Thursday, 22 January 2009

Year of the gentleman.

I think I'm having an early mid life crisis. No really I am. It all started this morning when I worked out that not only did I not know what the number one record in the country was at the moment, I also have no idea what any of the proceeding number one's were for the past year. I'm vaguely aware of someone singing about an umbrella at some point, and some woman talking about a brief lesbian interaction. Apart from that though I really don't have a clue.

So here I am in a state of panic with the UK's top 40 singles list in front of me. A creeping sensation has started to work it's way up the back of my neck and the realisation is setting in that I've only heard of one in every five of the artists featured on this list (Gee Note: Prompting such exclamations as "Ne-Yo!!! Who the hell is Ne-Yo?!?!"). Worse, the only song I actually have any prior knowledge of is Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley, which was originally released 14 years ago.

There comes a time in everyone's life when they must look at themselves and realise they're simply not as cool and with it as they used to be. I'm afraid that my time might be now. Maybe I should just chuck in the towel and go buy a pipe and a pair of knee high socks.

It wasn't always like this my friends. Oh no, I have fond memories of Sunday afternoons in my early teenage years sitting next to the stereo, headphones pressed against my ears, finger poised on the record button ready to tape any song I might like on the top 40. For a short while, thanks to the influence of my sister who was determined to mould me in to some kind of mini red haired bohemian, I had the best taste in music of anyone I knew.

Now I've hit my mid twenties and I get the strong sense that I've lost my youth. I haven't stepped foot in a nightclub in, gosh, ages. The last time I went for dinner with some friends I only had two glasses of wine. I actually had the chance of going on a wild trip across the country which would have been choc-a-bloc full of adventure, women, and song, and instead decided to stay at home to catch the beginning of the new series of American Idol (Gee Note: I know, but I'm a sucker for reality TV shows where I can shout my ill informed opinions at the television. It's the reason I love Masterchef. For those not in the know Masterchef is a program here in the UK where amateur cooks duke it out to find out which one is the best according to a bald glorified grocer and a meat loving Australian chef. It is the greatest example of reality television in the known universe, for the simple reason that the viewer has no idea how good the food actually tastes. Therefore one has to go off what the judges say, typically something along the lines of "That stew is simply bursting with flavour". Now one would think that having no means to form an opinion with, you would watch the program and take it as read that the judges are right. Well someone obviously forgot to send me that particular memo as I end up shouting at Masterchef more than any other program. "They picked Bill?!? What?!? Why?!? Obviously Julie's scallop dish was much better! Sheesh, these people are IDIOTS!").

In short I've become old. Old and boring. Mind, I guess I can take some solace from the fact that I'm not hearing voices.

Allow me to explain. Yesterday I decided to conduct an experiment with my old Dictaphone (Gee Note: Old joke time. Secretary: Sir, do you use a Dictaphone? Boss: No, I use my finger). Having just watched a marathon of Most Haunted on the television I decided to try my hand at a bit of paranormal investigating myself, namely in the field of EVP.

Electronic Voice Phenomenon has long been used by mediums and the like in the attempt to prove the existence of ghosts. Basically the idea is that during periods of static noise recorded by electronic equipment, sounds that weren't audible at the time of the recording can be heard. More often than not these sound like spoken words, which mediums and other paranormal investigators attribute to spirits.

It is, as with everything that goes bump in the night, a highly controversial practice creating believers and sceptics in equal measure. Many plausible explanations have been presented as to what the phenomenon could be caused by, from hoaxes to interruption from radio frequencies to Apophenia (Gee Note: Which is when the human brain sees patterns in random or meaningless data. Such as the Devil face in the 9/11 smoke. Or when you get a plate of Birdseye Alphabites and you laugh because the letters spell out a rude word. That kind of thing.)

Bizarely enough EVP first came to prominence thanks to the Catholic church. The Vatican, being more like a government than an actual religious body in some respects, employs all sorts of folk to carry out God's will including a vast number engineers, scientists and researchers. In 1952 two of these able men named Father Gemelli and Father Ernetti were given the task of recording some Gregorian chanting. (Gee Note: By the way I used to go out with a girl who loved Gregorian chanting. No really, she had tons of the stuff on CD. Strangely we didn't last long. Trust me, coming home after a hard days slog to be greeted by some robed bastards belting out Spiritus Domini can be enough to push anyone over the edge.)

Amazingly when listening to the playback for the above mentioned chanting they noticed that Father Giuseppe sounded a bit flat a strange whispering could be heard in the background that had not present during the recording. Gemelli was quite surprised that the voice sounded remarkably similar to his deceased father. Not sure if they were dealing with a technological malfunction or some such, Gemelli and Ernetti re-recorded the chanting, only to hear the voice again, this time saying with remarkable clarity "Dude, can't you get them to sing something a bit more lively? Something by Perry Como perhaps?".

Nah not really. It actually said "But Zucchini it is clear, don't you know it is I?", Zucchini of course being Gemelli's childhood nickname. Now completely convinced that they were dealing with Gemelli's dad's ghost, they took their findings to Pope Puis XII. The Pope, depending on who you believe, either chastised them for wasting his time with nonsense or welcomed their discovery hoping it would help build people's belief in the concept of the afterlife.

Whatever the case, if the Vatican did continue their research in EVP it was never made public knowledge. But not to worry, folks like American photographer and medium Attila Von Szalay picked up the baton. Von Szalay had been experimenting with recording devices in the 1940's, hoping to capture the sound of ghosts in order to legitimise his photographs of spirits. It wasn't until 1956 when he started using a reel to reel tape recorder that results started coming in. (Gee Note: By the way at some point today Von Szalay's entry in Wikipedia was edited and he was renamed Itchbad von Nutsack. No really it was. Some people have way too much time on their hands.) Distinct voices, it is claimed, could be heard on the recordings such as "This is G!" and "hot dog art". Three years after that Swedish painter Friedrich J├╝rgenson was recording some birds singing in the early morning. Upon playing the tape back he was surprised to hear his deceased father's and wife's voices calling his name. J├╝rgenson went on to make various other recordings over the years and claimed that he could hear spirits talking to him on a regular basis, including at one point a message from his mother (Gee Note: If it was my mum it would be something like "Hi love! It's mum. Just wanted to let you know I saw a really nice dinner table in the Argos catalogue that I think would look great in the kitchen. Just thought you'd like to know. Bye").

However EVP was shunned by those in the scientific community as either downright hoaxes or something that was easily exlpainable. Therefore while numerous examples of strange sounds being picked up by tape players and the like were recorded, very little serious study was made.

Regardless EVP still managed to attract notoriety. For example, 1982 rolled along, and a pair of chaps named William O'Neill and George Meek held a press conference announcing the arrival of the Spiricom. O'Neill, an amateur medium, was apparently contacted at some point during the 1970's by George Mueller, a NASA scientist who died in 1967. According to O'Neill George's ghost wanted to help the spirit world and us regular folk communicate in harmony. Mueller's spirit then passed on specifications for a machine to allow us to do just that. O'Neill enlisted the help of retired industrialist Meek and together they set about putting together a contraption to allow life and the afterlife to freely chat with each other.

And so together, following the instructions of Mueller's disembodied voice, they built the Spiricom. Prior to it’s world wide unveiling in 1982 O'Neill claimed to have recorded over 200 hours worth of conversations with those who had shuffled off this mortal coil by using the device, a testament Meek was eager to confirm. The Spiricom's recordings with Mueller's ghost can be found here, the spirit's voices transmitted electronically making them them sound like the backing vocals off a Kraftwerk album. And unlike most examples of mediums contacting the departed, these recordings actually sound like conversations, rather than some badly dressed, middle aged crackpot shouting "If you're here can you bang this table?" at the top of their lungs.

Now as people who follow this blog regularly will know this isn't all that an uncommon practice. Someone claims to have made a device that allows you to talk to the dead/ captured the Loch Ness monster/ video taped an alien playing The Entertainer on a piano, holds a press conference, and announces to the world that they too can experience such an event for a hefty fee. This past year alone two notable examples in Stan Romanek's “Peeping Tom alien” and the Georgia Bigfoot hoax have used this very tactic to drum up some cash.

Except, and here's the thing, O'Neill and Meek released the schematics of the machine for free. In fact anyone who's interested in building a Spiricom of their own can do so this very day simply by typing in the relevant information in to a search engine and following the instructions.

Here's one we made earlier. (Gee Note: By "we" I of course mean "someone else on the internet.")

Of course the bloody thing doesn't work. But Meek and O'Neill claim this may be down to O'Neill's ability as a medium helping "complete the circuit". Me I disagree. I think that it's a load of old nonsense. Simply because of this recording.

It's the end of the recording where the electronic voice states "Oh those cigarettes again" that makes me go, well, hmmmm. There's clearly distortion there with the plosive "C" in "cigarettes", as if some one is standing too close to the microphone. The very same distortion that's recorded seconds earlier when O'Neill is speaking. Now I don't know the ins and outs of the spirit world, but unless ghosts communicate with us using a mic and an amp that goes all the way up to 11 then I can't help but feel that the distortion simply shouldn't be there. In fact it's really hard to shake the feeling that O'Neill is using a voicebox and talking to himself. Like a child with an imaginary friend. Or a big fat phony.

Despite this and other setbacks, EVP remains immensely popular with ghost hunting enthusiasts and is used liberally on television programs such as the previously mentioned Most Haunted. And so yesterday having watched 12 episodes back to back and with nothing better to do, I decided to give it a whirl myself.

According to the whole five minutes of research I did on best practices when trying to catch spooky sounds, the idea is that you set your equipment to record and then proceed to ask questions out loud. After that you playback the message to see if anything has "responded" to the questions.

Now it should be pointed out that at no point have I even remotely considered that my house may be haunted. Vindictive yes, judging by the number of times the damn boiler's leaked in the past three years, but not haunted. And so the following results aren't really all that surprising. Here is a transcript from the recording.

Me: Hello?

Playback: Silence

Me: Is anyone there?


Me: Anyone who may be from the spirit world please say something.


Me: If you're there please say something.

Slight crackle on the line followed by, yep you've guessed it, silence.

Me: (Getting slightly bored by this point) Do you keep up with current affairs?


Me: What do you think of that Barack Obama getting elected as United States President? That's a turn up for the books eh?

Noise! Yes genuine noise! Sadly it's not a ghostly voice, just the guinea pigs in the background fighting over a slice of apple. (Gee Note: Seriously hell hath no fury like a squeaker scrapping for a piece of fruit.)

Me: So, ummm, do you think the Watchmen movie will be any good?


Me: See I'm kind of divided on it myself. I hope it works but, you know, having seen the trailer and screen shots and stuff, I'm not really hopeful.


Me: Ok I gotta know…Is Elvis with you guys?

At this point my Robot alarm clock bursts in to life with "Hey guys! How are you today?". Now some people might connect that to some sort of paranormal activity, but the truth is my Robo-Alarm has the weirdest motion detector in the world. No really, you can do the watusi in front of the bloody thing for hours and it won't budge, but scratch your head while sitting on the sofa and it goes bananas.

Me: Say you might be able to answer this….

The doorbell goes and this is followed by approximately three minutes of me thanking the postman for dropping round my newly purchased Shield Season 3 DVD.

Me: Hey I'm back… can't remember what I was going to say. Ummm. No. It's gone. So, er, what's new with you?


At that point I decided to give up, partly because I felt a bit silly talking out loud in an empty room, and partly because an episode of the A-Team came on television. (Gee Note: Man I love the A-Team. Remember the one where there was a taxi cab war and Murdoch spent the entire episode wearing a tea towel around his neck and calling himself "Captain Cab"? That was ace. Also it had a great theme tune. Dah dah daaaahhhhh dah dah dah. Dah dah dah dah dah dah dah dah dahhhhhhh).

So there we have it. Irrefutable proof that my house isn't haunted. Which is one less thing to worry about I guess.

Now if you'll excuse I'm off to get my left ear pierced and buy Ne-Yo's album.


Tony said...

Good observations... we all pass our 20s with regret, but it gets better. Just a point, couldn't you split your posts in half, after the first four or five paragraphs, say, so that we don't have to scroll down to Australia. There are plugins that do this. Thanks for the read, and regards to Wales!

Scumbag Sam said...

I hear you with the music - I never know who is number one, however, I HAVE heard of Ne-yo.. shame on you! I don't know whos in the charts, but I know the hits! YES! I am still young! WOO! well.. kind of... Masterchef is annoying because of the fat little bald guy who takes as much food as he can on his first bite, I mean.. is it REALLY nessesary to be so dramatic with a spoon and some chocolate pudding?! (Uh-oh, the rant has started)... American Idol is cool, and the only reality show I like.. bar, the hills... and americas next top model. the UK doesnt make good reality shows. Yeah, I said it.

I am sorry you didnt get any responce to your questions. Maybe you should have also put some food out and a glass of wine to see if you could lure the spirits in with a good meal and some joyous company?!

Rob said...

You own a dictaphone?

Some things never cease to amaze me.

Naveed said...

Ah yes, a mid-twenties crisis...I'm on the verge of one myself...I brain cogs are a bit clogged from a cold so I'm really not sure...

Interestingly, all the EVP I hear on TV I can only understand after someone else has understood you think that means somethng lol?