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Pursuing the paranormal

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« on: January 06, 2008, 09:05:25 pm »

Pursuing the paranormal
West Barnstable group uses tools to identify voices from beyond

YARMOUTHPORT - Three words.

"Did anybody answer?"

And David Sircom ripped off his headphones and backed against the wall.

David Sircom demonstrates his technique for recording electronic voice
phenomena in a Dennis cemetery. The sun provides the light atop the
(Staff photo by STEVE HEASLIP)

Just three words.

His disbelief vanished.

"I always believed there was something after death," Sircom said, "but
not that you could interact with them."

He'd asked out loud if there were any spirits in his home that wanted to

The first time he heard nothing.

A few hours later on that fall morning in 2000, he tried again.

Sircom started his tape recorder, asked his question and waited a few
moments. Then he transferred the silence he'd recorded onto his computer
and played it back.

And there it was.

"Did anybody answer?"

This query represented the first of many voices he's recorded, both in
his Yarmouthport home and places like the Dennis Cemetery.

"I believe they're dead people," Sircom said. "But who knows?"

Sircom, a public insurance adjuster, is now a member of the Cape
AndIslands Paranormal Research Society, a nonprofit organization that
researches the supernatural.

White noise
Proponents of Electronic Voice Phenomena - spotlighted in the 2005 movie
"White Noise" - maintain that spirits of the dead can speak through
electronic recordings.


What is EVP?

Electronic Voice Phenomena is a process whereby the voice or voices of
the dead are embedded onto magnetic recording tape by a process we do
not understand.

The embedded "ghost" voice can be heard when the magnetic audiotape is
played back on a tape recorder/player or with a digital recorder. Ghost
voices are clear and do not sound like static, but some voices are weak
and found at the noise level.



The American Association of Electronic Voice Phenomena also suggests the
voices may be those of extraterrestrials or "entities who might best be
described as angelic."

What EVPs are is complex, with even its staunchest supporters sometimes
in disagreement over where they come from or what is said.

However, the process by which EVPs are obtained can be relatively
simple, Sircom said.

He recommended using any tape recorder - ideally with an external
microphone - and a low-noise, high-sensitivity tape. He then announces
himself and records any palette of white noise, ranging from a silent
room or radio static or water rushing down the drain.

Sircom finally runs the result through a computer program that optimizes
any unusual sounds on the recording.

Because you can't hear the phenomenon as it's happening, you never know
until you analyze the recording if any voices were captured, Sircom

Sometimes it happens, but often there's nothing.

Analog and digital tape recorders are used to collect "white noise" for
paranormal research.
(Staff photo by STEVE HEASLIP)

"They either want to chat," Sircom said, "or they don't."

That's one of the reasons EVP should not be used as a bereavement tool,
he added. The voices are unreliable and their words are oftentimes
garbled - after all, the clipped, harsh EVP voice that said "I will see
you no more" could have said something less poignant like "I was seeing
the war."

Essentially, you can't continue any meaningful relationship with a
deceased loved one through a tape recorder and a computer, Sircom said.

"I've asked to speak to my parents," Sircom acknowledged. "But I've
never really gotten anything."

The Cape And Islands Paranormal Research Society, based in West
Barnstable, now uses EVP in its supernatural investigations.

"It's pretty good," said Derek Bartlett, CAIPRS founder and president.
"That's evidence, if it's answering specific questions."


About the society

Cape And Islands Paranormal Research Society is the product of Derek
Bartlett's lifelong interest in the supernatural.

Members of CAIPERS range from 18-55 years old, said Bartlett, who works
as a software salesman.

The seven members - three men and four women - mostly come from the
Cape Cod and Plymouth areas.

CAIPRS holds monthly public meetings at Cape Cod Community College in
West Barnstable.

The group received official non-profit status last spring.

Its members aren't paid and its services are free. CAIPRS is bankrolled
through fund-raisers and private donations.

-- Joe Heitz


CAIPRS did 22 paranormal investigations in homes, cemeteries and
businesses across New England last year.

The tight group, Bartlett emphasized, is not Ghostbusters. They
painstakingly research reports of hauntings, examining and re-examining
data they collect, rather than rid a house of what may be haunting it.

EVP is simply one more tool in their arsenal, he explained.

"My team - I know - will not find absolute, 100 percent evidence of
ghosts," Bartlett said. "I hope we are stepping stones for those who

Not everyone is nearly so enamored with EVP.

Indeed, the whole notion of spirits communicating via electronics from
beyond the grave elicits a thorny tangle of scientific and religious

"If you look at the world around us, there's a huge amount of background
noise," said Craig Christensen, an electrical engineering professor at
Suffolk University in Boston.

Christensen said he's extremely skeptical of EVP, both for scientific
and religious reasons.

So where, then, do the voices that emerge on such recordings come from?

Christensen, a Mormon, said everything from far-off vacuum cleaners to
halogen lights to radio waves - even the agitation of atoms - can
produce tiny amounts of noise that could comprise the phenomenon.

Add it all up and mix in some chance, he said.

"The question is whether it's just a random coincidence or if it's
intelligible," Christensen said. "It gets into the realm where someone
has a potato chip that looks like Jay Leno."

But he added that he couldn't definitively discredit EVP - especially
since he views the matter as residing partially within religion.

"I also believe religious experiences don't always fall within
scientific method," Christensen said. "When you mix science and
religion, I don't necessarily see a conflict."

Selves as critics
Now ask Bartlett who CAIPRS' biggest skeptic is.

Sircom filters "white noise" through his computer in an effort to
detect sounds and voice patterns.
(Staff photo by RON SCHLOERB)

"Myself," he replied. "We are the biggest skeptics and critics of what
we do. We have to have proof and evidence."

Sircom and Bartlett both say they don't rely on psychics or visionaries
in their investigations - no crystal balls or seances or ouiji boards.

The tools of their trade are technological.

Sircom uses tape recorders and his computer. Bartlett has a more
elaborate collection of items like an electromagnetic field detector and
a non-contact thermal scanner.

And if they can explain any possible paranormal event a more
conventional way, they do.

"If we can disprove it, that's what we do right away," Sircom said, a
tendency he credits in part to working as a licensed public insurance

However, Bartlett added ghost-hunting requires a balance of skepticism
and curiosity.

"You don't have to have a Ph.D. in parapsychology," he said. "All you
need is an open mind."

That one three-word question almost five years ago has evoked countless
more for Sircom.

"I thought it was baloney," he said, " 'til I got that response."

Who exactly answered? Or what? And why?

"Where are you?" Sircom once asked.

"Closer than you think," came the recording cryptic reply.

In the netherworld between science and the supernatural, little is

"Did anybody answer?"

It depends who's listening.

(Published: March 6, 2005)

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