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The Truth about The Electronic Voice Phenomenon
Alexander MacRae skye-lab.com

What is it?
The Electronic Voice Phenomenon, or EVP, consists of voices of unknown origin that are picked up – usually, but not necessarily, by specialised equipment. It has been assumed by many of the experienced experimenters in this field that these voices come from “spirits” of some kind. As you would expect, this has resulted in the subject getting a very bad press. The mention of spirits brings in the subject of religion - of hype and fraud and delusion. Many in the scientific community would have to change their world-view too radically to accommodate such a new fact – should it be a fact - and so, naturally, it is resisted. The idea that scientists are “bold free-thinkers guided only by the truth” hasn’t been true for over 100 years. Like everybody else, we are worried about what people think of us, about our job prospects, about being seen as a respectable and respected teamplayer - who will continue to be employed and able to support his/her family, into the future – and who might even get promotion. Scientists oppose EVP not because they are evil – but because it is the sensible and safe thing to do. That is the “opposition” – but EVP suffers even more from its supporters! To quote one of the prominent people in EVP, Mark Turner of EVPUK. ‘I have met many different paranormal investigation groups over the years and the majority of them are either thrill seekers, or they lead such mundane lives that they see this as a possible way to be famous. They put most of their energies into warring with other groups. At one point, some verbal abuse I took from another group nearly made me give up the whole thing. Jealousy is rife in every dark corner of this field. I have one strict policy now; I don’t deal with other investigation teams ever. Sad but true.’ Regrettably, that seems to be the case. The field has benefited from advances in technology that owe nothing to EVP. The solid-state speech recorder and noise reduction software are two of the major advances. But the field will only make real progress when it will be possible for professional researchers to work in EVP and be paid for doing so. That is the way it happens in real life and there is no reason to believe it would be any different with EVP. But until there is adequate funding available this will not happen – and as the years pass, and the subject loses its credibility, this becomes less and less likely to happen.

2 of 14 But the history of the subject goes much further back than many realise. It has a “pedigree” – a provenance. This should be known about so it is worth spending a few paragraphs on it. Dr Samuel Johnson was a noted English writer of the 18 th Century – he was the one who produced the first dictionary in the English language. He was buried in Westminster Abbey, a privilege reserved for the very few, the most worthy of British citizens. It was Johnson who said, ‘When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.’ And so it may be wondered why a portly gentleman of advanced years, used to soft city living, should undertake a journey into the Gaelic speaking Scottish Highlands, where there were few roads or the conveniences enjoyed by Londoners. The Journal of Johnson’s Journey to the Hebrides was written by his fellow voyager, James Boswell. Incidentally, Boswell’s father was a member of Lodge Chevalier in Paris, a Lodge to which Ben Franklin, the scientist and American revolutionary also belonged. What was the purpose of their journey? They reached Dunvegan Castle on the Isleof-Skye, where Boswell visited the site of a reputed Templar College. On their return they visited Roslyn – another clue, perhaps – (for those who have read Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’). But apparently another of their interests was to collect reports of what we now call the paranormal. One of these reports was about something called in Gaelic the ‘Taisg’. The Taisg was a phenomenon where people heard the voice of someone who had just died. It is first mentioned in a book by Martin Martin around the year 1707. The Taisg was not regarded as something strange, requiring special abilities. In the case cited in Boswell’s Journal some women were working in the fields when they heard it. So, in the past, hearing “voices” was regarded – certainly in some remote areas – as nothing extraordinary. People could hear it without the aid of any equipment, and more than one person could hear it simultaneously. Another famous writer, this time from the 19th Century, Charles Dickens, (also laid to rest in Westminster Abbey), in his story ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’ wrote, ‘Then, he stood [beside falling water] listening to the water. A familiar passage in his reading, about airy tongues that syllable men’s names, rose unbidden to his ear….’ The sound of a waterfall is of course random acoustic noise, as close to acoustic white noise as anything in those pre-electronic days. By coincidence one of the most common EVP techniques is based on white noise. And by coincidence, the phrase,

3 of 14 ‘That syllable men’s names’ describes well the type of whispering speech that one finds often in EVP. And – by another coincidence the most common utterances recorded in EVP are names. It would seem that in ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’ Dickens was drawing on a folkbelief of that time. And possibly – just possibly, there was something to it. What we do know is that the phenomenon of unexplained voices has a provenance that stretches back at least 300 years, and this should not be ignored. Then, in modern times, with the advent of magnetic recording methods, voices of unknown origin were discovered on recordings. The first person to do this was a priest in the Vatican, Father Gemelli. His recorder was of the type that preceded recording on tape – the steel-wire recorder. With the coming of magnetic tape Friedrich Jurgenson in Sweden and Atilla von Szalay in the USA started to get results. Another prominent person who got in on the act was a Dr Konstantin Raudive, something of a skilled self-publicist. His publisher to sell Raudive’s book, ‘Breakthrough’, invented the term Electronic Voice Phenomenon. In the buzzword ridden 1970s Electronics was a glamour word close to Magic, and Breakthrough meant an exciting discovery or advance. Now lets look at the facts.

The best evidence showing the physical reality of a voice is to be found in what is called a ‘Voiceprint’ (sometimes also called a Sonogram or a Spectrogram). This shows the characteristics of a voice, and like fingerprints the patterns tend to differ a little between one person and another. If the sound that was recorded was not a voice but just a jumble of sounds then the patterning will be absent – thus it is quite easy to tell what is a voice and what is not. In the past one needed specialised equipment to be able to produce Voiceprints, but nowadays, using specialised software – a sound editor such as Acoustica or Adobe Audition, anyone, with a little practice, can produce their own Voiceprints. And with rather more practice and some tuition a person can learn to interpret Voiceprints. Below are two Voiceprints. The elapsed time is measured along the horizontal (leftright) axis. The starting point for the utterance is at the leftmost point on that line. The line is usually marked off in seconds with 0 at the far left and the finish of the utterance at the far right.

4 of 14 The vertical or up-down axis indicates the spectrum of the voice and usually will go from (say) 100 Hz at the bottom to maybe 5 kHz at the top. The strength or intensity of each of the frequency components in a voice is indicated by the colour shown – with Blue meaning nothing (0); Brown meaning maximum intensity; Red a little bit less than that; Orange less than Red; Yellow less than Orange and Green less than Orange but more than Blue. The frequencies we are most interested in are the strongest ones – in this case, the Reds and the Oranges. In this one the utterance is 1.051 seconds long. What the person, Subject A, says is, ‘So long Alec.’ The letters above the Voiceprint indicate the approximate positions of the different sounds. Soooo lllloooooooooooooooooooooooong Aaaaaaaaaa lll lec

Subject A Note that there are about four to five strong lines, the ‘o’ in ‘long’ tilting down as the pitch lowers. The lowest line is often called the ‘Fundamental’, or ‘Glottal frequency’. The upper lines are called ‘formants’ and these are caused by the influence of the size and shape of the person’s mouth upon the voice sound. As you can see there are four or five strong lines and the rest is mostly dark blue, almost black – indicating silence – except for one or to faint patches of green, indicating faint background sounds. So, it represents a nice, clean recording of a person with a good clear voice.

5 of 14 A nice print. Now we come to the second Voiceprint. In this one also, the person, Subject B, is saying, ‘So long Alec,’ and the letters just above the Voiceprint show the approximate positions of the sounds. In this one the utterance is 0.978 seconds long. Sooo loooooooong Aaaaaaaaaal lec

Subject B Note that I this one the timing is slightly different, as are the variations in pitch – the rapid lowering of the ‘o’ in ‘long’; the rising pitch in the ‘a’ of ‘alec,’ for example. And the fundamental is slightly lower in frequency. The main differences however, for Subject B are, • The number of horizontal lines is greater, although the upper ones are Yellow or Green – indicating lower strength. • There seems to be an “echo” of the Voiceprint in a section all by itself, near the top. This is due to the voice being slightly distorted – possibly as a result of the recording process. • There are swathes of green below the Fundamental (the lowest strong line). This just random low frequency noise. Another objective way of looking at the evidence is to compare waveforms. In the next figure the waveform of the ‘o’ sound in ‘long’ in the voice of Subject A is shown. Remember that sound waves are of course, waves, and the form of a sample of the waves is shown in the figure below. The larger the waves are, the louder the sound, and the more closely the waves are spaced, the higher the frequency.

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Subject A. Waveform of an ‘o’ as in ‘long’ sound. The waveforms look quite clean – the “ripples” that seem to be climbing up the sides of the main waveform are the ’formant’ frequencies that show up as the other higher lines in the Voiceprint. The next figure is from Subject B’s sample.

Subject B. Waveform of an ‘o’ as in ‘long’ sound.

As can be seen this waveform is less regular and has some random patches – the noise component mentioned earlier. There is also a frequency sweep in the Fundamental as could be seen in the Voiceprint.

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Speech is a complex signal, not easily mistaken for anything else – as a final test, let us see if the fundamental frequency is in the right range. We will use ‘o’ as in ‘So’ and ‘o’ as in long – two different sounds. The phonetic symbols are shown also. Subject A Fundamental (ǩȚ) ‘o’ as in ‘So’ – 290 Hz (Ǣ) ‘o’ as in ‘long’ – 208 Hz Subject B Fundamental (ǩȚ) ‘o’ as in ‘So’ – 243 Hz (Ǣ) ‘o’ as in ‘long’ – 183 Hz

The measurements were done automatically on the PC using the Acoustica Wavelet Transform display, which also provided the Voiceprints seen earlier. Both Fundamentals are in the right range for a female voice. EVP is about taking care and being thorough. It is not about throwaway meaningless lines, like, ‘EVP is just static’ (whatever that is); or ‘EVP is caused by “formant noise”’ (an untraceable term intended to indicate specialised knowledge.) The reader is now due some additional clarification. In the above, “Subject B” was actually an EVP utterance. In it a female voice said, ‘So long Alec.’ Subject A was Lady Helen Renshaw, who, without having heard the EVP utterance, was asked to say ‘So long Alec’, just for comparison. Why ‘So long Alec’? It must be a coincidence, of course, but the author generally ends his emails – and has done so for years, So long, Alec. Almost certainly a coincidence caused by formant noise induced by static and a predisposition to pareidolia- don’t ask – it’s a sign of desperation when they have to drag up hypothetical terms to explain things they don’t want to face up to. However, to be thorough we have to examine any reasonably logical opposite explanation. Earlier the patterning produced by voice sounds was mentioned, and how these were unique. In the figure below the first section is White Noise, the second is what is called Pink Noise and the third is what is called Brown Noise. Calling them White, Pink and Brown is just an informal way of defining their different spectral characteristics. As you can see there is no sign of patterning. The figure below that shows an impulse of white noise, tailored to the same length as a short utterance. As can be seen this bears no resemblance to a speech pattern. Incidentally, the word “static” is short for “electrostatic”, or more precisely, “electrostatic discharge” – a term for events such as lightning, which used to cause problems with old-fashioned radios, back in the Thirties of the previous century.

8 of 14 Admittedly, it did occur again in the Fifties, when the growing number of cars and television sets led to TV interference caused by the spark-discharge from a car’s sparking plugs. Legislation was passed to make it illegal not to have interference suppression fitted on cars – and so the term ‘Static’ disappeared from common language - until it was re-introduced as a pseudo-technical term (like ‘formant noise’) to explain why EVP did not exist. It is unfortunate that so much time which could have been better spent on actual research has to be spent instead on refuting the loose statements of those who have seized the opportunity to attack EVP. White Noise Pink Noise Brown Noise

Noise Impulse – “Static”

EVP is seen as a soft target, and any Tom, Dick or Harry – Mr Tom, Dr Dick or Professor Harry – looking for an apparent easy victory seizes the opportunity presented. There is one more matter that needs to be addressed. Once again, raising this objection requires a deep, deep ignorance of the physics involved. Granted that the voiceprints are indicative of genuine voices, (and assuming that the ‘So long Alec’ voice was just a simple case of Identity Theft by the CIA, FBI or

9 of 14 Military Intelligence for example, something sensible and logical like that), how do we know that it was not just a case of picking up a stray broadcast, or just someone speaking in a nearby room? Rather than explaining the equations, which would require some background in radio engineering, knowledge of the inverse square law and the aural phenomenon of ‘masking’ – the apparatus and the operator were re-located to a small place in Spain, where – at that time – there were no broadcasts in English and most voices nearby would be speaking in Spanish. Logically, all or most pickup should now be in Spanish. After a week, and 100 utterances – none were in Spanish – all were in English. Not everyone was satisfied with that however. And so, this time, some years later, the equipment was taken to California to a laboratory that was shielded against electromagnetic (em) radiation, and also against acoustic (sound) radiation. After setting-up and several trials of the system in its new environment, a three-minute session was carried out which yielded 10 reasonable quality voices. The shielded room was built to US Military specifications – so no one could argue with EVP now! But no - the critics were not yet finished. “They are not voices – they just sound like voices,” they said. It was decided to subject each of the 10 samples obtained to a listening panel. But a listening panel with a difference – the samples would be sent by email, and none of the panel members would know of the existence of the others. That way there would be no conferring and someone with a more dominant personality could not sway the decisions of the rest of the group. The estimate of what a sample said was to be done on a multiple-choice basis. They were offered five possible interpretations, but only one was correct, the others were decoys. So a person had a one in five chance of getting a correct answer to the first sample purely by random guessing. They would have a one in 25 chance of getting two samples correct by random guessing. A one in one hundred and twenty five chance of getting three right by random guessing – and so on up to 9.76 million to one. There were 30 people on the list of those who had worked in listening tests on a previous project. A test was run and the 10 best performers were chosen for the final panel – but three had to drop out, leaving a panel of seven finalists. There were so many correct interpretations and so great a consensus that the odds against this happening by chance were astronomical. So – who were these panellists – these people who mistook “static” or “formant noise” (as the experts would have it) for actual words?

10 of 14 Some semi-literate recovering-alcoholics or junkies perhaps, people in hospices worried about dying, credulous teenagers, tarot card readers, schizophrenics? No - one was a professor of linguistics, one was a professor of clinical psychology, another was a university research physicist – six of the seven had had a tertiary education, and all were successful in their chosen careers. These people were not chosen because they were successful in their careers, or because they had been at a university – they were chosen on the basis of one criterion, and one criterion only – they were the best at interpreting EVP utterances. There was one final little twist – there were ten samples taken from the lab in California … but a special little extra sample was prepared – the eleventh sample. Just like the other 10 samples this one had 5 possible interpretations - multiple choice – which one was it? However, the eleventh sample was different from the others in one respect. The difference was that the eleventh sample was just noise. It consisted of a burst of random noise tailored to have the same duration as the average duration of the previous 10 samples. According to the “pundits”, our delusory listening panel should mistake this for just another sample of actual speech - and each person should pick one of the five interpretations accordingly. The presence of the five choices encouraged them to believe that what they were hearing was in fact a voice. They were being encouraged - and helped - to get it wrong – to mistake a burst of noise for a voice. It would be interesting to see if they all misinterpreted it the same way – or different ways. That would be quite significant. It took a long time for their responses to come in. Why the delay? That was because, they said, they had really tried and tried – over and over again. They were all apologetic – ‘my ears must be getting old…’ - that sort of thing. They felt they had let the project down – no matter how hard they tried they couldn’t hear anything but noise. All they could hear was noise. So – why should that have been surprising? Because we have all been “brainwashed”.

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Because a few arrogant spokespersons led scientists to believe what scientists wanted to believe – that which fitted our world-view - that there was not – and could not be – any such thing as EVP. That it was all a silly mistake by deluded people – probably of a religious inclination. And science swallowed it – we believed what we wanted to believe – long gone is the search for Truth and long gone is any semblance of Humility – the two guiding principles that led scientists along the trail of experimental evidence for century after century. That which was Beautiful and Noble is gone. Struggling for position in a sea of mediocrity the vision was lost. It should have been obvious from the beginning. A tone at (say) 256 Hz enters the ear; it travels through an acoustic travelling-wave tube - the cochlea, where specific follicles “resonate” at that frequency. The activity of the follicles causes neurons to “fire” along a particular neural pathway in the auditory cortex – and, eventually, a sensation is heard, not 256 Hz, not 256 of anything – but a single tone – a single tone derived from 256 cycles per second. It can’t be called a musical tone, because music is dependent on the relationship between several tones – it is a derivative of a set of relationships. Speech is even more complex than music. But, to show the complexity in even quite simple things, let us consider first, visual information.

Visual Information
This page, as black marks on a piece of white paper, is information. The information is ‘black marks on white paper’. Let us take a look at one of those black marks …A…. It has a pattern composed from three different black marks. There are three major components, an upward sloping line, a downward sloping line, and a cross – horizontal – line. Each of these is in itself a derivative – it is derived from ‘black mark on white paper’. It can be differentiated from other black marks on white paper. And the letter …A… is derived from the relationships between those earlier three derivates – relationships, plural…. If the cross bar was missing you would get …Λ….. the Greek letter Alpha. If the Λ sloping lines were reversed you would get …V…. We can do the same multiple derivative actions for some more letters, and group them together.

12 of 14 MMZP Excellent – a word? No – a word has to have meaning, and for it to have meaning the letters have to be in the right relationships to each other. So, a word is derived from the relationships between letters. MMZP MMPZ MPZM MZPM … PZMM ZPMM. Unfortunately there is no sequence of those letters that will form a word. None of the combinations have meaning. MMAA? No. MAAM – yes. MAMA – yes. They have separate meanings – depending on the sequence of letters. Not even Rorschach, the inventor of the inkblot test was so uninformed as to believe that the inkblot could be read in words.

Auditory Information
There are those who have said that EVP is Audible Rorschach. Note that the people who come out with such assertions do not have to prove anything or provide any experimental evidence. They just have to say something that people will accept. Something easy – something that goes down well on TV. Speech to be speech, just like music to be considered music, has to conform to very specific and complex patterns. A vowel sound to be a vowel sound has to have at least two formants, (the usual is three or even more formants) in certain exact frequency ratios to each other. From those complex sounds a vowel or consonant may be recognised, but like the symbols A, Λ , and V in the visual information section, the component parts (the formants) have to be in the correct relationships to each other. Speech in most languages has more sounds than there are letters. For example, the ‘o’ in ‘so’ and the ‘o’ in long’ – the symbol ‘o’ is the same, but there are two different sounds. The ‘a’ in ‘cat’ and the ‘a’ in ‘say’ are the same symbol, but there are two different sounds. Spoken language is not the simple version of written language, if

13 of 14 anything, it is more complex. Silences – hesitations, emphasis, and intonation – all add meaning. But once the vowel or consonant – the elementary bits of a word, called phonemes – has been recognised, that is not the end of the process, it is only the beginning. And it may not even be the beginning. Someone saying ‘o’ as in ‘long’ may mean just that; but someone else, an “upper-crust” Englishman, for example, may not mean ‘o’ as in ‘long’ but rather ‘o’ as in ‘banana’. (Such an individual would pronounce ‘banana’ as though it was written ‘bonono’ – some people do actually talk like that). There are other accents that also make one vowel sound like another – or like none at all. And we are next faced with the same problem as with the visual information – some combinations may not add up to a word. PZMM for example. It can be pronounced, but it does not have a meaning. DONDE can be pronounced, but in English it is not a word, because it has no meaning. In Spanish it can be pronounced and it has a meaning, it is a word in Spanish. (It means ‘Where’.) So, it is not enough to have the complex sounds of speech appear by accident, but the correct phonemes have to appear, and the sequence of phonemes has to add up to a word, and not just any word, but a word that has meaning in English. In EVP utterances, and indeed in most utterances, more than one word is involved. If all this is happening by chance then we have to consider that any or all of the next words in the phrase may not be words at all, as outlined above, but may be just meaningless sequences of sounds. We have to hope that chance will ensure that all the words are in English. And finally we have to hope that chance will ensure that all the words are in their correct order – the first word, first; the second word, second; and so on. And finally – finally – we have to hope that chance alone has provided us with a set of words in English and in the correct sequence that add up to something meaningful. That is what has to happen each and every time that we hear and comprehend speech. All the steps of the process – every one – are what is required. Because all of this happens automatically, by a hierarchy of pattern recognition means, dealing with derivatives of derivates of derivatives of derivatives … we are unaware of the complexity of the process involved – unless we take the trouble to study the subject.

14 of 14 There is one more popular misconception touted around by the media-savvy “pundits” – and that is that “white noise” contains all frequencies and thus, given time, it should come up with any phrase. The analogy that is often quoted is the hypothetical idea of 35 monkeys typing randomly at their typewriters, and after 1000 years or whatever coming up with the complete works of Shakespeare. The analogy is false. Each key-press on the typewriter will instantly produce a letter of the alphabet. The monkeys are already part way there. A true analogy would be an infinite sequence of phonemes – and phonemes as we have already seen are highly complex, highly structured sound sequences. White noise, however, has no structure whatsoever, it is estimated that for white-noise to come up with even one complete word in English – and remember there are at least 6000 languages on his planet would take longer than the lifetime of the human race. This is written for the future. Science at this time, though not for the first time, has disgraced itself. It has refused to countenance what is one of the most profound scientific phenomena in human history. Certainly, it is said that in the 19th Century the French Academy of Science refused to believe in the phonograph, believing it to be a fraud – a FRAUD, Sir! But EVP is considerably more significant than a recording machine. I feel sure that you, in the future, will find it hard to understand how we could be so blind. But that is the way it was. Alexander MacRae skye-lab.com