Electronic Voice Phenomena, or EVP recordings, are sounds heard on the radio or on a tape or digital recording. These sounds are believed to be the sounds of ghosts or spirits. The phrase was coined by parapsychologist Konstantin Raudive to describe short bursts of sound, often no more than a word or short phrase. EVP recordings are now used by ghost hunters or those who wish to contact a loved one who has already passed on.
The religious movement known as Spiritualism was popular from the 1840s to the 1920s. Spiritualists believed that mediums and psychics were capable of communicating with the dead. Popular new technologies like photography were used, so it is no surprise that sound recording, once possible, became popular. Spiritualism gradually lost popularity and faded away; the use of recording devices to communicate with the spirits of the dead continues.
Paranormal investigators have several theories as to what causes EVP, which could be caused by dead spirits, psychic echoes of past events, psychokinesis performed unconsciously by nearby (living) people, and even thoughts of aliens.
Skeptics of EVP claim that the recordings are an elaborate hoax; some are caused by poor equipment, while others can be explained by radio interference. Then there’s auditory pareidolia, the tendency of the human brain to interpret random sounds as words that are recognizable in the person’s own language. Our minds try to understand the world by making connections between events – apophenia causes our brain to make connections between events that are unrelated or insignificant.
These theories can explain away some EVP events, but other occurrences defy rational explanation.
Attila von Szaly, famed American medium and photographer, first attempted to record spirit sounds in 1941. He had already attempted to photograph ghosts, and saw voice recording as a valuable supplement. His early attempts used a 78 rpm record; it wasn’t until he switched to a reel-to-reel tape recorder in 1956 that he was able to hear spirits. Von Szaly ultimately recorded a number of messages which he believed to be Spirit voices. His partner, Raymond Bayless, included the information in his 1979 book, Phone Calls from the Dead.
In 1959, a Swedish film producer and painter was recording birdsongs. When he played the tape later, he was shocked to hear his dead father’s voice, followed by his deceased wife’s spirit speaking his name. Fascinated, he made several more recordings. One even had a message from his mother.
Raudive, the man who popularized the name EVP, made over 100 thousand recordings, some within a specially-created radio-frequency screened lab. Many of these recordings held communications with the dead. He published his first book in 1968.
In 1982, the American Association of Electronic Voice Phenomena was founded by Sarah Estep. She began her EVP career in 1976, and began to promote and teach standardized methods to capture voice phenomena. To date, she claims to have hundreds of messages recorded from deceased friends and family, Beethoven, and extraterrestrials.
An attempt to replicate the findings of Konstantin Raudive, using his own methods and instruments, was undertaken in 1997. Eighty-one sessions, totaling over 60 hours, were analyzed; however, they were unable to replicate Raudive’s findings. While there were audible sounds, it was impossible to attribute them to spirits.
To capture EVP yourself, it’s recommended that you purchase a portable digital voice recorder. Be aware that radiofrequency contamination is a problem with these devices. As well, most recording devices will only record when noise is heard, turning off automatically when the room is quiet. For this reason, many investigators prefer to use two recorders of differing quality. The noise from the poor quality instrument will generate enough background sound to keep the other recording device working.
Some enthusiasts of electronic voice phenomena believe that understanding the words is similar to learning a new language. Those with strong psychic abilities may hear more than others.