Ghosts and Haunts - Obtaining and Preserving Evidence
This section begins with a summary of some general investigative methods. It also covers the proper use of three commonly utilized investigative tools. It assumes with each that you have familiarized yourself with its basic operation as specified by the manufacturer. The report limits itself to only how those devices are used with respect to an investigation.
There are many aspects to conducting a thorough investigation. The first thing to remember is that ALL factors must be considered when going out on any case. Things which may not seem to have any bearing can be critical factors in the final outcome. It is much more than just getting some equipment and running out and taking a few pictures or recording an audio track and listening for EVPs. Anything which might enter into these also becomes a matter of concern since external influences are the biggest cause of false positives. Some of these pitfalls will be discussed throughout this topic.
In the "Methods" Topic we touched on the Initial Interview. Here we will go more in depth. The first and most important aspect of any investigation is getting the story as it relates to the client. Regardless of how strange the story sounds your first obligation is to listen. Ask general questions, being careful not to lead the witness. You want to get the story from his point of view, not yours. Get the story as a narrative, from beginning to end with minimal interruptions on your part. You may want to use a recorder while doing the interview session. It will serve to get all the details, including that little thing that invariably you will miss otherwise.
Also take notes. Not just what the witness says, but note how he says it. Often those who are making things up will hesitate while they think about keeping their story straight. They have difficulty maintaining eye contact. There may also be contradictions in the story. Make note of it, but keep in mind many paranormal events may be traumatic to the witness and to a certain degree their emotional state may play a part in how they recall the events.
After the witness relates his story, you may begin to question him regarding the details. Try to pull out the facts, but again do not lead the witness. For instance ask him, "What color was it?", not "Was it blue?" Let him fill in the details without any coaching. Sometimes it is also helpful to ask the same question later in a different manner. Pay attention to the answer, is it consistent with what was stated earlier?
If there were multiple witnesses interview each one separately and away from the other. You don't want the testimony of one influencing the other. Later, after you have the story as each relates it, you may bring them together while you discuss the case. But until you have what you feel is the complete story from each, keep them separate. You will lose any objectivity between them once they get together. The story will merge into a joint recollection rather than what each one experienced individually.
Once the interview is completed you may be able to put together a theory, especially if it appears some normal event is responsible for what is being reported. Do an initial walk through of the location and pay particular attention to the surroundings. Be alert to anything which could be responsible. Note sounds such as creaking floors or noisy furnaces. Air moving through duct work can cause whistles. Temperature changes can be responsible for thumps and bumps in the night. If the report involves lights or TVs coming on or going off by themselves, note whether they use a remote control or touch sensitive switch. As mentioned earlier, many electrical problems occur because of interference to these types of switches. In fact the majority of cases are resolved by simply observing with an open mind, most cases such as these turn out to be not paranormal at all.
But suppose you don't find a readily explainable cause. Or you may want to try your hand at capturing something beyond the realm of the mundane. You are planning on setting up your equipment to do some research of your own. How you approach the problem can make all the difference. Let's assume you are using some of the equipment described in the "Equipment" Section.
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Something Else to Think About
One misconception some have pertains to when is the best time to investigate. There is a belief that one must wander out late at night in order to encounter the paranormal. In fact the best time to do most work is daylight when you can see what is happening around you. EVPs happen anytime. Electrical disturbances actually occur more frequently in daylight when appliances are being used. Even photographs of unexplained apparitions often are made in daytime.
About the only two exceptions to this are orbs and mists in pictures. And one must keep in mind that in most cases these two types of images are the ones debunked as ground fog or moisture and dust or pollen. Which seems to indicate that in some cases evidence obtained at night is also often less credible than that obtained in daytime investigations.
So when is the best time to investigate? I recommend daylight whenever possible. Of course if the witness says the phenomena is only seen at 2 AM, then 2AM is when you investigate. But it is always better to not handicap yourself by darkness unless the case requires it.
Using Your Cameras and Video
The first step to an investigation is a record of the set up and the area being studied. Take photographs of the entire area from different angles under normal lighting. Be sure to include your set up area and any equipment you have positioned around the location. This will be valuable later if you capture something and need to explain it. You can do this using any still camera or a panoramic shot using video. Since the purpose of this is not evidence gathering any camera will work fine.
Next, before actually taking any evidence photographs, make note of conditions. What is the temperature? Humidity? Any wind present? All of these could have a bearing on what you photograph later. Record the date, time, and any environmental conditions that could influence your photography. Later, when you see that apparition, and realize the relative humidity was 94%, you have a good place to start explaining the fog which was the cause of the mist. Or on the contrary how at 35% and windy there is no way fog could account for it. It works both ways, proving or debunking.
Now you are ready to begin taking evidence photos. There is no single method that says you will capture something. What you do want to do is make sure you can validate anything you do get. For this you will want to use a good camera. I prefer an SLR 35 mm film camera for reasons outlined earlier regarding the ease of hoaxing digital. But if you do use digital it should be at least 10 megapixels. If you are using flash use an external unit at least 6 inches from the lens to prevent dust or pollen orbs.
So you take a picture across the cemetery. Fine, take another one from a different location looking at the same area. More than one perspective on a subject can often help explain what is photographed. Maybe a certain stone cast a shadow on another one that looks like a shadowman standing there. But from a different angle the shadow is gone. Or that water stain on the stone, another angle and it doesn't look like a face staring out at you. My point is that to get this type of evidence you need to take multiple shots to support each other. And regarding that face on the stone, if you see one of those go ahead and photograph it. But then take the investigation further, examine the stone close up. Take a couple close in pictures of the markings. You might even want to scrape the stone, just to determine the nature of the stain or whatever it is you've found. In other words, be thorough, don't just settle for a picture, get the details behind it.
If you are using film,Use low speed. 200 ASA film will react much slower to any type of background radiation, energy particle or x-ray than 800 ASA. Of course the range of your flash will be diminished somewhat, but you can counter that by using slave flash for more light or simply working in closer to your target area.
While on the subject of slave flash, lighting from multiple directions will minimize the likelihood of reflection from dust or pollen. Take two identical pictures of each target within a couple seconds of each other if possible. This will help minimize those dust orbs that often get into your pictures.
If possible, use two imaging systems covering the same area. I like to locate a camera and video recorder at a location that covers the area I intend to concentrate on. That serves two purposes. First it provides a running record from a different vantage point. Should a moving orb pass through it may be captured on this camera. Two separate images of the same orb from independent systems will validate each other and rule out false impressions. A little hard for the same bug to b in front of both cameras at the same time! Second it records the flashes from the SLR camera as you take additional pictures. This can later be used to assemble a video / time log of the hunt. And on one instance I was on, it caught the prankster who was trying to sneak in behind a stone to stage a fake sighting. You just never know....
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Audio and EVP Recording
Your first consideration is where to place your microphones and sensors. That is best determined based on what you found out on your initial interview. You want the microphones covering the target area, but not necessarily in it. Often your best results are obtained if the microphones are 6 to 10 feet away from where the source of the sound originates, and the two are placed about 3 feet apart. You will have to use your best judgment based on the case itself. You may even want to try various locations based on the results you obtain. It may even be advantageous to break the target area into smaller segments and concentrate on each segment individually. In any even you should carefully record placement of each piece of equipment in the log, and also any changes made as the investigation progresses.
So now we are ready to instrument the room and see what we can pick up. Place your recorder and all other equipment in another room, as far removed as possible from the target area. This room should be in an area of the house that is powered from a separate circuit than the one which supplies the target room. Next, locate the service entrance for the house and turn off as much power as possible. Power lines do radiate electromagnetic fields which could account for a false positive. Leave on only what is needed to operate your equipment. If there is a furnace or air conditioner in the house it should be shut down because changes in temperature can cause extraneous noise as expansion and contraction takes place. This should be one of the first things done to allow temperatures to stabilize. Also, in the case of forced air systems, air movement itself might be mistaken for EVP if it creates any noise or causes something such as the drapes to blow across a window sill. In short, it is imperative to first make the house as quiet as possible to minimize the possibility of a false indication. As is becoming evident, almost every action taken is intended to control every conceivable cause of extraneous noise. Once this is done, you're ready to actually set up to monitor for EVP.
Conditions obviously vary, but for sake of this discussion we will assume an average room, about 14 by 14 feet. I would use four mikes as pickups. Two of these would be dynamic mikes; that is ones which use a coil within a magnetic field. The others would be electret type condenser microphones. The reason for the two types is because we are not really certain of the mechanics of EVP. Some feel it is simply an audible sound that is picked up, while others speculate that it may actually be a form of energy imparted to the microphone. By using two different types, a broader spectrum of possibilities is covered. I have even used inductive pickups in place of the inductive mics to ensure only EMF is rceived, no acoustic audio. Results are still inconclusive as to which is better. Future research may clarify this, but for now I would recommend covering all possibilities. These mikes should be set up with one dynamic and one electret near each other, the other pair located about 2 - 3 feet away from the first pair. They should be pointed toward, but not inside the area where activity was reported. Better to be close, but not intrusive. They can be fed to a mixer back at the control area where their output can be adjusted and balanced for the desired levels.
If you are not using a mixer and only two mikes, place them about 3 feet apart along a wall facing the target area. These mikes can be fed directly into the microphone inputs on your stereo recorder. The pattern of each of these mikes should be a cardioid type. That provides sufficient directional characteristics without narrowing the pattern to an extent that portions of the target area are not covered.
One more point to consider. If there is physical activity reported, it may be a good idea to also place a video camera in one corner of the room. The use of a wide angle lens would allow visual observation to take place while the room was monitored for EVP. The would accomplish two purposes; First it could provide collaborating evidence should EVP be detected in conjunction with other disturbances, and second it would affirm that no one entered the room and attempted to hoax activity. Video should definitely be used if at any time during the investigation a researcher plans on entering the target area.
Once the microphones or sensors are positioned and all equipment located there is in place, the audio cables are connected to the mixer located in the observation area. Four channels should be used, and the mixer adjusted to provide a two channel mixdown. The set of microphones located in the left corner should be sent to channel 1 (left) and the set on the right to channel 2 (right) inputs of the recorder. If you are only using two microphones the mixer is not needed and they can be connected directly to the recorder's Microphone Inputs. The reason I recommend a true stereo mix is to allow any EVP to later be submitted to spatial analysis, or its time delay characteristics. This would permit one to determine the location within the room where the EVP originated. Another benefit is that with two separate channels improved non-altering noise reduction techniques may be applied to bring out any faint signals which may be captured.
Regarding noise reduction, I generally recommend bandpass filters on the audio lines ahead of the mixer. These will narrow the pass band to that considered to be voice frequencies. By doing this, out of band frequencies containing only unwanted noise may be suppressed, resulting in a clearer EVP should one be detected. However, it must be noted that this does limit frequency range. You may want to have the filters switchable so you can try it both with narrow bandwidth and full bandwidth. The type of EVP you get would determine which is preferable, there is no way to know in advance which way to go. With a little luck you will be set to the one you want if the EVP occurs.
Speaking of noise, some investigators place white noise generators in the area claiming that this aids the EVP in coming through. I do not recommend that method. First the additional noise simply masks any low level audio you might record. Secondly, any noise added to existing hiss or noise being generated internally by your equipment could mix or heterodyne with the random white noise. This can result in spurious signals at the sum and difference points between the noise at any given instant. The possibility exists that such spurious signals may be mistaken for EVP. This is why I attempt to remove as much extraneous noise as possible leaving only the desired signal. White noise is simply a way to create a false EVP, avoid it.
Once you have verified all microphones working and you have set the levels you are ready to begin recording. Everyone should be accounted for, no one in the target area, and everything quiet. Start your session. I usually break the overall recording time into several sessions lasting 15 to 30 minutes each. Just a matter of preference though, since no one really can say when, or even if, an EVP is going to come in.
Some simply set the equipment up and start recording. Others want to go in and attempt to converse with whatever is there. On passive investigations such as this, I require everyone to be accounted for at all times. That means everybody stays in the observation room while monitoring is taking place. It eliminates the creation of false EVPs by some investigator talking near the area under study. I often leave a second voice recorder running in the observation area simply to record the comments and thoughts of the investigators as monitoring goes on. That way, should a faint sound be detected, the two sources can be compared to determine if in fact the suspected EVP actually originated from someone in the control area.
Sometimes though, it is good to try to converse and that means that someone may enter the room under observation while monitoring is going on. If that is the case, that person goes alone and they enter the room moving into view of the camera. At all times while they are there they remain visible to the other investigators via camera. They may speak as they feel led, talking clearly and loud enough to easily be heard. Under no conditions are they permitted to whisper, and they must also keep physical movement to a minimum. Recording continues the entire time they are in the room. I also log the time they enter, and the time they leave the room for future correlation with any EVP captured.
Sessions such as this are usually about 15 - 20 minutes, and follow a defined protocol. The person enters the area and says nothing for about 5 minutes. Then they make their first attempt, asking a question requiring an answer of several words. Never use a "Yes-No" format since EVP comprised of one or two phonemes are unreliable. An example is ask, "When is your birthday?" which requires a date be stated. Never ask "Is your birthday on the 5th of August?" as a single "Yes" or "No" would suffice as an answer. After the question, a period of silence is provided for about 3 minutes. Then a second question may be posed, followed by another period of silence of about 3 minutes. About 5 minutes before the end of the session, the investigator in the target area announces they are leaving the area and thanks anyone for their time. They then return to the control area while the recorders keep running for an additional 5 minutes in case any response is forthcoming. After the 5 minute period the session is ended.
Regardless of whether anyone is in the room or not, at any time if any sound is heard in the monitoring area the investigator should make note of it in his logs. That includes everything, even if someone's stomach growls, or a car passes by outside! Later it may serve to debunk that mysterious noise that appeared on the recording.
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Using Your EM Field Monitors
Some investigators use various EMF Meters on their investigations. I prefer the two system approach using both Dynamic and Static EMF Monitors rather than the meter. For those who use the meter method, the information here on the Dynamic Field Monitor also applies to you. The only difference is that the meter provides you with a visual indication of the relative field strength. The monitoring method allows you to actually hear the characteristics of any field present. Personally I feel that hearing and understanding the nature of the field instead of just its intensity allows one to better determine its source. But either method is acceptable.
The Dynamic Field Monitor consists of a high gain amplifier with a sensing coil and a pair of headphones. It detects rapidly changing fields such as might be associated with power lines or other electrical equipment. You use this device to do a sweep of the area under investigation to determine if there are any such fields present which could impact your other observations. Such fields have been found to cause false EVPs and interference with video systems. By locating their source these areas can be avoided when setting up your equipment, or if the interference is widespread you will know the source should interference occur.
Begin by doing a sweep around the perimeter of the area in question. Position the wand in various ways in case the field has a certain pattern which may render it directional. Then continue into the central part of the area until you have scanned the entire area being investigated. You are listening for any sound present. The most common by far is the 60 Hz. (50 Hz. in some locations) caused by power lines or transformers. This will reveal itself as a steady hum at that frequency. As you go near any electrical device it often gets much louder. Power lines inside walls will also radiate this field, so it is important to check along all walls in the area to find hidden cables. Any strong points should be noted and avoided when setting up equipment if possible. If you are using a meter the same applies. Areas with a high field level should be avoided.
You may also hear other sounds. A higher pitched whine or whistle may be originating from a switching power supply in a nearby computer or DVD system. If there are any loudpspeakers nearby these can radiate the audio as an EM Field. Even audio or sound system cables can radiate the signal they are carrying. Buzzing sounds may come from lamp dimmers and other control systems. Florescent lights also generate a buzz. Some of the new low power CFL bulbs can be a source of interference as well. This is where I feel it is more important to hear the source rather than just see the intensity on a meter. The meter will only alert you to the presence of the field; the monitor will help you determine what may be responsible for it.
Once this is done you are ready to set up the Static Field Monitor. This device consists of a magnetic sensor and an alarm system. Generally you put it near the center of the area in question and simply turn it on. You may have to adjust it so that the alarm is clear. After that you just go about your investigation and leave it alone. The Static Field Monitor will keep track of the background field usually originating from the earth's magnetic fields. Should any solar activity occur which disrupts this an alarm will sound. The alarm will also activate if a change in the man made fields occur. This might be triggered by any change in the load supplied by the electrical system. It may also be caused by nearby operation of a radio transmitter. Any of these may cause false positives elsewhere. The monitor will alert you to this condition and you can take action to determine what is responsible. If you are using a meter, some of these have an alarm setting. Simply activate it and position the meter just as you would the Static Field Monitor.