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As technology advances, so our uses for it continue to expand.  One of the most fascinating, albeit controversial, aspects of this may be relating to the world of the paranormal and is known as electronic voice phenomena or EVP.  But what is it and how does it work?


For those who believe in the phenomena, EVP is the recording of voices or other communications from the dead, from ghosts or other disincarnate entities.  Attempts to contact the dead have been tried since man first gained the idea of the afterlife through seances, oracles and mediums.  Some psychics believe they can communicate those who have passed on.  However, one of the most technologically advanced ways to attempt this contact with the dead is through the use of electric equipment.

EVP is a mysterious event whereby human sounding voices and other sounds are recorded by some electronic means, including a recording tape or even a video camera.  Often, these sounds aren’t heard at the time of the recording and only discovered later, when the footage is played back.  Sometimes, even special filters are needed to hear these recordings and this adds to the reason that some people are sceptical about the phenomena.


When the Spiritualist movement began in the 1840s and became more prominent, belief in contacting the dead became more popular and belief in it more widespread.  As well as using psychics and mediums, believers began to use technology to try and contact the spirit world.  Thomas Edison was even asked about the phenomena in a Scientific American interview to which he replied that sensitive recording devices would have a better chance of communicating with spirits than an Ouija board or a medium ever would.  But there is no evidence he ever constructed a device for this purpose.

One of the first known attempts to record voices of the dead came in 1941 when American photographer Attila von Szalay began using a 78rpm record to try to catch ghost’ voices as part of his ghost hunting work.  It wasn’t until 1956 when he began using reed-to-reel tape recorders did he have any real success.  Some of the first voices to be recorded including one wishing merry Christmas and happy new year to all.  The work was detailed in the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research in 1959.

In the same year, a Swedish painted called Friedrich Jurgenson was recorded bird songs.  But when he played back the tape, he heard the voice of his dead father and that of his dead wife calling his name.  Other messages he went on to record included messages for his mother.

In 1980, William O’Neil made a device called The Spiricom, made from specifications he received from a scientist called George Mueller who had died six years previously.  In 1982, he held two way conversations with spirits through the device and provided free details of the specifications.  However, no one else ever managed to duplicate his work.

There have been many more cases of EVP in recent years, with the editing software continuing to develop and more of these recordings surface.  However, the development of technology has also increased the amount of fraudulent cases and software that can fake the results.

Electronic voice phenomena - equipment

By gunnar_maas (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Classes of EVP

Those who deal with EVP categorise these recordings into three classes, depending on the nature of the sounds recorded and the ease of which they can be heard.

  • Class A are those recordings which are easily understood with little or no manipulation and can be identified by people who don’t believe in the phenomena.  They tend to be the loudest in volume.
  • Class B are these where the voices or sounds have experienced some warping, often in certain syllables.  There is often a lower volume quality or the voices sound as if they are more distant than in Class A recordings.  This group makes up the largest majority of EVP recordings.
  • Class C are those were the recordings are very warped and are of very low volume, often like whispered.  These are the hardest to understand and require the most manipulation.


As always there are plenty of ideas that explain away some of the cases of EVP.  These include natural explanations such as radio interference as well as pareidolia, where the brain misinterprets signals and information to recognise something familiar when it isn’t there.  But as with much in the paranormal world, there are always a few cases that no-one can explain away.

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