Today I’m enjoying the nice weather and finishing a very entertaining book, Mary Roach’s Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. If Roach’s name is familiar, it might be because she’s back on bestseller lists with her latest, Packing for Mars: the Curious Science of Life in the Void.
The chapter (in Spook) on EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) was one of my favorites, for audio-technology-geekery reasons, and also because I was recently reading up on new archeological research regarding the Donner party. I don’t think you can do a graduate degree in audio technology without being asked 10 million times about EVP. I know I couldn’t.
From the chapter “Can you Hear Me Now?: Telecommunicating with the Dead”
“The National Forest Service has a fine and terribly dark sense of humor, or possibly they have none at all. For somebody, perhaps an entire committee, saw fit to erect a large wooden sign near the site where fourteen emigrants bound for California were eaten by other emigrants bound for California when they became trapped by the savage snows of 1846 and starved. The sign reads: DONNER CAMP PICNIC GROUND. I got here on a tour bus chartered by Dave Oester and Sharon Gill, founders of the International Ghost Hunters Society. IGHS, one of the world’s largest (14,000 members in 78 countries) amateur paranormal investigation groups, sponsors ghost-hunting trips to famously and not-so-famously haunted sites. By and large, we look like any other tour group: The shorts, the flappy-sleeved tees, the marshmallow sneakers. We have cameras, we have camcorders. Unlike most visitors here today, we also have tape recorders. I am facing a pine tree, several feet from a raised wooden walkway that guides visitors through the site. I hold my tape recorder out in front of me, as though perhaps the tree were about to say something quotable. The other members of my group are scattered pell-mell in the fields and thickets, all holding out tape recorders. It’s like a tornado touched down in the middle of a press conference.
A couple and their dogs approach on the walkway. “Are you taping bird calls?” I answer yes, for two reasons. First, because, well, literally, we are. And because I feel silly saying, “We are wanting to tape the spirit voices of the Donner Party.”
Thousands of Americans and Europeans believe that tape recorders can capture the voices of people whose vocal cords long ago decomposed. They refer to these utterances as EVP: electronic voice phenomena. You can’t hear the voices while you’re recording; they show up mysteriously when the tape is replayed. If you do a web search on the initials EVP, you’ll find dozens of sites with hundreds of audio files of these recordings. Though some sound like clearly articulated words or whispers, many are garbled and echoey and mechanical-sounding. It is hard to imagine them coming from dead souls without significantly altering one’s image of the hereafter. Heaven is supposed to have clouds and bolts of white cloth and other excellent sound-absorbing materials. The heaven of these voices sounds like an airship hanger. They’re very odd.”
I couldn’t find video of her talking about this book, so here’s her delightful recent appearance on the Daily Show, where she and Jon Stewart gab about pooping in space and other weighty (weightless?) issues.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|