Things That Go Bump, Chapter 1


That's my theme for the month of October. Yeah, I know, it's a single word, and not a word laden with deep meaning, but on the plus side it's short and easy to pronounce, so boo it is.

I love October. The intense Mississippi heat gives way to a brief Mississippi autumn, which means our weather settings are being moved from INFERNO to TORNADO and we've got maybe a month before the big switch clicks into place and we start hearing the wail of the storm sirens again.

October. The leaves fall. The snakes pack their bags and head for winter quarters. I can stop mowing the bloody lawn every six hours just to keep the jungle from taking over.

But best of all, October means Halloween.

Which brings us back to boo.

Those of you who know me know I'm not just Oxford's least-renowned author. I also have a keen interest in the dubious science of the allegedly paranormal -- in other words, I do a little ghost hunting from time to time.

Let me get a few things straight with you up front. Do I or do I not believe in the existence of ghosts?

Yes and no, with a generous dollop of maybe. 

Glad we cleared that up.

Seriously, I'm not at all concerned with beliefs, even mine. No. I have one interest in this regard, and one interest only, and that is confirming or denying the existence of evidence of the paranormal. Specifically, EVP and related phenomena, magnetic anomalies associated with ghostly phenomena, and photographic evidence of hauntings and so forth.

A lot of people, many of whom just happen to have shows on TV, claim to routinely gather evidence (sound evidence, still and video evidence, etc.) of the paranormal. In fact, they gather evidence with such apparent ease and frequency that I decided to engage in the same techniques, and see if anything spooky happened to me.

It's taken a while, but I've put together a pretty decent ghost hunting kit. I've got cameras, digital and film, still and video. In addition to the usual cameras and so forth, I've got some of the gear you might see on TV, shown below:

From left to right, there's a Ramsey Tri-Field meter, which can sniff out electric fields, magnetic fields, and RF signals. You just select your mode and watch the lights. This thing is extremely sensitive, and in electric field mode it can pick up someone combing their hair from across the room. Would it react if the spirit of a dead person approached?

Maybe. Especially if they'd help out by combing their hair.

To the lower right of the Ramsey, you have an old-school cassette tape recorder. I keep it around because there is a school of thought which says ghosts can imprint their EVP conversations more easily on magnetic tape. Also because I've had it forever and it still works.  Yes, the motor sound can be heard on recordings, but it's pretty quiet as this technology goes.

Next to the tape recorder is the ever-popular K2 meter, first popularized on SyFy's "Ghost Hunters" and used by legions of ghost hunters ever since. This is a very simple, rugged device that measures EMF fields up to 20 milliGauss. One things you may not know about K2 meters (Not my Ramsey, so much, unless it's in RF mode) is this -- a cell phone in use nearby can light it up. Let's say an unscrupulous production assistant decided your show needed a little ratings boost -- stand in the next room, off camera, and order a pizza as the intrepid ghost hunters troop through Blood Mansion.

Look, there go the K2s. Must be a haunt!

To the right of the K2 is a device of my own design. It measures static electrical fields, and it too is very sensitive. You flip the big switch, put it somewhere, and watch the single red light. Changes in intensity signal changes in the nearby charges. Could be a cat walking past. Or not. Bwhahaha...

Finally, above it all, is a big black box that contains my first stab at making a so-called Raudive EVP mic/amp combination.

I started building it Saturday morning, using mostly spare parts. Here is a photo history of the construction, minus the segments of me pulling my hair out or foaming at the mouth:

It's all tucked neatly into its box now, ready to go. I did make one serious mistake in the design -- I planned to mount a speaker in the box, and listen to the device like you would a radio. But due to a math error (stupid math!) the output stage puts out two volts and not the twenty I was hoping for. So it can't drive a big speaker, but it can act as a microphone, and be plugged right into a digital voice recorder. So that's how I'll be using it today, because I'm out of parts, time, and patience.

Konstantin Raudive (pronounced raw-dee-vay, not raw-dive) is the father of EVP research. He was out recording birdsongs and found voices instead, which led him to make more recordings, which led to the discovery of even more voices.

Ask any scientist about this, and most of them will tell you what he and other EVP researchers are recording is simply stray radio noise. Then most scientists will smack you on the back of the head and laugh at you for thinking you were going to get 20 volts when you got only 2. They are often a bitter lot.

Is that what I think? The voices are all stray bits of Howard Stern broadcasts?

Could be. But -- and yes, there is a but -- I have heard EVP recordings which appeared to exhibit intelligence, responding to spoken questions with clarity and apparent reason. I don't believe that can be attributed to radio noise. Also, people are using good gear, and taking pains to reduce any radio interference. I've also heard EVP 'voices' which were captured on more than one device, and which showed evidence of echo and clear directionality -- which makes them an audio phenomena, not a radio one.

At this point, many people cry 'hoax.'  And I'm sure many EVP recordings are hoaxes. That's why I decided to capture them myself -- because that's the only way I can be absolutely sure I'm not being tricked. Because I keep a sharp eye on myself at all times.

The first time I tried to capture EVP activity was in a local cemetery on a bright, sunny Sunday afternoon. I made sure no one was around, I asked a few questions, stepped on a few graves, heard nothing out of the ordinary. Then went to a much more remote rural graveyard, where I did the same thing.

I downloaded the recordings and listened to them on my PC, expecting to hear nothing because after all I'd heard nothing.

But that's not what happened.

In the first graveyard, I caught a faint but distinct female voice saying 'hurry, honey.' In the rural cemetery, I captured part of what sounded like a conversation between a man and a woman, though no one was around having any conversation of any kind.

I didn't fake these. Yes, the sounds are faint. But they are there.

And that was my first time out.

Now, the gear I've been using is designed to capture sounds by use of audio microphones.

The box I slapped together yesterday is totally different. It has no microphone at all -- in fact, it's just a germanium diode (the classic 1n34A), a 0.5 mH coil, and a very basic op-amp which boosts the signal about 200 times.

This is a so-called 'Raudive microphone,' which is actually a crude, detuned AM radio with a tiny 3 inch antenna. All one should hear is static. There are people claiming to hear not just voices but whole conversations.

Well, today we're going to try it for ourselves. And you can be a part of it, because in a few minutes I'm going to set up every piece of gear I have and conduct an EVP session right here at my desk. I'll be running the Raudive unit all the while, and when I'm done I'll pull its audio and analyze it for anything odd. If I find voices, I'll clip them out and post them below.

If I don't, well, I'll reveal that too.

Now, I know many ghost hunters prefer to tramp around deserted old buildings in the dark.  And that does make for good TV. But I'm not on TV, the locals tend to get all shooty and litigious with people they discover tramping around in the dark, and anyway "Hell on Wheels" is on later and I never miss that.

So today's paranormal investigation takes place here, in scenic Yocona, Mississippi. It's finally cool enough so that I can turn off the fans and the AC. I'll be speaking into a pro-quality Blue Snowball microphone for the audio session. I'll be making a secondary recording on my iPhone, just in case. The Raudive unit will be Raudiving away on the table behind me. I'll have the K2 an the Ramsey in plain sight, ready to light up if the room's EMF profile changes (and it shouldn't).

If you do hear a fan, it's one of the four in my monster PC, which is optimized for writing (gaming) and research (gaming). I've got them set to run at minimums, though, so hopefully all you'll hear is my voice.

Present in the room is Lou Ann, asleep in the recliner, Petey, downstairs asleep, and Thor, who comes and goes with all the grace and agility of a drunken water buffalo. You can pretty much ignore sounds of movement, because that's obviously a dog.

Here's how this will work. I'll fire up the microphone and talk for a bit. Then I'll use the old PC to fire up a wall of pure white noise. A lot of EVP researchers claim the white noise is used by entities to form words. I'm more of the belief that loud white noise can trick you into thinking you heard words, but hey, I'll give it a shot.

Once I'm done with the session, I'll post it. Then I'll use my audio software (it's just Audacity, which you can get too -- it's free, and everyone uses it) to look for voices that shouldn't be there. If I find any, I'll post them too.

I won't do any elaborate post-processing. you can either hear it or you can't. I don't tweak the files much, because it's too easy to tweak plain old noise into something that does sound like 'Mustard, I feel the noses, dance my slacks, Portnoy.' 

And you get to be here for it, live! Okay, not live in the broadcast sense, but live as in not dead, I suppose. And if you are dead, please stop being such a prima donna and say something plain and direct, okay? Thanks.

Here's the setup -- K2, Ramsey, and EMF below monitor at to left of mic:

The ambient EMF, which is around 44 microTeslas:

Finally, the meters. The K2 is showing its usual one LED. The Ramsey is set for electric field detection, but is mostly very quiet.

So, the stage is set, the mics are hot, and it's time to see if anyone out there is in a talkative mood.  Join me as I take a brief journey into --

Okay, I won't say it, but you know you heard the theme song.

First EVP session

So that's five minutes of rambling by one more or less living person. Analysis of the entire segment revealed nothing out of the ordinary. 

Next, I added a blast of white noise to the mix. White noise is simply static. It's a very defined kind of static, and I could post a whole page of math about it, but you know what static sounds like.

I really cranked the level. It doesn't sound that thunderous on the recording, because the Blue was set for near field, but it was pretty loud to me.  I talked through it, asked the usual questions. But here, listen for yourself.

Second EVP session

I analysed the audio above, expecting nothing.

Oddly enough, I did find an oddity. At about four minutes, I noted that I was hearing a sort of sing-song high-pitched sound, like a child humming or singing in the distance. I was pretty sure I was imagining it, because I hadn't heard it before, and sing-song kid voices are NOT a component of white noise.

But I caught it, and I've isolated a sample below. It lasted for about 20 seconds. I have no idea what it was. It's faint -- I use a good pair of headphones to listen to my EVP recordings -- but if you crank the volume you can hear it. NOTE: I was forced to do a little noise reduction and loop this sample, because you really can't hear it without headphones otherwise.

Singsong Sound

What was it?

I have no idea whatsoever.  I heard it. The Blue caught it. So it was there, but whether it was Lou Ann playing her hidden accordion or some long-lost relative telling me to knock it off and get a real job, I'll probably never know.

I don't consider that clip evidence of anything paranormal. It's just a weird noise.

I also recorded 41 minutes of audio on my new Raudive box.

Have you ever tried to sit and listen intently to 41 minutes of static?

Oh yeah. Good times. Nothing there. Just static.

Today was a sort of general introduction to EVP recording and EVPs in general. Next week, I take to the field, recording some EVPs in the places ghosts reputably gather. Graveyards. Haunted houses. My book signings. You know, any desolate, lonely place where the living seldom dare intrude.

Thanks for joining me! Stay tuned, because this whole month is about ghosts, goblins, and things what go bump in der nicht.

I started with boo. Now I say bye. Until next time, my friends...