Ghosts in the Machine

“I don’t claim that our personalities pass on to another existence or sphere. I don’t claim anything because I don’t know anything about the subject. For that matter, no human being knows. But I do claim that it is possible to construct an apparatus which will be so delicate that if there are personalities in another existence or sphere who wish to get in touch with us in this existence or sphere, the apparatus will at least give them a better opportunity to express themselves than the tilting tables and raps and ouija boards and mediums and the other crude methods now purported to be the only means of communication.”—Thomas Edison, excerpt from an interview in Scientific American, October, 1920.

EVP Sound Wave

If you’re a fan of any of the dozens of ghost hunting shows, EVP is probably old news. If not, then this may be new to you. Let me apologize in advance for making you go to a bunch of other sites to hear them. I suppose that I could have tried to swipe some audio files off of other peoples’ websites to make it more convenient for you, but I wouldn’t appreciate someone doing that to me, so I won’t do that to them. Instead, I’ll just give you the links. But I do have some preliminary information that you should probably know before you proceed and a few observations to share that might be worth your time.

First of all, EVP is short for electronic voice phenomenon. The phenomenon in question is that electronic devices like microphones and tape recorders sometimes pick up unheard voices in places where ghostly occurrences have been taking place. Naturally, these are considered by some to be the voices of the presumed ghosts. Skeptics point out that there are numerous possible mundane explanations for this, which I’ll get to momentarily. However, in some of these recordings, the voice captured on tape seems to be responding directly to a comment or question made by one of the currently living people present. These instances could still be accounted for by the explanations of the skeptics, but it would make them remarkable coincidences. This would also seem to confirm that the living-impaired are more keenly aware of us than we are of them.

How this all works, if it does, is surprisingly straightforward…for a change. The tape used for making recordings is magnetic. Those of you old enough to remember VCRs and cassette decks might also recall that you could totally wipe out a video or audio cassette by placing it too close to a magnet. The connection between ghostly phenomena and magnetic fields and the frequency with which they occur in areas with unusual electromagnetic properties, such as houses that sit directly over underground rivers, leaves little room for doubt that there is a strong magnetic component associated with them. Proponents of EVP suggest that the magnetic nature of the recording medium and the paranormal occurrences themselves make it likely that these devices are better receivers of spectral voices. Of course, they can’t explain exactly why this is so. If they could, it might constitute actual proof of the survival of the soul…or consciousness or whatever you want to call it.

Several years ago I was listening to a pair of ghost hunters who record EVP on Coast to Coast AM. One of them mentioned that for some reason there was a particular microphone that seemed to work best for picking up EVP. I wrote down the model number because I thought that if they weren’t too expensive I might buy one myself and take a crack at recording some EVP of my own. When I looked them up online the next day, I found that this model had been discontinued, apparently for a very unusual reason. As one sound engineer put it in a product review, they were good microphones for the most part, but sometimes they picked up sounds that weren’t there.

Now that’s an odd thing to say, especially for a sound engineer who should know how microphones work. They can be noisy. They may hum or buzz or pop, usually due to poor quality, but they can’t pick up sounds that aren’t there. That’s like saying that a camera took a picture of something that wasn’t there. Cameras aren’t artists. They record images that they are able to detect; they don’t create them. If a microphone was picking something up and sending it to a recording device which recorded it, then there was something there, even if no one in the room had heard it, which is exactly what the EVP phenomenon is all about.

There are other snafus that can occur with recording devices, such as picking up radio signals, baby monitors, and some other things that I’m not audio recording savvy enough to understand. Maybe this microphone had a propensity for one of these failings. The “ghosts” may be been Howard Stern or the baby in the house next door. But that’s not what the man in the review actually said that these microphones do. He said that they pick up sounds that aren’t there. If I had a car that I knew leaked gas, I wouldn’t tell people that the problem was that it only got five miles per gallon, even if that was the end result. Also, no EVP that I’ve heard sounds anything like what I would expect to hear on a police scanner, another purported source of the phenomenon.

I tried emailing one of the ghost hunters in question to see if she could refresh my memory as to the brand and model of this particular microphone so that I could hopefully find this review again just to make sure that I had my facts straight. Alas, no reply was forthcoming. My apologies if my shoddy memory has caused me to misrepresent the reviewer’s occupation or comments. I’m certain that he was some variety of sound professional and that I’m at least fairly accurate concerning his statements. It made a definite impression on me that someone would make a comment like that about a microphone that’s supposedly so good at picking up EVP.

It would be interesting to have someone who knows about these things take a look at the specs of these microphones to see if there was anything unusual in their design that might make them more sensitive to picking up sound waves that are beyond the range of human perception. That might give us a better understanding of how the whole EVP thing works and maybe even on what level of reality the beings responsible for them reside, although even I’m not sure what I mean by that. We are dealing with complete hypotheticals here, so who knows what we could potentially find?

So that’s it for my introductory ramblings. Now, without further delay (but not without further comment), here are some cool EVPs presented for your consideration. For best results, use headphones.

This site probably has the best and most extensive collection, even if they’re not so great at returning emails. Sifting through all of these will keep you busy for a while.

This next site not only comes with recordings, there is also a written description of the circumstances under which the EVP was obtained in case you’re interested. If not, nobody is going to try to make you read them.

Some of these aren’t as clear, but I included this site anyway because some of them are quite interesting and the sound on your computer and/or headphones may work better than mine.


*You probably thought that I just threw these things together at the last minute, didn’t you? It only seems that way when you read them.

and all the devils are here



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