By Robin M. Strom, author of On the Hunt for the Haunted
As discussed in the book, On the Hunt for the Haunted, the voice on the audio recorder was both clear and clearly exasperated. The first said simply “Get out,” and then a few seconds later the female voice directed us to “Get out now!” Both voices were female, and both were caught in an empty room. We had been in the residence for several hours, and she had tolerated us up to that point. But like the house guest that will not leave, we had clearly worn out our welcome. That’s why I love EVP. Those inexplicable voices are remarkable, provocative and sometimes simply brimming over with personality. Our paranormal team uses EVP techniques on all of our investigations. But you don’t have to be a paranormal investigator stomping around a haunted asylum to enjoy EVP, as I’ll explain at the end of this article. First, I’ll explain electronic voice phenomena (EVP) and discuss the various types of techniques our team adheres to on our investigations.
Brief Explanation of EVP
The quickest definition of electronic voice phenomena are voices or sounds caught on recording devices that the person or persons in the room did not hear with their own ears. They’re detected by someone only on playback of the device. The question as to how a spirit might be able to speak and be heard on a recording device has long been a contentious debate. How does a spirit record sound on a recording device if they have no mechanisms with which to make sound, no vocal chords through which air is passed, no lungs to pump the air? One of two ways have been proposed. The first is that they imprint their thoughts onto the recording device via psychic abilities. The second that they mold the environmental noises to their whim in order to create sounds resembling human speech. It has been noted among those who study EVP seriously that the voices recorded, when there are at least two or more recording devices in a room, will show up on only one. Thus, they cannot be accounted to environmental noises alone, because if they were, they would be recorded on all of the recording devices in the same vicinity. Analysis made by experts in voice phenomenon also note that such recordings exhibit a frequency shift which is outside the frequency range of the human voice.
The equipment needed to capture EVP is actually limited. The first item obviously is some type of device that records audio. I tend to invest in mobile, studio-grade audio recording devices that have excellent microphones built into the unit, which also allow me to add extraneous microphones if needed. I have many on my team that buy inferior audio recorders designed to record audio in large classroom or auditorium settings. The results of these devices can be shocking. The audio is so loud, the pickup so sensitive, that a toilet being flushed one floor down is unmistakable. These devices tend to record as much machine noise as anything else. While this sounds bad, there are some in the paranormal field that contend that the machine noise of the cheaper devices may actually be beneficial, as it adds an element of white noise to the recording which a spirit may be able to manipulate in order to make a sound. At the very least an audio device should either have SD card memory capability or be capable of USB downloads.
Audio recorders, obviously, are not the only device capable of recording sound. We have caught as discarnate voices on video cameras as well. Computers can also be utilized to capture sound. In the end, anything that can record audio can be utilized. In order to capture EVP of course, one has to have the capability of listening to the audio recorded. A good set of headphones, plugged directly into the audio recording device can be utilized for real time analysis. If doing analysis after the recording session it’s best to use a computer, again a good quality set of headphones and audio editing software. Our team uses the free Audacity editing software. It’s extremely user friendly, and the audio can be easily boosted.
White Noise Generators
There are many in the field that believe the cleaner, more concise the audio recording, the more white noise needs to be emitted into the environment. This would allow the spirit to use the sound in order to manipulate it into recognizable speech patterns. Experts have suggested such generators as running water, fans blowing in rooms or computerized white noise generators as possible sources of white noise. Still others have staunchly stood by such things as ghost boxes, which scan radio frequencies in the hopes that a spirit can manipulate radio frequency static. Our group does not utilize such devices as ghost boxes for fear that these devices will give false positives.
To date, we have not documented a decrease in EVP phenomena, despite the fact that we have started using better audio quality electronic recording devices, and not used a white noise generator per se. Then again, our modern buildings are rarely if ever without some type of white noise. If not the hum of the furnace in the winter, it’s the whine of the AC unit in the summer. Wash machines, dishwashers, any and all of our modern appliances make a constant mechanical hum that we for most part tune out.
Active versus Passive EVP Sessions
There is certainly a debate among investigators about active versus passive EVP. The active EVP session is when investigators are actively in a room conducting a session. Normally such sessions last about twenty minutes, throughout which time the investigators will ask a series of questions, normally not scripted. They tend to be mundane questions. An investigator might ask a question such as, “what is your name?” Then, they wait in silence for ten seconds in case something responds. Then they proceed with another question. The philosophy behind the active session is that the entity or entities wish to respond to the questions being asked. The problem is, if the spirit isn’t interested in your line of questioning, then they’ll respond or not, as they wish.
When possible, I try to use more provocative questions. In order to do this, one needs to have some idea who they’re questioning. By provocative I’m not talking about provoking, which is when an investigator actively tries to anger a spirit into responding, at debatable practice at best. What I mean by provocative is finding a line of questioning which is personal and interesting to the spirit. For example, we investigated an old home that had reportedly served as a brothel during the Civil War. Legend had it that one of the patrons had been a young soldier who committed suicide in the home because he’d been a traitor, or was afraid of being tried for a traitor. One of the questions that I asked that night was, “Did you kill yourself because you were afraid that your fellow soldiers would see you as a traitor?” playing off the fact that soldiers are supposed to have a sense of honor. Immediately after that question on the recorder the team caught a distinctly male sounding voice saying, “Yes.” If I believe the spirit to be that of a child, I have been known to tell stories, or talk about things that children like to do. Trigger objects work well. Music from the era you believe the spirit might have lived again can work very well. When we do play music, we keep the clips short, however. We don’t want to be playing a waltz for five minutes over any possible EVP’s we’ve caught.
The passive session is when investigators are not actively asking questions. Instead a voice recorder is left in the environment. Windows and doors should be closed so that as little outside contamination is possible. Controlling the environment is extremely important. Voices in another room, or sometimes on another floor of the building, can literally be picked up on recorders, the devices are extremely sensitive. The philosophy of the passive session is that a spirit will inadvertently leave a response while it goes about doing what it normally does. I usually begin such a passive session by hitting the record button and then instructing the spirit about what the device does and then setting it down and leaving it recording for the rest of the investigation. The scripted tag usually begins with, “This is Robin and it is March 3rd 2019, we are in the Seaford house, 2nd floor rear bedroom, it is 7:15pm. With me tonight are… (and I name all the investigators that are with me on the investigation).” I then place the device somewhere within camera range and I instruct the spirit about what it is and what they should do if they wish to make contact with us. It usually sounds something like, “I’ve placed a device on the chair over there. Do you see the red light? It will record your voice. We may not hear it tonight but we’ll listen to the recording. Please let us know what message you wish to leave the home owner.” I then depart the area and let my recorder do its work.
The debate comes in as to which of these two approaches are better. Many new investigators believe one has to be actively involved in order to receive a response. This is under the assumption that whatever entity or entities are on a property wish to communicate with you actively. I’ve actually found the reverse to be the case. As often as not, a spirit or spirits seem to go out of their way to actively avoid investigators. It may be that they find the investigative group to be intrusive, and their questions uninteresting. They may have a message to impart, but they’re bored with the tenth time they’ve been asked, “what is your name?” Among the most remarkable EVP’s that my group have captured were of the passive variety.
Device placement is extremely important. It should be placed in a position where it isn’t likely to pick up extraneous sounds. Case in point, my team did an investigation at an old house. It was myself and two investigators who were new to the whole investigative process. I was busy setting up our four-camera surveillance system. One of my investigators asked me where I wanted her audio recorder to be placed. Off handedly I told her that I would like it in an upstairs bedroom, and went back to the infuriating process of running cables and setting up cameras. She dutifully took the recorder to the upstairs bedroom. The house was under massive renovations, and there was literally no furniture in the building at the time. Not wanting to set her audio recorder down in construction dust, she instead set it on a window sill, hit record and left. The house was in a residential area, and what the device recorded was every neighbor passing by, all the cars driving by, kids playing on the street. The entire night’s recording was wasted. Set up your audio device in a quiet spot, near an interior wall, keeping it away from windows and doors as much as possible. Do not walk about with the device in hand.
When investigators move about or make sounds, they should tag such on their recorders with a statement such as, “that was me knocking.” Likewise, extraneous sounds should be tagged. For example, if the voices of children are heard playing outside or a car drives by, those sounds should be tagged as well. Investigators should also be diligent about tagging when they enter or exit a space. Such entrances and exits are diligently logged in the investigator’s log book. In that way we can chronicle who was in the room – or not - when the voice was captured. As I said before, sometimes voices from another room are picked up, and they may be misinterpreted as an EVP. For example, I have a very soft voice, and the team has countless times picked up what sounds like a soft whisper, which is the way most EVP’s tend to come across, and it turns out it was me in another room. If you’re performing EVP with a team of people it’s important to caution everyone to avoid whispering. Speak in a normal tone of voice. And when it comes to the integrity of EVP’s, the more team members on an investigation is not the merrier. I tend to keep my team very spare on investigations so keep the amount of vocal contamination to a minimum. Silence is golden. Conversations should be kept to break time.
When reviewing audio, one needs to be very careful to listen to all of the audio, from the moment you hit record to the moment you hit stop. We have found that we get a prevalence of passive EVP’s especially at the start of an investigation. The entities appear to be curious as to our intentions. Whereas by hour five in the investigation they tend to be as bored with the process as we are. Any possible EVP’s are logged in our log books and isolated into smaller clips which are shared among the members. It’s important to get several opinions about a possible EVP. For one thing, we want to eliminate any false positives, such as team members in another room, or animal noises that may be misinterpreted as EVP. Case in point, we did an investigation at a home with several cats. One of the cats made the strangest meow sound I’ve ever heard. At first, we thought it was a voice, but then we noticed on our video cameras that the sound only occurred when this particular feline was in the room. Machine noises can be pesky as well. Understandably, it’s depressing when you feel you’ve found the perfect EVP, only to find you’ve misinterpreted the hiss of the refrigerator. However, it does nothing for your credibility to present a clip that you feel is paranormal, only to find out that it’s the resident owl. Which leads me to my next point, classes of EVP. Obviously not all EVP’s are of the same quality. The founder of the American Association of Electronic Voice Phenomenon, (AA-EVP) Sarah Estep, established a simple three step tier system to classify EVP’s that is still in much use today.
Class A EVP: are of the variety we all dream of capturing. They can be heard without headphones. They are clear and distinct as to what words are being spoken. Without being prompted or told, anyone who hears the EVP will be able to understand what is being said or heard.
Class B EVP: Is a voice or sound that is fairly loud, still loud enough to be heard without the use of headphones. People with normal hearing will still be able to hear the EVP and interpret it in the same way without being told what the EVP says, if they’re told what to listen for. Those who have been trained to listen for EVP will hear the EVP without prompting of any kind.
Class C EVP: Would require headphones to hear. This type of EVP will be faint and will probably come across as a whisper or a soft sound. The words being spoken may not be decipherable. The sound may have a mechanical quality to it. People listening to such would not all decipher the EVP in the same way, or would require prompting to interpret it. Many investigators would disregard this type of recording as flawed. At best they’d archive such for future reference, but withhold presenting it. There is the ever-present danger with this type of sound that it is environmental nature, such as that pesky cat with the weird meow. Beyond a doubt it is the Class C EVP’s that cause the most hurt feelings among investigators. One investigator will distinctly hear someone calling them by name, another will interpret it as machine noise. I always try to keep the T.A.P.S. (The Atlantic Paranormal Society) motto in mind, “when in doubt, throw it out.” Remember, if you didn’t collect an EVP today, there’s always next time.
EVP at Home
But say you don’t have a crack team and a haunted site to try out EVP for yourself. With a little discipline, you can conduct EVP sessions at home. Even if the home doesn’t have paranormal activity, you can send an invitation out to the spirit world that you wish to communicate, much as people do who experiment with Ouija boards. What you should do is find a time when the home is quiet with as few people in the building as possible. It’s best to set up a schedule, so that an entity or entities will know when you’re going to be conducting the sessions. You may wish to write up a set of questions. And yes, you can ask for a particular person or persons to make contact with you, such as a departed loved one. Set up your audio equipment, make sure to also wear a good quality headset while recording so that you can hear real-time if and when a voice comes through. You may also wish to review the recordings after the recording session, just to be sure you didn’t miss something. Again, discipline is key. You should stick to your schedule as closely as possible, and realize that it may take many such sessions before you actually capture anything. In the end, however, the voices of the universe are all around us, and you too can capture them, if you dare.