is a digested version. The full report may be read at evp-voices.info (closed)
Previously published in the Fall 2013 ATransC NewsJournal
The following article documents the spontaneous recording of Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) in an experimental physical séance circle. It is a personal attempt to investigate and understand the nature of the voices. The initial focus was to determine the source and validity of voices obtained on digital recorders during séances and to investigate their concurrence with sitters’ reports of visual phenomena. As yet, it has not been possible to determine a source that would explain or replicate the phenomena.
The Furzey Hill Physical Circle was formed to explore the validity of physical séance phenomena. From 2005 to 2008, members changed intermittently and the reported phenomena varied from sitting to sitting. Whilst very occasionally, a partial materialization was reported, more common phenomena such as fleeting lights and noises were reported with regularity. In May 2008, I was gifted an Olympus VN2100 Voice Recorder. I sat alone and made a recording of 38 minutes; it has some of the clearest voices captured so far. The most startling are two elderly women; one has a distinctly upper class English accent,v1 the other has a regional London accent.v2 Expecting the recorded voices to be an isolated occurrence, I took the recorder into the next sitting. Not only were there multiple voices present, possibly the same elderly lady could be heard.v3
Some group members were very concerned that a study of the voices would de-focus the group from our original goal of developing physical phenomena. A fixed study period from August 2009 to March 2010 was agreed after which we would return to our original focus of sittings.
The Séance Circle and Reported Phenomena
The group regularly consists of three members including me, who acts as the medium. Members are not religious but the group sits as a Spiritualist circle; however, there are three important departures from the traditional physical séance; the use of continuous red light, no use of music or singing and I do not enter a state of trance.
There is one source of light in the room, an overhead fluorescent globe with a 60-watt red bulb. This is controlled by a dimmer switch, which is out of the reach of sitters and the medium. In one corner of the room, there is a black-curtained cabinet. In sittings, the curtains have an aperture at the front of approximately two feet, allowing the sitters a clear view of the medium. Blackout blinds are placed at the window and cover the recessed doorway, successfully eliminating all daylight. It was agreed that the first three sittings would be held in blackout conditions to encourage the development of phenomena.
The first phenomenon to be reported in the circle was a dull white/yellow light approximately two inches in diameter, emanating from a wall to the left of the séance cabinet – this was visible for approximately fifteen minutes. Moderate red light up to 20 watts does not appear to inhibit the generation of physical phenomena. Lights are still seen, both static and moving. They have been described as tiny pinks of color to brilliant flashes of lightning. At 60 watts, knocking, unexplained noises and EVP capture are reported but no visible phenomena. We attributed our observations to low lighting; however, coincidental EVP have confirmed many reports of lights and noises.
Partial materializations were reported in five isolated sittings over the period of nine years. Transfiguration was the most common type of phenomenon commented on in EVP. An example was the voice of gentleman with a North East English accent, who said “We’re not impressed with that,” as a circle member observes many faces transfiguring in rapid succession.v4 Audible phenomena can be most perplexing; the sound of a heavy horse walking on cobblestones was centered in the middle of the room. Again, this phenomenon was never repeated. Voices have been heard in the séance room by all present but never clearly enough to understand their speech. Whistles are occasionally heard in the room, at other times they can be heard on the recording without our awareness at the time.v5
All guests sitting with us whilst a recording was made were able to identify voices on the recordings not heard in the séance room.
The communicator’s motivation to make contact and talk appears to be either out of curiosity to find out if they can be heard or to make a comment on an aspect of the sitting. They do not report being directed to make contact but do on occasion refuse to speak if they are reprimanded by another communicator. Received EVP clips do not provide evidence that communicators have a depth of knowledge on the mechanics of how they send messages but they are fully aware that they can be heard on our recording devices.
Regular members have received no communication from families or friends. Personal messages to members are purely centered on the phenomena within the circle. Some communicators express an ability to follow a member away from the group but have no function other than to observe their actions. They express little interest in assisting with our development but are entertained by our endless fascination with them. At no point has the circle received regular messages from a group of communicators that perform as guides to facilitate development.
Regular communicators have distinct accents and often repeat the same phrase, almost a vocal calling card. Many are willing to give their name, but when asked for personal information that would satisfy us of their identity, it is not forthcoming. We rarely capture messages telling us how or why the communicator died or a matter pertaining to their death, it does not seem important to them. At odds with this are EVP from field recordings, where EVP is more likely to make reference to death and dying.
Up to four laptops were used to analyze each recording; all are standard unmodified machines, each running Audacity 1.3 beta (Unicode), which is an open source sound editing platform. Four digital recorders are used; two Olympus VN2100, a Sony ICD-B600 and an Olympus LS10. External microphones were not used. After the sitting, data is immediately transferred from all devices to Audacity in real time. Direct file transfers were only possible from the Olympus LS10; these had fewer voices versus the same recording transferred via a cable.
Once clipped, isolated EVP are played as soon as possible to those who attended the sitting; it is important that reviewers have a fresh memory of the discussions held in the séance. Depending on our understanding, EVP clips are then graded into three categories; A: clear and easily understood by most listeners, B: understandable with repeated playing or earphones and C: difficult to understand speech or a noise not heard in the séance room at the time of recording.
The ability to obtain EVP on four digital audio recorders and on three laptops illustrates the phenomenon is not an inherent or idiosyncratic anomaly to one device. When used together, both Olympus VN2100s were capable of picking up the same voice, at varying levels. Only two voice clips were captured on the Olympus LS10 at the same time as a VN2100; although audible, they were Grade C clips and not easily understood. I prefer not to artificially modulate isolated EVP, so it is necessary to learn the patterns of stress, pitch and inflection before attempting to interpret each message. There are examples of very clear but meaningless EVP in our archive, these are excellent in training your ear for analysis but purposeless in their content.v6
EVP comments can be seemingly random, nonsensical and grammatically incorrect. Single words are often spoken in isolation and it is rare that we capture more than a short sentence. Foreign clips are captured infrequently; those that could be interpreted have had meaning to the group. Without doubt, the most puzzling EVP are those of members’ voices, speaking phrases and sentences that we are certain were not spoken by us. This type of EVP is nearly always clear, although characteristically incorrect in comparison to their normal vocal profile and use of language.v7 We discussed in the circle how our voices could be manipulated; we were surprised to hear the reply, “Then I change the waves.”v8 EVP comments hint that existing sound waves in the environment are morphed to convey the message of the sender.
For some recordings in 2009, the in-between station noise from a short wave radio set at 5 MHz was tested as a carrier wave for voices. These sittings were outside of the specified study period and its use did not increase the capture of the voices, it was therefore discontinued.
There were a total of twenty-one sittings within the study period. Recordings were reviewed and a tally was made of how many direct responses or irrelevant comments were isolated. From the results, it appears that relatively few direct responses were captured in any one sitting, but if considered overall, eleven percent of the total number of EVP clips were of interest. It should be noted that a number of these clips were grade C and therefore an unpracticed ear may well arrive at a less impressive figure.
As well as looking at the amount of direct responses, I was keen to establish if EVP could be captured on more than one device at a time. In the sittings where two recorders were used, there are examples of the same EVP present on both recordings. Whilst these clips are significant there are relatively few; further duplicated recordings are taking place to try to replicate the results.
Whilst the study provided a focus for critical listening; it did not address my subjective interpretation of the EVP. I wanted more certainty that the clips I translated would be commonly understood by a wider English speaking audience and I was concerned that my interpretations would lead to selective reporting and bias. I chose to perform an online listening survey to compare my interpretation of EVP versus a test subject. Participants were directed to the two-part survey through the group website.
Before beginning the survey participants were asked to declare if they believed in the possibility of afterlife communication, if they were a non-believer or if they were undecided. In part one, they were asked to interpret a mix of a series of 8 Grade A, B and C clips from the archive. In part two, they were provided with a translation of the same 8 clips and asked if they agreed with our interpretations.
It was tempting to present only class A voices, those that are most easily understood, however, I considered that a range of clips requiring varying levels of auditory acuity would provide a more realistic appraisal of interpretative skill. All groups were more inclined to attempt a translation if they did not agree with the provided interpretation.
In part one, no group or individual was able to interpret the clips which had an unusual speed – yet I had found translations easy. The remaining clips were more like everyday speech; test subjects found them easier to understand. I consider the survey to have been personally helpful even if the outcome was somewhat predictable. I cannot assume to provide an agreed interpretation for all voice clips but am confident that the translations I provide for grade A clips are likely to be agreed with by other listeners.
Direct Response Examples
(Clips not available) The first recording took place in May, 2008. By December, 2008, EVP clips with direct relevance to the circle were building. I consider a direct response or comment to be a voice other than ours that answers a question, makes a remark concerning the action of a group member or a valid observation of something taking place within the room. I was keen to understand how much awareness the EVP senders had of our environment.
I have provided the transcripts of three clips that I think illustrate well the communicators’ ability to both hear and see what is happening in the séance room:
Clip 1. My voice: “Down there,” EVP: “Big flash.” A circle members says, “I saw a big white flash.”v9
Clip 2. A circle members says, “Great big flash on your head.” EVP: “That bastard saw me!” v10 (See Figure 2)
Clip 3. My voice: “There’s a group of chaps and all standing there talking.” EVP: “Is anybody saying they think of us?” v11
The ability to capture a voice on more than one device at the same time may indicate that the EVP is a recorded transmission of a physical sound wave and not a mechanical or electrical fault inherent to a recording device. This does not in itself provide evidence of an incorporeal source but it does suppose a source of physical generation. It also leads to the unanswerable question; how would an etherical intelligence commute thought to a sound wave that is able to be recorded at the same pitch and volume as human speech but that is not heard in the environment at the time of recording?
It would be logical having only read the study results to conclude that EVP does not provide evidence of post mortem communication. However, had you taken part in a sitting, witnessed the recording and were satisfied that no deception took place, then on playback were able to hear an anomalous voice in reply to yours, it would be logical to explore all alternative explanations, regardless of how unlikely they were. We are fortunate in continuing to experience and report physical phenomena and EVP in our sittings; the study and recordings will continue.
[Editor: EVP will “normally” occur in only one recording process at a time. An exception is if the noise output device has an analog stage. In that case, it is possible the EVP could be formed there and recorded by more than one recorder. With this exception, the one process-one EVP characteristic is so dependable that it is used in the Control Recorder for EVP Best Practice: atransc.org/bp/Control_recorder_for_EVP.]