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Monday, October 26, 2015

How to Edit EVP's for Beginning Paranormal Investigators

By Robin Strom Mackey

Sometimes I think the worst part of paranormal investigating is trying to learn all the new technology, especially if you’re not naturally tech savvy.  My new team has been struggling with their introduction to evidence review and audio editing lately, and the growing pains have been...painful. When I had three new team members try to send me hours of raw, unedited audio. I realized I had a big problem, a really big problem, because if they didn’t review their audio, it left me to do it, and I don’t have twenty free hours to spare!
So I decided to put some training together to help them, me, and perhaps you, through the process. This is an article for beginning investigators and much of the information is rudimentary or just plain common sense. But trust a former broadcast and radio production instructor, sometimes the rudimentary needs to be explained, and common sense vocalized.

Audio Editing Software

I recommend the free Audacity Audio Editing download to my new members. The price is right and software easy to learn and use.  Recently one of my new members asked in despair whether he should buy a sound board and expensive editing software package because his audio quality was so poor.  I’ve worked in broadcasting and radio in the past, and I use the free Audacity software. It produces good quality audio, as long as the initial audio is of  decent quality. So, I suggest you save the money for expensive software packages and instead buy a decent audio recorder.

Voice Recorder

I’ll reiterate, buy a decent audio recorder in the first place and you’ll not need a whole lot of editing savvy on the back end. When looking to purchase an audio recorder, make sure it either has a USB port onboard, or comes with a USB cable. In other words, you need to have some way to move the raw audio in the voice recorder to a computer.  Some of the cheaper voice recorders are all in one units, so beware.  Avoid dictation recorders and recorders that use proprietary software, as they won’t play well with other file types. 

One of the team members recently purchased an Olympia unit that was very easy to use, recorded six hours of audio without a hitch, and which she was able to purchase off the shelf at Walmart. You gotta love it when devices actually do what they’re supposed to do.

On the higher end of the price range, I love my Zoom unit, and I realized after I purchased the machine that Zoom recorders are what the T.A.P.S. team uses for their wireless audio.  My unit produces excellent quality audio that is a breeze to transfer to the computer. My only complaint is that the playback function on the unit has malfunctioned, which forces me to review the audio on the computer.  But then, you really ought to do your audio review on the computer anyway.

Audio Recorders in the field
  • It’s a good idea to record a short segment and play it back to make sure the unit is working as it should.
  • On an investigation it’s better to put the unit down versus carrying it around. Any clothing or fingers rubbing across the speaker will cause noise and/or distortion on the recorder.
  • If you’re using an audio recorder outside on a windy day, use a windscreen if one is provided, and know that depending on the amount of wind the audio will likely be un-useable. Mics and wind don’t mix well.
  • Every time you move rooms or locations get in the habit of tagging the audio as to time, location and team members present.
  • Tag any sounds, by making a verbal comment,  that might be mistaken for an unexplained audio.

Beginning the editing process

Create a new folder on your computer with the name of the investigation or date in a location you will remember. I usually put all of my audio files in my Music Folder. I create a new folder folder for every investigation. The date is important, especially if you do multiple investigations at one location. An example folder name is below.

Seaford Jones investigation 9.9.17

Instead of simply dumping all my willy nilly in my folder, I usually place folders inside the main investigation folder.  This is especially helpful if you have multiple devices, or if you move your device to multiple locations during the course of the night.  Example folder names are below. 

Jones investigation kitchen Raw audio 9.9.17
Jones investigation master bedroom Raw audio 9.9.17

 I always designate when files are raw or edited so I know what I'm looking at. Now you can dump your audio in the appropriate folders. Your unit will number them, For the moment I would leave them as they are.

I then open Audacity and pull up the first file.  My unit records audio in 3 hour segments, which is simply too big a file.  So the first thing I do is chop the raw files up  in 1 hour increments and rename them to make them more useable. I suggest you number them in chronological order.  Example below. Again I always designate the investigation and the date, the room the audio recorder was in and whether it's raw audio or edited audio.

Jones investigation 9.9.17 kitchen raw audio 1
Jones investigation 9.9.17 kitchen raw audio 2
Jones investigation 9.9.17 kitchen raw audio 3

Get the best quality headset you have and find a quiet place to begin the listening session. Again I would save your money on expensive software packages and instead purchase the best quality headset you can afford. EVP's when they do occur are usually very soft, often no more than a whisper that you'll completely miss if you don't have a decent headset. 

Audio Technica and Sennheiser are two brands that I recommend. And of course there's always Bose.  A team member of mine bought a Bose headset and we compared my Sennheiser to his Bose, and found they were pretty equal.


In order to catch anything anomalous you will have to listen to the audio from the beginning all the way to the end, ever minute, every second.  EVP’s often show up when an investigator least expects it, like during setup or break down, or when you leave the room to get a snack.

The video below will help acquaint you to the Audacity workspace.  There are other tutorial videos available on YouTube as well.

 
Your first EVP
As you’re listening you find something you feel might be an EVP. You,

A.      Get up and do a happy dance, it’s Christmas and you’ve got a little package under the tree

B.      Jot the file number and location of EVP using the timecode at the bottom right hand of the screen as a guide.

C.      Isolate the area by highlighting it and playing it several times

D.      Copy and paste the highlighted area into a file of its own and export it as a useable file type to share with team members and possibly client.

E.       Continue on with the listening process, you’ll return to it later when you have more time

F.       All of the above except E

Sadly most beginning investigators do E, and then have no idea where they heard what they heard! It’s very aggravating and a terrible waste of time.
The correct answer is F. My first suggestion is get a notebook and use it to jot notes, impressions, evidence, timecodes etc. And if you do feel you have an anomalous sound recorded, don’t just continue on! It will take you twice the time to find it again. Instead listen to it several times. Try to be objective. Have as many other people listen to it as well. If you feel it’s the real deal, highlight the area and copy it over to a file of its own. 

But before do all that, jot it down in your log book. Below is a picture of my log book, which I've had for ten years now. It's always along on investigations and it's always beside me as I review evidence.  Anything I think may be of interest is recorded in the log book - and don't forget to also note which file you were listening to at the time (the same is true for any video you watch. I start the log entry with the name of the investigation and the date. I also record who was present at the investigation, and I log when investigators enter and leave a room.

Notice the numbers on the left side of the logbook. Those are time codes - very important if you want to be able to find that interesting segment of audio again. The time code in Audacity is at the bottom right screen. Time code simply tells you how far into the file you are. It lists the hour (if you've hit the hour mark) minutes and seconds. For example, 1:22:15 would indicate that you are 1 hour, 22 minutes and 15 seconds into a file.





See the video below for how to isolate clips.

 So if you found what you believe is an EVP, or simply want to get other team members opinions on a segment, it's usually easiest to isolate a small segment of the audio.  These isolated segments are then small enough to send as an attachment in an email. Again, I create a new folder in the investigation folder indicating that it's possible evidence.

Jones Investigation 9.9.17 Possible Evidence

I dump any of my edited files in there as well as well as other edited footage that my team sends me.  After all the audio and video have been reviewed and anything we find interesting has been isolated, these clips become what I present to the client.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

2011 PRG Study: Transliminal Personalities and Paranormal Experiences

By Robin M. Strom-Mackey
The young man on the phone seemed distraught. He had left one residence where he had experienced paranormal phenomenon only to move to another residence where he began to experience strange phenomenon. “Why did these things always seem to happen to him?” he asked.  I wasn’t sure he’d like the answer. But if you, like me, have ever wondered whether there was a type of person that seemed more prone to believing in and/or experiencing paranormal phenomenon, the answer according to a recent study appears to be yes.

Transliminality

“Transliminality, Paranormal Belief and Paranormal Experiences at a Reportedly Haunted Location” is the summation of a year-long study conducted and published by Dave Schumacher, Director of Anomalous Research for the Paranormal Research Group. Schumacher notes that his study supports the increasing body of evidence that people who report experiencing paranormal phenomenon tend to be transliminal personalities.

 Transliminality was a term coined by the late Dr. Michael Thalbourne, Parapsychology Professor, University of Adelaide. The term was first used in Thalbourne and Delin’s 1994 paper where the researchers described a personality type that appeared more in tune with both external stimuli and their own internal subconscious (see also the article Transliminality, August 2010).
 
This type of personality was able to pick up environmental cues more easily, and was also able to move information more easily from their unconscious to their conscious minds. In other words, a transliminal personality would be able to pick up on things in the environment that others wouldn’t perceive. Certainly we all pick up environmental details all the time, thousands of tidbits of information such as the sound of the train going by, or the wafting smell of popcorn from the kitchen, or the influx of heat once the furnace kicks on.  The transliminal personality might also note the scratch of a skateboard out on the sidewalk and the spider in the corner. 

A study conducted at Goldsmith College, London, found that those who scored high on the transliminality scale were able to perceive flashed subliminal messages far more frequently, than those who scored low. (An interesting aside, high transliminals did not score significantly higher on ESP scores, than their low transliminal counterparts.)

As pointed out earlier, someone who scored high on a transliminality scale would likely pick up on subtler environmental clues than those who scored low and they would be able to move that information more easily from the unconscious to the conscious part of their brain.  Thalbourne noted that these people had, “an openness or receptiveness to impulses and experiences whose sources are in preconscious (or unconscious) processes (Thalbourne, 1991).”
 
In a 2007 interview, Thalbourne went even further, noting that high-transliminals had a “hyper-sensitivity [my emphasis] to psychological material coming from the unconscious…and stimulation from the external environment (Williams, 2007).” These two traits led to a set of personality characteristics that are very specific to the highly transliminal, including creativity, a belief in magical ideation, a tendency toward eastern philosophies, new age ideas and a belief in the paranormal and assertions that they have personally experienced something paranormal.

Houran and Thalbourne suggested that highly transliminal people may be characterized by a hyper-connectedness of the temporal-limbic structures with the sensory association cortices of the brain. Lying deep within the lobes of the cerebral hemispheres, the C-shaped limbic structures are the older and more primitive structures of the brain associated with more visceral emotions, memory and motivation. Specifically, the amygdala attaches emotional significance to sensory input. Also, olfactory input is processed in the limbic system, which explains why certain smells elicit an immediate emotional response.
 
Therefore, a person scoring high on a transliminal scale would not only be extremely sensitive to sensory stimuli in the environment, but would also be more likely to attach emotional or symbolic significance to the stimuli. Schumacher notes that, “the limbic system has been postulated to be the source of material for apparitional and visionary experiences (Schumacher, 2011; Houran & Thalbourne, 2001lb; Thalbourne et al., 1997).” This would explain why those scoring high on a transliminal scale would be more likely to believe they experienced something paranormal.

Podmore & Tyrell; Theories as to how one Perceives Ghosts

Schumacher notes that the theory of transliminality may also help explain older hypotheses of how people perceive hauntings.  Society of Psychical Research member and author, Frank Podmore, speculated that apparitions were the result of a telepathically received hallucination.  G.N.M. Tyrell, psychologist, paranormal researcher and author, elaborated on Podmore’s theory, suggesting an “idea-pattern model” The “idea” is created by the ‘agent’ and sent telepathically to the percipient. The information is perceived first in the subconscious or unconscious mind, where it undergoes processing, becoming an apparitional ‘drama.’ 
 
Tyrell suggested a mid-level of consciousness that did the processing, and that was “responsible for elaborating on the basic telepathic message. This would eventually lead to the construction of an appropriate visual image to convey the message. This is the point when the material moves from the subliminal/subconscious to conscious awareness (Schumacher, 2011, Tyrell, 1953).”

2011 Study

The year-long study conducted by the Paranormal Research Group basically primed, taught and studied groups of volunteers in paranormal research.  Small groups of volunteers signed up. They were then indoctrinated in the basics of paranormal research via a classroom session. Afterwards they were set loose to investigate a purportedly haunted location with the only caveat being that they had to submit to a battery of three tests later in the evening. Being thus primed, it’s not surprising that the majority of participants reported having had paranormal experiences. Again, the experiment was designed to test the theory that people who scored higher on a transliminal scale would report more paranormal experiences than those subjects that tested low on the scale, when both groups investigated a site that was purportedly haunted.

The Tests
The PRG team gave the groups a battery of survey tests that measured for slightly different belief subsets. The first was the Rash-Revised Transliminality Scale (RRTS).  The original Thalbourne survey was a survey of 29 true/false questions.  Many of the questions have been eliminated due to age and/or gender bias. Thus the Rash-Revised scale is a 17 question survey with the more “yes” responses indicating a higher transliminal personality.

The group also administered The New Age Philosophy (NAP) and the Traditional Paranormal Belief (TPB) Subscales of the Revised Paranormal Belief Scale (RPBS). The Paranormal Belief Scale was designed so that separate scores could be categorized into different categories of paranormal belief, which included: traditional paranormal belief, Psi, precognition, witchcraft, superstition, spiritualism and extraordinary life forms.

The final survey was an EXIT Questionnaire which consisted of 20 items which measured whether specific anomalous sensations had occurred to the participants during their investigations.  The responders were allowed a three point scale from which to answer which included a 0=Never, 1=occasionally, 2=frequently. These were tallied for an overall score.

What is not remarkable is the fact that people primed to believe they were investigating a property reported to have paranormal activity actually experienced paranormal activity.   What is interesting in noting is that the types of experiences were differentiated into two groups. 

The Results

The experiences were roughly broken down into physical phenomenon and psychological impressions. The physical phenomenon includes measurable phenomenon such as temperature changes, auditory experiences, physical manifestations, olfactory experiences and objective events in the environment (Persinger and Cameron, 1986, Houran et. al. 2002 ).

Among phenomenon under the psychological category are feelings of being watched or sensed presences, physical sensations, emotional responses, visual apparitions and related visual imagery.  Psychological experiences might be viewed as more subjective and less measurable.

Undoubtedly the two categories include much grey area. Schumacher notes that many of the phenomenon could be listed in both categories, but that the differentiation depends on whether there was an environmental cue for the experience or whether it correlated instead with “perceptual-personality variables (Schumacher, 2012).” Is a smell, for example a psychological experience or a physical experience?  This may depend on whether more than one person experiences the smell and whether there were verifiable environmental cues, i.e. smells. For example if several people report smelling a strong perfume and someone present is wearing a strong perfume then smell would be categorized as a physical experience.  If only one person reported the smell of strong perfume while no one present was wearing such and no one else present smelled perfume, then the phenomenon would be listed in the psychological category instead. 

Conclusion
What the PRG noted during the year-long study was that those who scored high on a transliminal scale, while conducting paranormal investigations tended to report many more experiences in the second category, i.e. feelings and impressions of entities, and far fewer in the first category of measurable phenomenon. The study did not correlate the experiences with evidence collected recording devices. Overall, those scoring higher on the transliminal scale did report more experiences after an evening's investigation, thus supporting PRG's premise that that they would.  Schumacher concludes, "Despite the limitations of this study, it does add to the overall evidence that transliminality and belief play a role in paranormal experiences at a reportedly 'haunted location (Schumacher).'"
References
Hesselink, J.R. MD, FACR. The Temporal Lobe & Limbic System. Retrieved November, 3, 2012 from http://spinwarp.ucsd.edu/neuroweb/Text/br-800epi.htm
Houran et al. (2002). European Journal of Parapsychology. 17. 17-44.
Persinger, Cameron (1986. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research. 80, 49-73.
Schumacher, D. (2011) “Transliminality, Paranormal Belief and Paranormal Experiences at a Reportedly Haunted Location.” Paranormal Research Group, Red Lion, Pennsylvania www.paranormal researchgroup.com.
Strom-Mackey, R. (2010) “Transliminality.” The Shore. Delawareparanormal.blogspot.com. Delaware Paranormal Research Group.
Thalbourne, M.A., Delin P.S. (1994) A Common Thread Underlying Belief in the Paranormal, Creative Personality, Mystical Experience and Psychopathology. Journal of Parapsychology, Vol. 58, March 1994.

Thalbourne, M.A., Delin, P.S. (1999) Transliminality: Its Relation to Dream Life, Religiosity, and Mystical Experience. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion. 9-1 (pp.45-61)

Thalbourne, M.A. Interview with Robyn Williams. ABC.Science.com; Radio National. June 4, 2006. www.abc.net.au/rn/science/incon/stories/s1607944.html Retrieved August 12, 2010.