Spirit Communication; Making Waves

[Caveat – Throughout this discussion you will find me referring to spirits as real entities and with a basic definable humanity to them, however, this discussion is not an attempt to define what these spirits are, nor is its purpose in labelling them as anything more than spirits.  It is unfortunate for this discussion that we cannot simply hang up our disbelief for a moment and assume the popular definition to be true; but even so, you will find that I am being far more generous with this idea than I otherwise would be.  Additionally, the below theory does not speak to the credibility of other theories, such as psychical influence, environmental interference or Apophenia (or even blatant hoax) in explaining the phenomenon involved, it remains only a starting point for further discussion.]

Harry Houdini with his version of a Medium's Trumpet

Harry Houdini with his version of a Medium’s Trumpet

These days when one speaks of mediumship, mental images of such famous psychics as John Edwards, Sylvia Brown and even Chip Coffey (of Paranormal State) are conjured; we think of a spiritualistic gift possessed only by a select few, who have the ability to wield this power over the world of the dead (and the living in some cases).  Often we assume that mediumship is bound by rules and procedures, and is divinely regulated with a higher purpose and a nod to some afterlife mission to either dispose of or assist souls who’ve become trapped in some purgatory state beyond what we each know as reality.

Though in truth, the term ‘mediumship’ provides shelter for a wide variety of phenomenon, and it is only the more sensationalistic (and as some might argue, myself included, the more easily faked) incarnations of the term that survived history and are paraded around on TV today.

In the early days of the Spiritualist movement, to which every idea we hold about ghost hunting owes its existence, mediumship was thought of as a much more fluid term, meant to represent several ideas rooted in just the simple notion that the living can communicate with the dead.  It wasn’t an exclusive club, nor was it meant to be a money-making, commercial endeavour (though many then, as now, have worked very hard to make it that way).  Now though, a simple Google definition search will reveal the convoluted and highly suspect redefining of this term, to fit whatever biased notion the ‘definer’ wishes to convey.[1]

This is all somewhat inconsequential, though it is always good to start with an idea of where such terms come from, regardless of what they have been twisted to mean in modern times, especially when our topic today is so closely connected to the historical ideas of mediumship, rather than modern ones.  Etymologically, medium is derived from medius, which historically meant “intermediate agency, channel of communication�? (c. 1605), and you can see how that etymology eventually came to represent a “person who conveys spiritual messages�?.[2]

While the subject of mediums and the various ways in which they ply their craft is a topic of interest, and one which I may cover at another time, today I wish to discuss a specific tool that has historically been synonymous with mediums, and at one time was considered to be just as popularly accepted as EVP “research�? is today.[3]

The tool I speak of is the Medium’s Trumpet, which was a tool of so-called direct-voice-mediumship of the late 19th century.  Among other devices in the Medium’s employ, such as the medium’s cabinet, the curtain, the (tipping) table and the like, the Medium’s Trumpet was one of the earlier inclusions to the Medium’s bag of tricks.

Essentially, the Medium’s Trumpet, which is largely identical to a simple voice trumpet, is a cone of wood or tin with some kind of reed or baffle inserted into the small end to act as a vocal apparatus (similar to a musical wind instrument).  They were used by mediums to provide a physical apparatus for the spirits with which they communed through séance to speak to the rest of the group (the sitters).  This is in direct opposition to non-direct-voice-mediums, who (with all the charity I can muster) allowed the spirits to use their own vocal cords and windpipe to speak.[4]

Some relatively famous names are often connected to direct-voice-mediumship and to the Medium’s Trumpet; Margery Crandon and Eileen Garrett were among them.  This phenomenon had its investigators and sceptics too, one of them being Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (creator of the Sherlock Holmes character), and the chief call of hoax in this regard was in ventriloquism.  The first cry of which may have come from Frederick Myers (Doyle 1926), though the logic of Myers could hardly be dismissed by any sceptical observer (except maybe Doyle himself) and was often repeated.

As interesting as the histrionics of direct-voice-mediumship are, it’s the phenomenon itself I’m concerned with today.  To again relate the Medium’s Trumpet to the modern idea of electronic voice phenomenon, underlying all of these strange happenings is a relatively simple concept, spirits of the hereafter (whatever and wherever that may be) are communicating with this reality on a fairly regular basis.  That concept may be simple to lay out under a single defining statement like this, but it’s anything but simple to explain, or even to describe what is happening in either case (EVP or DVM).

The modern conundrum with EVP has been how exactly, a spirit can make a vocal impression on a recording medium, whether that be digital or analogue, without causing an actual audible sound in the environment of the recording device at the time.  And here, I think, is the connection…

As was suggested by Margery Crandon’s control Walter[5]: “we can walk on the vibrations of your laughter.�?, Nandor Fodor, one time associate of Sigmund Freud and author of the Encyclopaedia of Psychic Science (University Books 1952), suggested that environmental vibration was key to spirit voice communication.

As we all know, sound is the product of vibration moving through our environment, whether the air, or through another medium (i.e. structures, water, etc), and ultimately becoming sound waves.  It is the interaction between the vibrational medium (air, water, etc.) and the receiving device (whether the ear or a tape recorder) that creates sound.  In this interaction there are typically believed to be three elements; the source of the vibration, the vibrational medium and the receiver; but what if we consider that the vibration itself is another independent element in this equation?

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The most prevalent problem we encounter when trying to explain both direct-voice-mediumship and EVP is how does the spirit cause a sound without causing a sound?

With the Medium’s Trumpet, it was said that the trumpet was meant to facilitate the spirits voice by giving them an apparatus with which to cause audible vibrations, suggesting that they do not possess such ability inherently.  Is this inability linked to the fact that they do not inhabit the vibrational medium in which the sound would travel?

I realise that the above is highly unclear, so let’s look at it from another perspective; sound doesn’t occur in the vacuum of space.  This is because there is no vibrational medium to carry the sound from its origin to a receiver.  Does this, however, mean that a device such as a radio speaker placed in such a vacuum is not creating audible vibrations?  Certainly it is…the problem is not the vocal apparatus; it is the vibrational medium.

If we turn that same idea inside out have we not created conditions similar to that which would be experienced by a spirit?  Wherein the spirit does not possess the apparatus to create vibrations which are compatible with our vibrational medium, which means that spirits, in common circumstances, cannot affect or create sound without assistance.  Unless that is, they eliminate the need for the vibrational medium altogether.

If we go back to our radio singing away in the vacuum of space, though not making a sound, can we think of any way to fix this problem (without resorting to adding an alternative vibrational medium)?  I would suggest that connecting the radio speaker directly to a receiving device, through physical contact (i.e. placing it in contact with one’s ear), would eliminate the need for the vibrational medium (though I suspect the sound experienced would be muffled and distorted).  If we again turn this idea inside out, I believe it explains a great deal about both EVP and the Medium’s Trumpet.

Courtesy of www.skeptiseum.org

I’ll deal with each individually for clarity’s sake. Along the same line of logic laid out above, if we concede that the problem for spirits in communicating with persons in this reality is restricted by the vibrational medium (air) in our environment, then we must eliminate that restriction from the equation.  In doing so, we eliminate the possibility of sound being transmitted at all, unless we use the same problem solving technique employed in the space radio issue.  I believe EVP and the idea of the Medium’s Trumpet are both examples of dealing with the problem on two separate ends of the equation.The Medium’s Trumpet:

In accordance with the above theory, to communicate in our vibrational medium (as a spirit) one must physically connect the speaker or origin of the signal (in this case whatever means the spirit uses for creating their equivalent to sound vibrations, herein called foreign signals) with something capable of translating those foreign signals into audible vibrations.  Might that unknown translation device be a baffle or membrane attached to the inner surface of the instrument?  If the spirit is able to physically connect with the baffle, in turn to physically manipulate the attitude of the baffle or membrane, would we not end up with precisely what many séance sitters claim they hear (distorted and disjointed voices)?

In my research, I have been unable to find a consistent plan or schematic for such a Medium’s Trumpet, in that those available differ so greatly, that one cannot come to an agreement about the possible science behind the idea.

For my purposes here, I make an unfounded assumption (beyond the initial assumption that spirits both exist and want to communicate with the living), which is that the historical Medium’s Trumpet, with exception, was constructed with the use of a mechanism that may have been similar to the vibrating membrane found in a child’s kazoo (silly as it sounds); but more so that the basic mechanical theory behind the Trumpet was such that it provided a means for communication by employing some such vibrating apparatus, that did not also require a moving column of air independent of the membrane itself.  I suggest that they could not have been constructed to use a reed, such as would be found in any musical wind instrument.  I note that in wind instruments, the reed or vibrating apparatus is not the chief sound making element in the instrument, but rather the moving (vibrating) column of air through the instrument is that element.

In the case of the reed, independent physical manipulation of the reed’s physical status (causing it to move or vibrate) would not produce the sound reported, unless that effect was combined with air flow.  In the case of the membrane (kazoo), airflow is not required, as the membrane itself causes air pressure changes within the chamber of the instrument.  Though membrane thickness, orientation, tensile strength and tautness would be critical factors in the success or failure of such an instrument, and there is no indication that Medium’s Trumpets, now or in the past, have undergone such engineering in their construction.

Nonetheless, in the case of the Medium’s Trumpet, I suggest that direct manipulation of such a membrane apparatus is/was the cause of the experienced sounds.  Unfortunately, until such time as I can conclusively determine the nature of the trumpet’s construction, this part of the theory will remain untestable.

soundwaveElectronic Voice Phenomenon:

As I said above, these two spirit communication events seem to be placed at two ends of the same problematic equation.  In terms of EVP, if we were faced with our space radio problem again, and we determined that changing the format of the transmission (by connecting the origin with a translation device, as done above) is insufficient to overcome the problem or is undesirable in given circumstances, then might we try to connect the origin of the sound directly to the receiver?  If physical position is irrelevant to the spirit (which it is by most accounts), then can we accept that they might be capable of directly affecting the receiving device (a microphone) in a very similar way, as they may do with the above translation device (the trumpet)?  And in doing so, would they not be affecting the same outcome, which is to eliminate the restrictive effect of the vibrational medium?

The most common type of microphone used today, in consumer grade electronics that would most commonly be used to record EVP evidence, is the Electret Microphone.

(A full understanding of precisely how this type of microphone operates would be beneficial to this discussion, but is not absolutely necessary.)

microphoneAll microphones operate on a single principal, which is to change sound vibration into an electrical signal via a thin membrane which interacts with an electrical field in various ways.[6] Electret microphones use a conductive membrane as a diaphragm which is positioned parallel to a second conductive plate across a dielectric compound (thus creating a capacitor).[7] The diaphragm is positioned to interact with sound vibrations in its environment; as the sound vibrations contact the diaphragm, they change its position relative to its corresponding plate, and those changes cause fluctuation in the inherent electrical charge of the capacitor.  In layman’s terms, the membrane moves in relation to its corresponding plate, according to the sound waves contacting it from the environment (moving it closer to, or pulling it away from), it is the measurement of those subtle changes in the distance between those two plates that accounts of the sound recorded or amplified by the device fed by the microphone.

In this process there seems to be room for manipulation, both physically and environmentally.  EM-Interference is a particularly difficult problem for microphones, especially cheaper, less shielded models.  Electromagnetic radiation in our environment, as caused by electronic devices, electric appliances, power lines, communication signals and even naturally occurring EM-Fields can cause and is blamed for a large number of EVP cases, as those fields easily interact with the inherent and necessary electromagnetic fields that the microphones depend on to perform (they specifically measure the changes in their own electric capacity to translate sound into electric signal).

Electret Condenser Microphone Capsules

Secondly, and more importantly for this theory, all microphones are be prone to physical manipulation; it’s easy to understand that touching, moving or physically manipulating the housing of a microphone can and does cause sound transference through the diaphragm, after all this is precisely how microphones are intended to work.  In the science of microphones, vibration equals sound, regardless of the origin of that vibration.  With that in mind, is it not conceivable that a spirit, in an effort to remove the restrictive properties of the vibrational medium of air in our environment, could be affecting the diaphragm directly, and in turn causing sounds to be recorded that were not audible in the environment at the time?  In point of fact, there would be no sound present in the environment at the time, just vibrational contact with the microphone’s diaphragm.

To accept this, we have to accept also that (as above) spirits do exist in some form or dimension, that they have the ability to interact with our environment on some physical level (inherently precise and subtle it seems), that they wish to communicate in some form, and that they do not inherently possess the apparatus necessary to do so without eliminating the problem of incompatibility with our atmosphere.  Once we make those assumptions, whether they are justified or not, a striking similarity appears in this theory, between the possible method of interaction between spirits and both the Medium’s Trumpet and an EVP recording device.

As convoluted and confusing as the above may be, I want to make clear here and now, that I am not proclaiming this theory to be true, nor am I suggesting that it is more valid than any other; my purpose was, and is, to provide a possible answer to the question posed above: how does the spirit cause a sound without causing a sound?


[1] See Google Definition; Mediumship: http://www.google.ca/search?hl=en&source=hp&q=define%3Amediumship&btnG=Google+Search&meta=&aq=f&oq=

[2] See the Online Etymology Dictionary entry for “medium�?: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=Medium

[3] I put the word research in quotations here, because it is clear to me and many of my colleagues, that what passes for research in the case of electronic voice phenomenon these days, is little more than enthusiastic play of a paranormal nature.  Capturing a large and questionable library of EVP recordings with no eye toward investigating what they are and where they come from is hardly research.

[4] In other words, non-direct-voice-mediums, used their own voice to allow the spirits to speak, which offered certain obvious opportunities for blatant hoax, though there have been historical cases that defied explanation due to certain language and dialect issues as well as details in the information relayed, but which leaves the same room for hoax as does the possibility of cold reading in modern psychics.

[5] A control (often known as a spirit control) is the personality being brought through by the medium during séance, often mediums made contact with a single spirit who would return regularly, and were often thought to be their “spirit guide�?.

[6] For reference see the Wikipedia entry on Microphones: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microphone

[7] Again, see the Wikipedia entry on Electret Microphones for more detail: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electret_microphone

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