EVP's (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) are tricky business. The ones you will hear on the internet or late night
radio shows range from the creepy and compelling to the completely muddled and incomprehensible. But EVP's are
one of those areas of paranormal research that have been accepted into the common belief system of "ghost-hunters"
and paranormal researchers. When you question, or critically analyze someone else's EVP...it can lead to angry
and emotional responses. But much like the issue of "orbs," EVPS and the methods by which they are gathered
are much abused and are widely misunderstood.
This article will not delve into what EVP's are or why they happen. It will not cover the means by which unheard voices or sounds are imprinted on a recording medium. That will be handled in seperate article. Here we will focus on EVP false positives and proposes a set of protocols for varying levels of evidence credibility. It describes what can go wrong with EVP's and the best ways to gather EVP evidence.
OUR EXPERIENCE WITH EVP's
Because of this website, and the paranormal investigations we perform, we are often sent EVP's recordings by other paranormal groups and individuals seeking some sort of confirmation of what they have captured. I am hesitant to offer them an opinion on the authenticity of their EVP, because an EVP is only as good as the protocols followed at the time of the recording. Without first hand knowledge of the conditions (i.e. background discussions, investigators mumbling, etc.) that may or may not have been going on at the time, its impossible to come to a conclusion as to the quality of the evidence.
Troy Taylor states in one of his books that he does not really trust any EVP recorded with human beings present. He once falsely identified an EVP saying "Hello" in response to his own greeting, only to find out later is was one of his investigator's stomaches growling. It is very very easy to get false positives when human beings are present.
Several times Ghost Vigil has preliminarily identified EVP's, only to review our video tape and find out that one of our investigators mumbled something unintentionally that "created" the EVP. Luckily we were able to discover this prior to posting the EVP on our website. Let's take a look at four levels of protocol that can be used during EVP recordings. Ghost Vigil, at one time or another, has used all four levels...but its important to keep in mind what level you are at when you record an EVP, so that you don't make more of it than it is...
THE FUN LEVEL
This is the level at which 98% of investigative groups record their EVP's. They turn on their recorders, they walk around the location, they ask questions out-loud. Often several investigators will take turns asking questions. Sometimes the investigators can be heard on the recording discussing the investigation or having off-topic conversations. At points in the recording there may even be several conversations going on...or side comments being made.
Getting an EVP in these conditions is fun. But I would hesitate prior to presenting those EVP's as evidence, without clearly stating all the conditions underwhich it was recorded. Equipment banging, bag zippers opening, feet walking, clothes rubbing, throat gurgles, stomach growling, under-your-breath mumbles, quiet side comments, and about a 100 other things can create audio recording that you will not recognize, and that you might mistake as an EVP.
Almost all of the remaining 2% of investigative groups operate at this level. This is when everyone present sits or stands very very still during the recordings. One person preferably asks the questions out-loud, while everyone else does their best to not move and not talk. Whenever background noises are heard (i.e. traffic outside, a dog barks, the air conditioner turns on, or someone's stomache growls) the questioner identifies that moment out-loud on the tape. This helps prevent those background noises from being falsely identified as EVP's.
Getting an EVP in these conditions is definitely interesting. You have done quite a bit to limit some of the causes of false positives, and you are taking steps to "control" the environment under which you are recording. But, it is actually impossible to identify every background noise. Stomaches growling, throats gurgling, a sleepy investigator yawning or sighing, an investigator shuffling into a new position when his/her leg falls asleep, etc....all of these can still cause a false positive. You should post these as "evidence," but you should make it clear every time exactly what conditions you were recording under.
Most teams do not operate at this level ever. Often they will claim they do, and they will codify this method in their protocols. But in reality they either never record at this level or rarely do. At this level you have very few investigators present. They sit absolutely still. Only one person asks questions, and it is better for those questions to be pre-prepared and scripted. One or more video cameras should be recording everything going on in the room, including having every investigator that is present on-camera. The rest of the building, in-so-far as it is possible, should be empty. Precautions should be taken to ensure that no person or objects outside the building cause a noise near the building. And every appliance or equipment within the location that could make noise (i.e. heating and cooling, soda machine, automatic ice maker, timers, computer fans, etc.) should be turned off. Whatever background noises that are heard should be described out-loud by the questioner.
EVP's recorded at this level are compelling, because you have removed even more possible causes for False Positives. By reviewing the video tape during the time period of any possible EVP's you find, you can further eliminate natural causes for noise, sounds, or "voices" you heard on the audio. You have taken every precaution possible to control the environment...except removing yourself. And that brings us to the highest level....
This level is not very fun. I don't believe anyone operates at this level...except a select few. But if you get an EVP in at this level, then you have certainly captured something valuable. One or two video cameras should be pointed at two audio recorders. These should be video cameras with cables running back to a DVR system, not camcorders with hundreds of moving, clicking, buzzing parts inside them. At this level, the two audio recorders are in a room without any people present. A silent EMF detector with LED indicators that light up should be placed away from the audio recorders, but still within view of the video cameras. The room should be sealed, and protected from intrusion. The rest of the building, in-so-far as it is possible, should be empty. Precautions should be taken to ensure that no person or objects outside the building cause a noise near the building. And every appliance or equipment within the location that could make noise (i.e. heating and cooling, soda machine, automatic ice maker, timers, computer fans, etc.) should be turned off.
An EVP recorded at this level is as near to Conclusive Evidence as you are going to get. You have done everything possible to control the environment, and eliminate false positives. If you gather an EVP in these conditions, and are able to document the condition on your website or in your investigation report...it will impress almost anyone who sees. it.
None of these are absolutely foolproof, but some are more fool-proof than others. For instance, Troy Taylor's "growling stomach saying Hello" EVP was recorded during a session that was video-taped. The stomach growl was not picked up by the video camera microphone...but it was picked up by the audio recorder. Luckily the investigator with the growling stomach remembered his belly growling and confessed it to Mr. Taylor.
HERE'S SOMETHING ELSE TO CONSIDER ABOUT EVP's
When listening to audio tapes or reviewing photos and videos, its important to keep the following concept in mind:
Pareidolia - (from Greek para, amiss, faulty, wrong + eidolon, diminutive of eidos appearance, form) is a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (usually an image) being mistakenly perceived as recognizable. Common examples include images of animals or faces in clouds, seeing the man in the moon, and hearing messages on records played in reverse.
Pareidolia can affect your perception of an image or visual stimulus...but it is also affect your perception of an auditory stimulus. Our brains are hard-wired to interpret sounds as something we recognize...and many times it will interpret sounds as voices. The sound of a bubbling creek will sound like chidren whispering. Tires screeching will sound like someone screaming. A door squeaking might sound like a small crying sound.
There are a number of questions that need to be asked when doing EVP work. Any of these factors can increase the chance of getting EVP false positives....
---What is the level of quality of the microphone? The better the microphone, the more sound it picks up. Microphones of extreme quality will pick up the sound of investigators breathing and swallowing, the sound of stomaches growling in the room, sounds coming from other rooms and outside the building, and other sounds that investigators won't even be aware of at the time the recording is being made.
---Are the investigators standing still or walking around Clothes rubbing on clothes. Equipment knocking together. Footsteps and the Shoes scuffing the floor or carpet. The buzz and click of internal parts of your audio recorder, camcorder, etc. All of these noises and more can be picked up by a quality microphone and made to seem like something more than they are. The better the microphone...the more sounds of this nature it will pick up.
---Is only one person allowed to ask questions and talk? Some people attempt to tape EVP's over the duration of their investigation. Sometimes one, two, or three conversations will be going on at once...and all of it is being recorded. These conversations fade from foreground to background over the lengh of the tape, and it is very easy to misinterpret a word here or there as being something other than natural.
---Are you filtering and altering your recordings? Often paranormal investigators will run their audio through digital filters on their computer to "clean" the sound, and make the EVP's "easier to understand." The more you alter the sound, spin it around, move levels up and down, the change the original recording...the better your chance of believing a natural sound is an EVP due to the effects of pareidolia. In other words, if you have to run a sound through 5-8 filters and digital changes just to make it understandable...then what have you really captured?
You have to ask yourself a very simple question. Are you truly looking for evidence of paranormal phenomenon or are you allowing your investigation and analysis methods to increase your chances of falsely identifying sounds with natural causes as something more than what they are?
Ultimately, the best EVP's are found on audio tapes recorded under the strictest of investigation standards and controls. The best EVP's would be ones that have not undergone manipulation of the sound quality, the direction of play-back, or the speed of the recording. And EVP's should be presented without telling the listener exactly what words he/she should be listening for, in order to eliminate the power of suggestion and to diminish somewhat the phenomenon of pareidolia.
Its very common for different people to hear different things while listening to the same EVP. This again, can be due to pareidolia. When each of our minds fill in the empty blanks to create order from chaos, each mind does it in a slightly different manner. To use another comparison, I see a pirate ship in the clouds, but you might see a toaster oven. Same cloud...two different minds making something out of it that isn't necessarily real.
Taking the non-skeptical side of this issue for a moment, can you imagine how hard it would be for a ghost to imprint itself on an audio recording? Or to affect the microphone in some way to appear as a voice on the recording? So can we really expect them to make perfect sense all the time. No. But if we want to actually present a recording as credible evidence, then we need to be honest and open about what we are doing to reduce or eliminate false positives.
Everyone who examines your evidence will find it more credible and worth considering if they see that you are critical of yourself...and that you are skeptical of your own evidence.