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Electronic voice phenomenon

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Fails from the crypt

Electronic voice phenomenon, EVP, or most hilariously "Instrumental Transcommunication," refers to the belief that spirits can communicate from "beyond" on electronic audio recording equipment. Practitioners often set up a recording device in a room where they believe ghosts reside, and then ask various questions while recording. Later the tape is analyzed both forward and backwards, searching the "white noise" for anything that might sound like a sentence or word.

Auditory pareidolia[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Pareidolia

Looking for patterns in randomness may seem familiar to anyone as a child that ever played the game of finding animals in the shapes of clouds. Humans are pattern recognition machines, and it is no surprise that in hours and hours of white noise, people can find what they hear as voices — indeed, human pattern recognition here is very strong, considering that people can still be understood through strongly differing accents and dialects, and in foreign languages, people can still pick out what they perceive to be their own words. The EVP recordings are never anything more complex than one sentence or two very short sentences, and are often just single words. Usually in order to "hear" it, you must first be told what it says. This gets into the power of suggestion.

It is used fairly prominently in the Ghost Hunters comedy reality television show. They show quite clearly, depending on your level of gullibility, that it is amazingly true or what a bucket of moldy tripe it is. This tripe has also been featured on Coast to Coast AM.

Problem with concept[edit]

Considering how much recording is done all over the world, on a daily basis, for purposes such as preparing radio and television shows, films, and musical productions, it's amazing that these ubiquitous "phenomena"[1] allow any work to ever get done in the entertainment industry, or in technical fields where recording at "voice frequencies" matters.

In Derren Brown's show The Ghost Hunter, the late Lou Gentile used EVP to capture some static that he interpreted as paranormal. Brown pointed out that the recording device had automatic volume control: the noise could have occurred as the volume adjusted to the silence. Author Brian Clegg also notes that the second audio recording device present — the TV crew's microphone — did not capture this sound. This narrows the phenomena down to a technical artifact or a really selective ghost.[2]

Sample woo[edit]

The experimenter’s excitement in trying a new detection device or recording technique may be the source of improved EVP collection. As the new approach becomes "normal operating procedure", the improvements generally fade back to a more "normal" Quality and Quantity (QQ) of EVP collection. This suggests that it is important for the experimenter to maintain piqued interest during experiments. This is also one of the reasons it is speculated that the experimenter is an integral part of the recording circuit. The experimenter is apparently supplying the necessary "psi" energy to enable a nonphysical to physical transfer of energy.[3] Digital voice recorders are recommended for transforming EVP. Less expensive models produce more internal noise which is useful for voice formation. High quality units will probably require added background noise. A computer can also be used, but will probably require added noise.[4]
The Association for TransCommunication

But it all sounds so "sciencey"[edit]

Virtually all ghost hunter groups claim to be scientific, and most give that appearance because they use high-tech scientific equipment such as Geiger counters, Electromagnetic Field (EMF) detectors, ion detectors, and infrared cameras and sensitive microphones. Yet the equipment is only as scientific as the person using it; you may own the world's most sophisticated thermometer, but if you are using it as a barometer, your measurements are worthless. Just as using a calculator doesn't make you a mathematician, using a scientific instrument doesn't make you a scientist.
—Benjamin Radford, The Shady Science of Ghost Hunting[5]

Sometimes sheer complexity is substituted for technobabble. In a textbook example of pseudoscientific overreach, a laboratory experiment (funded by some wealthy dupes no doubt) was conducted by a true EVP believer named Alexander MacRae. MacRae put people who he felt had "mediumistic abilities" into a soundproof booth within a Faraday cage to rule out stray noise and radio frequency contamination. Then he attached electrodes to the subjects' bodies that measured changes in skin conductance and converted them to electrical signals, fed the signals to audio oscillators to produce sounds, fed the sounds to a radio transmitter, transmitted the signal to a radio receiver… which he then recorded off the radio's speaker from a microphone plugged into a tape recorder. (Sound convoluted? You bet. But you know how this works: the more chances for random noise and distortion, the more chances that something "paranormal" will happen!) Needless to say, MacRae won high praise from his pals at the Journal of Scientific Exploration and EVP believers who felt MacRae's experiment had proven that spirits were indeed responsible for the bleeps and squawks that emanated from the setup.[6]

Hilarious claims[edit]

The so-called "field" of Instrumental Transcommunication is full of bizarre claims of contact with spirits accomplished by deliberately misusing electronic components.[7]

  • In 1979, an American "medium" named William O'Neil and a techno-geek named George Meek tuned a deliberately damaged ham radio to a frequency (29.575 MHz) frequented by radio hams and outlaw CB radio enthusiasts[8] and were astonished when "voices" engaged them in long technical discussions about how to improve the radio gear.[9] Meek and O'Neil (apparently not the sharpest knives in the drawer) concluded that these were undoubtedly the voices of dead scientists which they duly captured on tape for posterity. Meek and O'Neil's sad confusion was encouraged by John G. Fuller and documented in his 1981 book, The Ghost of 29 Megacycles.[10]
  • In 1983, a guy named Hans-Otto Koenig showed up at Radio Luxembourg studios with a weird lashup of audio oscillators, ultraviolet lamps, and blinking Christmas bulbs claiming he could use it to communicate with dead people. The station immediately put him on the air to demonstrate it, supposedly later releasing sworn statements from engineers testifying that, yes gosh darn it, paranormal stuff really happened. (No one seems to be able to locate those statements, though. Maybe spirits misfiled them?)
  • "The first color television picture of a spirit entity" was reported in October 1995 when a German guy named Aldof Homes "awoke with a compelling urge to try an experiment with his color TV set." (Homes said he routinely got paranormal video images on his TV set, but "only after being notified in advance by phone by his spirit colleagues".) He pointed his camcorder at the TV and voila, the image of a dead Swedish guy named Friedrich Juergenson popped up. Later, he discovered a message on his computer screen that read, “This is Friedel from Sweden. I am sending you a self-portrait…”. (Possibly even later he was heard to complain to his BFF, "Dude! this dead guy is totally stalking me!")

See also[edit]


  2. [ "Ghost Hunting with Derren". Now Appearing. 2010-06-01
  3. ATransC White Paper on Transcommunication with emphasis on Electronic Voice Phenomena Pure woo, baby!
  4. Basic EVP Recording Technique Yes, they actually recommend mucking up your fidelity in order to "better" hallucinate that you are hearing voices.
  5. The Shady Science of Ghost Hunting
  6. Tony Jinks (19 November 2011). An Introduction to the Psychology of Paranormal Belief and Experience. McFarland. pp. 98–. Retrieved 22 February 2013. 
  7. Victor Zammit, A Lawyer Presents the Case for the Afterlife
  8. CB Radio, Outbanding and Freebanding
  9. Actual transcript of dialogue from supposed dead person: "William, I think the problem is an impedance mismatch into that third transistor… Yes, the transistor that follows the input… The pre-amp, the pre-amp… Yes, I think that can be corrected by introducing a one-hundred-fifty-ohm, half-watt resistor in parallel with a point-double-oh-four-seven microfarad ceramic capacitor. I think we can overcome that impedance mismatch." [1]
  10. The research of George W. Meek, Founder, Metascience Foundation