What is EVP?
(updated 02/18/2006)

 

Brief History

The birth of EVP can be attributed to Thomas Edison because of his phonograph and recording inventions. Thomas Edison was known to be involved in the spiritualist movement that was popular in the US and abroad in the 1920s. In the late 1920s, near the end of his life, Thomas Edison experimented with a spirit communication machine. Unfortunately, Edison passed away in 1931 before he could document any results.

In 1959, Friedrich Juergenson, a Swedish artist and film producer noticed that he had unexplainable voices on recordings he made of song birds in the woods. He continued his research and wrote a book entitled "Voices from the Universe".

In 1982, Sarah Estep from Severna Park, MD began the American Association for Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) with the intent to prove that there is life beyond the physical plane; her research began as an attempt to contact her departed husband. In the same year, Sarah published a book entitled "Voices of Eternity" in which she chronicled her 15 years of EVP research. Sarah has since retired from EVP research and turned the reigns over to Tom and Lisa Butler in May, 2000 (see http://www.dreamwater.com/aaevp/index.html  for more details on the AA-EVP organization.)   Sarah recorded an EVP in the basement of my favorite lighthouse, Point Lookout.   The voice was of a young boy who said:  "I was seeing the war".

(Note- while we do find the information presented on the AAEVP website interesting, we do not endorse all of the methods presented.  In particular, we believe that using the highest quality setting available on a digital recorder will produce better results, or at the very least will allow for the most ability to "clean up" any potential sounds captured during an EVP session.    In addition, we have not had a lot of experience- or success- with using white noise to "generate" EVPs.   In fact, at this time, we feel that white noise only complicates the analysis of EVPs, as it adds yet another layer of sound that either has to be removed in the editing process or ignored by the listener, and any distractions to the listener are usually most unwelcome.  In addition, skeptics will argue that the mind will take the random white noise sounds and attempt to make spoke words out of the chaos.  AAEVP participated in the making of the movie "White Noise", which I personally found to be disappointing in that the fantastical was explored, and several people died as a result of their research.   I can assure you that if I noticed a correlation between EVP research and bodily harm or death, that I would find another field to investigate!   Some PRSNA team members have had experiences with the Hollywood crowd, so we do understand the pressures the industry places upon making programs main-stream and "exciting".)

Another interesting resource is EVP Online Resource, which can be found by clicking here:   www.EVPOR.com.  This website presents a number of interesting ideas and tips, but again, we don't necessarily agree on everything presented on this site but feel that debate on the finer points is healthy and necessary to focus our research on proven techniques, ideas and concepts.)

 

What Exactly is EVP?

No one knows for sure exactly what EVP is, however there is no shortage of theories. The simplest definition is unknown sounds or voices- for which there is no logical explanation- appearing on electronic recordings. For skeptics, the answer lies in intercepted short wave radio transmissions or perhaps that the human brain needs to make sense of sounds and is interpreting naturally occurring sounds as human speech. Other theories include:

The voices are the projections of the person recording

The voices are a form of residual haunting and not really a spirit entity; when a traumatic event happens on a site,  the environment absorbs the energy associated with the event and merely replays the same events over and over.

The sounds are extra terrestrial in nature.

The sounds are from spirits who are attempting to contact the physical world; some EVPs are claimed to be answers to questions posed by the recorder.

 

How do I capture an EVP?

Simply record in a place that is likely to produce EVPs, then listen to the recording in a quiet environment with headphones. Some EVPs will be clear enough to the naked ear without any computer wizardry; others will require amplification to be heard more clearly. Since human hearing ranges vary, it may be difficult for a group of listeners to agree upon a single conclusion for the content of an EVP. It takes a while to train your ear to listen for EVP type sounds.

 

Extensions to the EVP concept

I believe the term EVP is a little misleading and constraining. While the majority of EVPs have been explained as human speech, there are other sounds that are unaccounted for as well. I have captured a dog barking at Point Lookout lighthouse when I knew no dog was nearby; it was the height of the season and dogs are restricted from the part of the park where the lighthouse is located. I also captured a whistle in the lighthouse; a pair of college students who were in the lighthouse just prior to the recording told me they heard whistling and after they left I captured a faint whistle. Other recorders have captured steam whistles at Point Lookout when steamers havenít been on the bay in many decades.

In addition to EVP, there are several related concepts worth mentioning. The most typical scenario is that the EVP will NOT be heard while the recording session is active, but later when the recording is played back. However, on rare occasion a few different scenarios have occurred. In one instance, two people were in the lighthouse and heard noises from the upstairs area where an analog tape recorder was taping. The sounds were not audible on the tape, but two people witnessed the sounds. In other instances, I have heard sounds and the sounds have also been captured on the recordings. The reason for the disparity is not known.

 

Grading

For the most part, EVP sound bites are disappointing in terms of quality. White noise as well as background noise pose a difficult problem in rendering the EVP. As the number of humans present at the investigation site increases, so does the possibility that the anomalies are a real personís voice that is distorted. The spirit voices are often distorted and sound like their speech is either too slow or too fast. The voices rarely speak in sentences, usually just in fragments of speech, and sometimes the voices unfortunately do no wait their turn and speak as the humans are speaking.

Grade A EVPs are very clear unexplainable words or sounds that have little interference from background noises. Also, in order to be a grade A EVP, the investigator has to have a high level of confidence that the words were NOT spoken by anyone at the investigation. I find that the fewer the people at an investigation, the easier it is to validate an EVP as legitimate. Another validation confidence level is during question and answer sessions where everyone is in the same room and all but the current person asking a question remain quiet.

Grade B EVPs are unexplainable bits of sound that could be interpreted in more than one way. Sometimes the sounds could be mechanical in nature, but still "ring true" with some type of speech pattern or discernable sound.

Grade C EVPs are unexplainable bits of sound that are heavily masked in background noise or are barely intelligible. I refer to the EVPs "at the edge" where it sounds as if the EVPs are just beyond the limits and imbedded in the white noise.

 

Rules for group Recording

The following rules should be followed to ensure the validity and accuracy of any anomalies discovered during playback. It is very difficult to remember a specific incident or phrase after hours of recording.

Everyone should speak in their normal voice and refrain from making any unusual sounds, including whistling, whispering, loud chewing of gum, etc. Try not to laugh or speak loudly in case the voices begin to speak while the humans are speaking.

Have each person record a baseline for their name. They should state their name along with a few additional words. I have seen a few instances where the spirits appear to be imitating someone present at the investigation.

If anyone makes an unusual noise, he should clearly state to the recorder his name and the type of sound, e.g., that was Robert and the floor squeaking.

Try to eliminate multiple conversations as this complicates listening for EVPs during playback.

Conduct 30 minute question and answer sessions where everyone at the investigation site is in the same place. Questions are asked one at a time with an appropriate period between questions to allow for the spirits to answer.


Digital vs Analog

I began my research using a standard tape recorder that you can buy at a discount store for around $30. While a tape recorder (referred to as analog) is an excellent tool for obtaining EVPs, there are several problems that occur with an analog tape recorder. First, mechanical noises from analog tape recorders (motors, tape movement, etc) can overwhelm the faint EVPs. This problem can be greatly reduced by attaching an external microphone to the tape recorder, extending the microphone as far as possible from the tape recorder. Another helpful idea is to wrap the recorder in towels and placing it in a sealed box to further minimize ambient noise. Invariably, when I use an analog recorder, the minute I begin recording at a site, the tape will begin to squeak loudly. Away from the investigation site, the tape performs normally. The biggest drawback to analog tape recorders is the quality of the recording which prevents using computer software to boost the sound level without distortion. Analog recorders are extremely difficult to boost the volume level, because boosting the sound not only increases the EVP but also increases the background noise.

I began experimenting with digital recording in 2001 and I was very concerned that perhaps the magnetic media was attracting the spirit's attention. My fears were completely allayed when I recorded a Grade A EVP within the first 20 minute session with a digital recorder! The EVP (Abandon) was recorded at Point Lookout Lighthouse with only 2 people in the lighthouse and you can clearly hear our conversation in the background. You could interpret the EVP as ironic, since only moments before we were talking about climbing up to the cupola to set up some lights for an upcoming Halloween presentation. I declined to go to the cupola because it was dark and the lights were not working. I wasnít afraid of spirits, but there is always a possibility of a critter of some form living in the lighthouse. Moments after we left the area, I recorded the abandon EVP. Perhaps the spirit was mocking me, or the word could just be happenstance. The biggest advantage to digital recording is that the sounds can be transferred to a PC in digital format with no loss in quality. Digital recordings are much more tolerant of amplification. Another bonus is that most recorders have timestamps, making it easier to find (and re-listen) to suspected EVPs. Also, the time stamping can be used to more precisely determine the time of day that an EVP was captured.

For digital recorders, we recommend that the highest quality setting be used for the recorder to allow for the best post-investigation editing possible.   Keep in mind that most recorders use compression techniques in order to maximize storage, and at the lower quality settings, the recorders drop some data in order to save space.   When the recording is converted from the proprietary format of the digital recorder to a more standard format (such as a .wav file), the conversion also introduces some loss in quality.   The bottom line for PRSNA is that we believe that the highest quality setting is the best, unless someone conducts a number of experiments to prove this theory incorrect.   Some researchers recommend using an external microphone even with a digital recorder.   Personally, I have had a lot of good experiences using the internal microphone on my Olympus recorder, and initial attempts to use a relatively inexpensive uni-directional microphone have not proven successsful.

 

What to Expect

Expect to listen to long hours of recording with very few EVPs. From my experience there are hot days and cold days. On cold days, you are lucky to get one EVP. Other times you might get a string of EVPs. Donít get discouraged. Choosing a location that has seen haunting activity usually increases the chance of capturing an EVP.

You should listen to the EVPs in a quiet area with minimal background noise. I like to listen to the recordings on my digital recorder using headphones. I write down the time on the recorder that I hear the anomalous sound so that later when I can focus on that section of recording using PC software to enhance the sound and to put the sound into a smaller file usable on the web.

The EVPs appear as word fragments and sometimes as short sentences. The words are often very faint and often sound like a whisper (hence the rule for no whispering while EVP sessions are in progress). Sometimes the words sound demonic because the cadence is unusual, either slower or faster than what we are used to hearing with human speech.

For analog recordings, some investigators have reported that they have found EVPs on side B of a tape when only side A was recorded on. Other investigators, most notably Sarah Estep, have completely reversed the tape and discovered what they believe to be EVPs. I have only done minimal experimentation with this technique and have not had any success at uncovering EVPs. I have abandoned analog recording in favor of digital because I am confident that the digital recordings offer a medium for EVPs and the ease with which I can edit the EVPs for web use with minimal loss in quality.

The time and location of the EVP should be noted during playback, as the time the EVP was captured can also be helpful to conclude that a suspected EVP is indeed not paranormal in nature.

Finally, limit the amount of time that you listen to recordings. In my experience, after an hour or so, the brain seems to tune out and begin merging white noise and hushed whispers. Take a break before continuing. I have also reviewed recordings a second time and discovered additional EVPs.



Final Validation of Suspected EVPs

The minutes before and after the suspected EVP should be reviewed to determine if the remark could fit in the context of an existing conversation. For example, during a recent walk-thru with a homeowner, I discovered a malevolent sounding voice wildly proclaiming "Oh come on you...". After re-listening to the recording just prior to and just after the anomaly, I discovered that the homeowner was trying to show me the view through a window and was attempting to open the shutters.  After the malevolent voice was captured, the homeowner begins talking about how the shutters often get stuck because of the humid conditions.  Based on the context, I do remember the homeowner struggling with the shutters. Any items that fit into the context of a running conversation should be discounted, unless an actual EVP session was in progress and the questions and times for reply were tightly controlled.

After the recordings have been reviewed, any suspicious segments should be converted to a common digital format (such as .wav files) and distributed to everyone who was present at the investigation. If the validity of an EVP is questionable, then it must be discarded. Feedback from other investigators is invaluable for weeding out the weaker and potentially explainable EVPs. For example, sometimes it is easier to recognize your own voice, or often times people will remember different parts of the same conversation. The idea is to pare down the EVPS one by one until only the truly unexplainable sounds remain. If multiple recorders were used concurrently during an EVP session, then the recording from each machine should be compared to determine if both recorders captured the same sounds, or if a different recorder might have a clearer recording or different perspective due to proximity that could reveal a non-paranormal explanation for the anomaly. If camcorders were used for the investigation, the audio portion of the tape can be compared against other recordings as well.

 

 

Please feel free to email  Robert  if you have any questions or would like to have a recording evaluated.   Please be aware that while I am happy to review any submissions,  we will NOT post EVPs unless they were recorded by a PRNSA member OR a PRNSA member can vouch for the submitter.