Friday, February 22, 2008

Do the dead speak in stereo?

I have just ordered a new digital voice recorder. Okay, the main reason was that Maplin have a sale and I can’t resist that place. I try to avoid the shop in Aberdeen, but the website is only a mouse-click away.

I have a sensible reason too. Up to now I have largely ignored EVPs (electronic voice phenomena, jargon for ‘voices of the dead’) because they are next to impossible to verify. There is sound, but no vision. You can’t see if there’s someone else there, someone putting on a throaty whisper. The voices never say anything sensible (apart from the ones that whisper ‘Punch the idiot’, but that’s just my subconscious speaking). They are far too easy to fake, whether on tape or digital media. As Tom pointed out a while back, re-used tapes are not always completely wiped over so the EVP might be nothing more than an echo from a previous recording. Too many problems, so I never put much faith in them.

All the same, I do use a digital recorder just in case. You never know. Digital ones don’t have the motor-hiss of tape, they produce files that can be transferred to computer in an instant, they are small and light and they run for a long time on little batteries. Not too much initial cost, low battery cost and no tape cost. Worth trying.

It occurred to me that there is a way to improve the credibility of EVP evidence and perhaps find something about how they work into the bargain. To do this I need a video camera and two digital recorders. I have too many video cameras and one digital recorder. I could have resurrected an old tape recorder for this but well, that new digital one was half-price…

There are already video recordings of investigators capturing and then playing back EVPs but these are on TV shows. Anything designed for entertainment value is suspect. I’m not saying they faked it, I’m saying it would have been very easy to do and no scientist can take a TV show as evidence. Well, not unless they enjoy the sensation of being laughed at.

What I intend to try is this. Set up two voice recorders so that both are completely in the view of the video camera. Start the camera, then the recorders. State the time and date in a clear voice. This fixes a point on all three, and if ever there’s an EVP worth following up, a good voice-analyst can confirm that the three recordings match on that statement.

Now there’s a camera watching the voice recorders so they can’t be tampered with. Before shutting down, state the time and date once more to fix the end of the recording. Then search the voice recordings for EVPs.

So far it’s not clear how EVPs get onto the tape or digital recording. Nobody present hears anything. Having two running together will help answer that.

First, you need a clear and definite voice on one of the recordings. Then you check the other recording to see if it also appears on that, and at the same time. The video recording will show whether the recorders were tampered with, and will reveal any deep-voiced fakes. For some reason these EVPs don’t seem to show up on video sound. There’s probably a technical excuse but I haven’t found it yet. Perhaps a video soundtrack is limited in range because of the width of the tape, most of which is used for pictures? If so, that problem might disappear with these new hard-disk videos. It remains to be seen.

Right. Let’s say there’s a voice at the same time on both recordings, but nothing on the video. We can call it an EVP and we can assume that it’s somehow inaudible to the human (and camera) ear but was picked up by the recorders. Since it’s on both, it must have gone in through the microphones, so it’s somehow ‘really there’ in the room. That calls for equipment capable of translating inaudible sound frequencies into audible. Bat-listening gear, in other words.

Suppose there’s a very clear voice on one recording but nothing on the other, and nothing on the tape. A glitch? Possibly, but it might also indicate the alternative idea concerning EVPs – that they bypass the microphone to land directly on the recording medium. That would suggest moving the investigation into radio frequencies, the most likely source that might be capable of such a thing. If it is RF, it’s likely that one manufacturer’s recorder will be more sensitive to this than another. I'll have two recorders from different manufacturers so I'll detect this if it happens.

It would indeed be embarrassing to find that the voices on tape came from radio frequencies in use by local taxi firms. That’s possible—I used to have a hifi that picked up those signals. So don’t do this on TV. Don’t dash out with the EVP and claim it as proof until every possible source of error has been checked.

I doubt that setup would produce absolute proof. It would take EVPs one step closer to being useful evidence. It would also give an idea whether to concentrate further effort on RF or sound frequencies—either route is expensive and buying expensive but useless equipment is not sensible.

As EVPs stand, the voices are not clear. They say nothing of note. They don’t have conversations with investigators. We can’t tune in to them because we don’t know where they are. Are they sound waves, radio waves, magnetic or electric waves? Heck, we can’t tune in because we don’t even know which device to tune!

If we did know, if we could record an actual conversation with a spirit, then that would be pretty powerful evidence. Especially if they could provide information on something nobody living could know, but which could later be verified. Where they hid something, where a specific lost item can be found, something along those lines. It would be on tape. It would also be on video – well, the investigator’s side of the conversation would be on video. The investigator’s voice could be checked to prove that all three recordings happened at the same time.

This does of course depend entirely on finding a ghost willing to cooperate. That, as always, is the hard part.

6 comments:

Dr. Brainiac said...

That sounds like an interesting experiment. You could also add a traditional tape recorder - with a brand spanking new tape - to the mix of devices just in case the spirits have an affinity for tape over digital voice recorders or video. Be sure to let us know how it all shakes out.

ThatGreenyFlower said...

"apart from the ones that whisper ‘Punch the idiot’, but that’s just my subconscious speaking"

--Bwah! You had me at 'Punch the idiot!'

Romulus Crowe said...

Dr. B - yes, I could include a tape recorder too. This new gadget can record in stereo but I can't see that being useful at the moment. It does accept an external microphone, and it works with the ones I already have. I do have to be lucky enough to get a speaking ghost after all this setting up, of course.

TGF - Idiots should be punched. There should be a law that allows it, past a set level of stupidity. Unfortunately there isn't.

Anonymous said...

This does of course depend entirely on finding a ghost willing to cooperate. That, as always, is the hard part.

Speaking of finding a ghost...

Last night my son and some buddies were out in the woods hunting each other in teams with Airsoft rifles. They're teenage boys. They think shooting each other is great fun. They'd been playing for about seven hours and it had grown quite dark. They were using moonlight and stealth to sneak up on each other, and then turning on flashlights at the last moment to spotlight their target and shoot.

Imagine three paths in the woods coming together in the shape of an arrow. My son and his buddy had just come up the shaft of the arrow and were standing at its point. They looked down the two paths to either side of them that formed the arrow head. Two very dark shapes were moving up the paths, one from each side. My son said the movement looked human and he estimated the dark shadows were between 5 and 6 feet tall. Too tall to be an animal, though predators like bobcats, coyotes, and mountain lions are still common in this area.

Since they were both moving at roughly the same speed, the boys assumed they were members of the opposing team coming at them. The boys stood hip to hip, each with a weapon trained on one of the two shapes of approaching darkness. They clicked on their flashlights right before firing, expecting to see other players. There was nothing. The flashlights illuminated nothing but empty paths. They clicked off the flashlights and the dense black human-like shadows were moving toward them still. They ran.

The other players had been nowhere near that section of the woods. The boys came home sure the woods are haunted.

Possible explanations?

Southern Writer said...

There went a keyboard. I had a mouth full of coffee when I got to "Punch the idiot."

I know above this post is the reply to the very interesting scenario just described, and I'm anxious to hear more about it, but before I skip up there, I just want to mention that I think about EVPs often when I'm in my kitchen. The reason is that all kinds of sounds from outside are carried into my house by the vent over the stove. The neighbor's dogs barking, kids playing in the yard behind mine, music from the car radio of the kid across the street (if I wanted to hear his stereo, I'd be sitting in his car, thank you), and they all sound like they're in the kitchen with me. I imagine there are old buildings in cities where voices are carried through vents and heating ducts and so forth, too. So while the video is on, even if no one is seen tampering with the recording devices, it doesn't necessarily mean the voice comes from beyond. You have to find a way to rule such things out. Bummer.

Romulus Crowe said...

Sorry about the keyboard, SW. I have a water-resistant one, which I recommend. It was cheap, too.

Vents, waterpipes, overflow pipes, even the little ventilation slots above double-glazed windows are all a pain when looking for EVP's. Bare stone walls echo sound, often in very directional ways. Even if you say 'it wasn't audible at the time', that won't work. Background noises get filtered out when you're concentrating on something else. Children playing in the distance can make a lot of noise but you 'tune it out' when you're working.

I think an EVP, to be considered very good evidence, would have to give an intelligible answer to a question posed by the investigator, and that would have to happen more than once - three should be enough to skew the probability away from 'coincidence' although more is always better.

Phrases like 'get out' are common, but these tell us nothing and they're exactly the sort of thing a prankster would whisper down a pipe.

EVP's won't provide evidence if all you get are random phrases, but then nobody said this was an easy choice of study! Well, if it was easy, it wouldn't be fun.

The trouble is, all these TV shows make it look as though it is easy. I'll bet the producers have shares in EMF meter and IR thermometer companies. There must be hundreds of those things gathering dust in drawers by now.

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