Ghostly MP3s: can one record the spirit world?


It is apparently very simple to record a ghost.

The audio is out there; courtesy of our nifty digital recorders which can be left recording for hours on end in pitch-black cellars which have lary case histories.

The sounds made beyond our ken are called EVP: and that’s not Executive Vice President, let me tell you. It’s Electrical Voice Phenomena.

Ghosts have always loved electricity, haven’t they? When William Gilbert gave their communication tool a name the wraiths of the spirit world must have been beside themselves with joyful anticipation. At last, the living world was speaking their language. They must have watched as Luigi Galvani uncovered the dialect by which nerve cells speak to muscles, though the scientist little suspected that the dead might, men would claim, talk to the living using the same simple impulses.

The advent of sound recording opened up a whole new world to our nether friends, if paranormal researchers are to be believed. Suddenly here was a way of using electrical impulses to elucidate one’s message. Electric Voice Phenomenon is anything that sounds like speaking, but is unexplained.

It all started with Thomas Edison commenting in an interview with Scientific American that yes, his phonograph might possibly pick up a ghost better than all the paraphernalia of the spiritualist movement of the time; because phonographs were so sensitive, and the electrical disturbances of spirits so very small.

A wishful crackpot American photographer, Attila von Szalay, tried recording ghosts on a 78rpm record in 1941. He had no success, but claimed better results when he turned to the reel to reel tape recorder. And since then there have been a raft of strange inventions – Spiricom, Frank’s Box, and so many more – which depend on there being more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in the philosophy of some.

It all sounds rather impossibly far-fetched.  It is very hard to find a voice of reason in this area.

But amid all the murky ectoplasmic bilgewater of the field, I found someone who might be worth reading.

In 1997, Imants Barušs, Professor of Psychology at  King’s University College at The University of Western Ontario, Canada, began a series of 81 recordings of a radio turned to an empty frequency. The recordings span some 60 hours. Sometimes someone just sat there and listened; other times someone attempted to make contact.

Baruss is an intriguing academic. He began studying engineering science at the University of Toronto but became preoccupied with existential questions. These days he is a Professor of Psychology, studying all aspects of consciousness.  I have a sneaking respect for what I read of his work – have a look here.

During those 60 hours in 1997, he did indeed record events which sounded like voices.

But he is a scientist, not a parapsychologist. And these events were almost impossibly random, and open to many interpretations. 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.”

So can one leave a digital recorder recording in a place, and let it pick up the subtle impulses of someone who once walked the earth and now drifts somewhere intangible?

The question has implications for the living, does it not?

And in the light of that: I hope fervently that the whole thing is just preposterous mumbo-jumbo.


35 thoughts on “Ghostly MP3s: can one record the spirit world?

    1. They’ve taking to putting highly creative subtitling on them these days, I think, Judy. I wouldn’t say I recognised any connection between sounds and the words flashing up on the screen.

  1. My ghost Dot likes electricals, Kate, she turned my music system on and up to full volume once without it being plugged in… and I wish I had a recording going the morning she said “Hello!” to me, clear as day! I may have a go someday, just to see if I do pick anything up…

    1. I remember reading about that, Tom, and wondered whether it was fiction or fact. How incredibly unsettling! I assume Dot is a nice sort, and not sinister at all.

      1. No, it happened, Kate! Although Dot hasn’t really made much of an appearance since… she is a nice, friendly ghost though… I’m very pleased to add!

  2. I had the pleasure (?) of hearinf disembodied voices in my front room some years back. The voices were coming from the hi-fi speakers. It was picking up, via the (very sensitive) moving coil cartridge and stylus, the vibrations in the air from the window which was resonating to a conversation across the street. Effectively, it was mimicing the way in which a number of eavesdropping devices used by spies work. It didn’t happen normally, but I guess the atmospheric conditions were right on that day.

    I can think of several ways in which you might get ‘voices’ on an unoccupied radio frequency – all of them related to cross band transmissions caused by transmitters that are either poorly filtered or plain out of adjustment. Equaloly, a receiver without propper filtering and control of banwidth will pick-up stations on totally different frequencies – your Dad will know all about this 🙂

  3. I once read a physicist’s explanation of death: that all our energy is just rearranged when we die. We’re still there. We’re just not as ordered as we used to be. When I think about it like that, the possibility that some device could pick up that energy becomes more interesting.

  4. Late last night, on the verge of tumbling into sleep, I heard a “voice from nowhere” say . . . “HAPPY.”

    I tried to get it to expand the conversation without success.

  5. I took the kids downtown to an old theater to hunt for ghosts. They had all kinds of fancy contraptions to catch the voices. It really is an odd hobby but the place was teeming with those who love it.

  6. I, also, would hope most fervently that in a continued existence one has better things to do than wander round mumbling unintelligibly into an electronic apperatus. On the other hand, what if it is tapping into time differentials or something of that ilk?

  7. You had me with “murky ectoplasmic bilgewater of the field”. I’d wear that tee shirt. I like that explanation of death Andra offered, but I don’t feel chilled about it like you. If that’s what happens, possibly who we are as we know each other is gone? The energy that remains is truly scattered.

  8. I know I’ve previously told you about a nightly syndicated radio program I listen to that often delves into topics of extra-terrestrials and also anything paranormal. The host semi-regularly invites a small group of “ghost hunters” who share their EVPs. I typically can’t resist listening for at least a few minutes to the discussion that precedes the recordings, but I can only listen to the “voices” for a minute or two before my spine is tingling and I’m creeped out–it’s always late at night. It’s not that I even believe such things…but it is haunting in the truest sense of the word, and certainly does stir the imagination. Too much stirring for my taste!

  9. I like the phrase “discarnate beings” quoted from the professor. How lovely. I’ve never heard the word “discarnate” before. I guess it means non-corporeal.

  10. M Night Shyamalan almost had me believing the stuff, but yes I prefer the scientist too 🙂 Loved “murky ectoplasmic bilgewater” 😀

  11. I’m buying the cross-frequency radio leakage theory (2e0mca’s theory, above), but I am curious. Are any of the recordings online anywhere? The interesting bits, of course.

  12. Interesting… I can honestly say that I have heard recordings of voices that had no business being there. And they were on ordinary cassette tapes, not even digital recorders. I have no explanations, but they sure made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

  13. and when they play back the EVP recordings on TV they like to include subtitles so that you can read what they think they heard and suggest that you hear the same thing as they did!

    By the way, great post Kate!

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