Brown River Queen cover art

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Things That Go Bump, Bonus Extended Edition

I know. It's November, and my Going Bump series was supposed to be an October bit. But I had a revelation, and a bunch of leftover junk in my parts drawer, and thus this Bonus Extended Edition was born.

I think I've made it clear I'm neither a true believer nor a hardened skeptic where EVP phenomena are concerned. I've heard some remarkable EVPs, recorded by people I have no reason to distrust. I've even recorded a couple of interesting sounds myself, and while I don't trust myself 100% (I have shifty eyes and have been known to partake of the Demon Rum) I do feel like the combined evidence is suggestive of an audio phenomena.

Notice I didn't use the G word. Because while it's one thing to assert that A) disembodied voices are real and B) they have been captured on various kinds of recording gear, it's quite another to start assigning identities to the voices.

I pretty much draw the line right after A and B above. I think we have to concentrate on proving the existence of the voices before we go labeling them as those of the dead.

So I was thinking. Let's go ahead and, just for fun, postulate that EVP voices are real. So, what do we know about these voices?

ONE: They are most often not heard by the person or persons in the area of the recording device. Yes, there are exceptions to this. But on the whole, EVPs appear to take place without the notice of the people running the recording gar.

TWO: Most EVP recordings are brief. Most are just a word or a sound or two. The longest one I've ever heard (the little girl in the Ruffin Theatre was about 20 seconds, and it was remarkable in that it was caught by not just one but two recording devices). But, most EVP occurrences are less than 5 seconds in duration.

THREE: The recording medium doesn't seem to matter. At first, back in the 50s and 60s, the theory was that 'spirits' somehow manipulated magnetic fields in order to impress their voices directly onto the recording medium of the day, which was magnetic tape.

If that were true, then the spirits must move with the times, because we've left magnetic tape for digital recordings formed on memory chips as a series of zeroes and ones. Quite a neat trick, for a spirit to somehow ascertain my Zoom's sampling rate, match it, and create a file which sounds like a word.

So. We've got invisible speakers leaving brief spoken messages across half a century of recording technology.

Then came my revelation, concerning the nature of the EVPs themselves.

What if it's not nearly so complicated as messing with the devices themselves?

What if the speakers, whatever or whomever they are, are just speaking?

Which begs the question why don't we hear them.

Okay, what if the 'voices' are tiny point-sources acting as a near-field event in relation to the microphone?

Stay with me for a moment. Imagine, if you will, that by means and agents unknown, tiny voices emerge from the air around us, now and then. They are so tiny and so far apart we don't hear them, or if we do, we attribute them to something else. The wind. A distant voice. The TV.

But what if these tiny point-source voices are sometimes captured by audio recording gear?

That scenario might explain why your Zoom mic catches the voice, but you never heard a thing. Maybe the 'voice' was tiny and faint and speaking from a point half a millimeter beyond the microphone.

Who does the voice belong to?

No clue. Honestly, until someone can prove EVPs exist, I don't care who might be speaking. Ghosts, aliens, playboy energy creatures from the nearest adjacent dimension -- doesn't matter, right now.

But back to my faint point-source near-field idea.

If that's true, then we've been trying to record EVPs with mics not suited to the task.

Enter my latest creation, the Tuttle Spherical Near-Field Capture Microphone Housing, or TSNFCMH for short. Go ahead, say TSNFCMH out loud. It helps if you cough.

Let's call it the Ball Mic instead.

My idea is simple. Take a parabolic microphone, turn the forward-facing parabolic element into a sphere, and then hang the mic in the exact center.

Any tiny near-field voices get reflected by the sphere and directed right to the mic. The sphere's inner surface acts as a collector and focuser, which renders even tiny little voices louder and stronger.

Here is a highly detailed technical drawing illustrating the concept:

Parabolic mics have been in use for decades. But I've never seen anyone use a spherical mic housing -- mainly because such a thing is absolutely useless in any application other than what I'm trying to do here.

So, the best way to test my small-voices-really-close theory is to build a Ball Mic and see if I catch anything.

First, some math:

Just kidding. Look, I'm on a budget here. I can't exactly run out and have a steel sphere machined down to the nearest billionth of a nanometer, coated in gold, and buffed to a high shine by a team of expert sphere-handlers.

So I rummaged. All I needed was a sphere. It didn't have to be huge. In fact, that would defeat the whole purpose of it.

My friend Denny suggested I obtain a garden mirror ball, which was a great idea. Sadly, I couldn't find one -- but I did find a pair of hi-tech industrial-grade salsa bowls, each of which was half of a perfect globe.

Again, a professionally-rendered technical drawing, detailing my prototype Ball Mic:

A bit of this, a bit of that, a few bolts, some screws, and of course a dilithium crystal later, and it was complete. Behold the wonder that is the first TSNFCMH, or Ball Mic!

There it is, the complete Ball Mic, glorious in its technological prowess. You can see my Zoom H1 inserted into the spherical collection chamber (aka a pair of plastic salsa bowls). The Zoom is held in place by a rubber-coated stop inside the sphere, a pair of Velcro straps just below the RECORD button, and a pivoting backstop rod that rests against the Zoom's rear when the recorder is in use. The handle is aligned so that it holds the Zoom's twin microphones dead center of the spherical volume.

I know, I generally photograph things on top of a scrap of red velvet but that's my actual workbench, scars, stains, and all.

Here's another view:

This is a close-up of the ball itself, with the Zoom in place. Not winning any beauty contests, is it?

Thor looks on, unimpressed.


I ran the Ball Mic rig for 52 minutes last night, just to get a feel for performance before I take it on a real EVP run.

Does it work?

Yes. The spherical volume does seem to act like a sort of closed parabolic mic. It's especially sensitive to sounds conducted through the ground and the surface on which the Ball Mic rests. Here, listen to this clip and try to identify the source:


It confounded me at first. Kettle drums? A powerful car stereo? A marching band?

I was absolutely sure I didn't hear it while recording.

Finally, I realized the source was my big bare feet.

That's right. I rested the Ball Mic on our table on the patio. We were outside enjoying the cool evening and a fire. The boom boom booms are the sounds my bare feet made on the concrete patio when I got up to add another log to the fire.

Now, keep in mind I move as does the crafty Ninja. I don't stomp around making kettle-drum sounds with every step, thank you very much. But my stealthy footfalls, inaudible to the naked ear, were conducted up through the table and to the Ball Mic housing, resulting in the thunderous treads you hear now.

I can minimize this effect by adding rubber feet to the Ball Mic. Or I can leave it as is, because I can see how it could prove useful in catching ghostly footsteps in empty houses. I think I'll probably add rubber feet to the bottom prongs on the sphere housing, and leave the top as is, which will allow both options to remain open as I choose. And I dare any spook to stomp around from now on, because I *will* be able to catch it, even if they tip-toe.

The ball housing does nearly eliminate the sounds of nearby speech. High-frequency stuff, mainly bug noise, isn't affected to the same extent. Passing traffic is thunderous, again due to the ground-conduction effect.

I hope to take the rig out on a real EVP run next week. Yes, it's crude, but heck so were the first Marconi sets.

Total cost for construction of the Ball Microphone Housing: $3.00 and tax, since I bought a pair of salsa bowls and made do for the rest out of whatever I had lying around. The Zoom H1 I had already.

Stay tuned for a real field test next Sunday!

Oh, and lest ye forget -- you can grab a genuine printed copy of the latest Markhat adventure, The Broken Bell, for only ten bucks and change from Amazon. It hits the stands on November 6!

1 comment: