What I Learnt At Barri Ghai's EVP Masterclass
WriterBy Steve Higgins
Although a week doesn't go by when I don't write about EVPs, I've never actually tried to capture any myself, mostly because reviewing the audio takes time and patience. I thought the best way to learn the art of recording spirit voices was to attend 'Help! My House Is Haunted' investigator, Barri Ghai's EVP masterclass.
EVP, or Electronic Voice Phenomenon, is the method of spirit communication which involves capturing the alleged sound of spirit voices in audio recordings, usually using a digital audio recorder, but traditionally magnetic tape machines were used.
If you're going to learn how to record the sound of ghosts, then you're going to need a haunted classroom. Luckily Barri had lined up just the place for his 20 pupils. The British School Museum in Hitchin, a 200 year old school built in a part of the town that was once called Dead Street, due to the high number of plague deaths on the street, a street that has also been ravaged by fire.
The course was a mix of theory, taught to us by Barri himself in a genuine old schoolroom, as well as guided practical sessions in teams, with enough time for everyone to try the methods taught themselves. There was also a detailed session on analysing audio and enhancing EVPs.
The Haunted History Of Dead Street School
In the early 19th century, Hitchin was a grim place to live - a slum with high crime rates and no prospect for those living there, but in 1810 the benevolent and visionary schoolmaster, Joseph Lancaster, opened the Dead Street School. The school gave young boys and girls the chance to get formal, and above all cheap, education.
The street it was named after got its name after every family living on the road died of the plague, when it swept through Hitchin in 1349. The road is now known as Queen Street, but a plague pit is still known to exist at the top of the road.
The plague wasn't the only thing to cause mass death on the street. In 1856 the "great fire of Dead Street" destroyed the street, killing many in its path and also burning Lancaster's school to the ground. A replacement schoolroom opened the following year, and is now the last remaining purpose-built monitorial schoolroom in the world.
With so much suffering in the area, and so many passing through its doors, it's no surprise that the building, which is now the British School Museum, has a few ghost stories to tell.
One guest to the museum saw a man looking over the wall at the raised end of the playground before walking into the toilets. Thinking it was one of their party, they followed him into the toilets only to find they were completely empty. In the main schoolroom, which was once a place of learning for 300 boys, staff have heard disembodied footsteps and frequently report the unnerving sensation that they are not alone.
Through a fire escape in this room and into a back corridor, you'll find the spot where a small, dark shadowy figure was caught on CCTV. Despite many attempts to recreate the occurrence, the cause of the shadow is still a mystery. In a small adjoining classroom, which is now set up to resemble a school room from the time of the Second World War, local paranormal investigators believe they have had intelligent responses from spirits using ghost hunting gadgets.
The gallery classroom is a small, auditorium-style room that would have once had 100 boys crammed into it. Staff have reported hearing the lids of the wooden desks slamming and furniture being dragged around, even while the room has been locked and empty.
Also on the site is the headmaster's house, which the staff refer to as Mr Fitch's house. Fitch was the longest serving headmaster at the school. When he retired he remained in the house and eventually died in the parlour of old age. Since then unexplained footsteps have been heard upstairs when the house is empty, and a shadow figure has been seen walking around the upstairs.
The phenomenon of disembodied voices captured in audio recordings is something that inspired Barri and started him on his journey as a ghost hunter. He told the class, "the first time I ever caught an EVP was by accident". It happen while playing around with an old tape recorder when he was younger, as many of us did when we were kids. When he played the tape back, there was a voice that he didn't expect to be there that said "hello, Barri".
Sadly, he's since lost the cassette, but says "as I started getting interested in paranormal research, I started experimenting and I bought an old voice recorder". It was at that point, around the age of 19, that he realised he was ahead of the curve, he said "I started seeing people doing EVPs on television programmes."
Barri remembers being excited by this even back then, he said "I remember thinking this might be a method I can use to prove what I believe is true - that there are spirits and ghosts exist." Things worked out for Barri, he's now one of the lead investigators on Really channel's 'Help! My House Is Haunted', which is now in its second series.
The show heavily relies on EVPs, as Barri, along with Jayne Harris and Chris Fleming, investigate hauntings in ordinary family homes around the UK.
Barri started the lesson by introducing us to his weapon of choice, his beloved Olympus VP-10 digital audio recorder. He told the class about his special bond with the device. He even confessed that he's slept with it... and I don't think he was joking.
The television ghost hunter believes there's more to capturing EVPs than just picking the right recording device, he told us, "I'm a firm believer in building a bond with your equipment, some people just get on better with their equipment that others." Admitting it sounds "really weird", he adds, "your energy flows through the device and you become one with your equipment."
Barri then played us some examples of some of the best EVP he's managed to capture, some of which feature in the video below.
The classroom parts of the day were broken up with some experiments and practical sessions. The first of which involved Barri using an old fashioned tape recorder. Barri conducted a "burst EVP session", which means a short session of calling out to any spirits present and encouraging them to answer his questions. The session is then played back and reviewed straight away.
Breaking a brand new tape out of its cellophane wrapper and taking up the slack in the tape by manually winding the spool with a pen, Barri put the tape into the recorder and hit record and play simultaneously - so satisfying.
Barri then plugged in an odd looking attachment called a Raudive Germanium diode receiver. This special type of microphone Barri tells us was developed by EVP pioneer Konstantīns Raudive. The diode doesn't function like a normal microphone, it won't capture any noise from the room, but Raudive found that by using this device he was able to hear voices in his recordings. Barri says, "if anything comes through, it cannot be physically from our immediate environment."
Sadly, as we all know, ghost hunting vigils don't always prove successful, and the tape contained nothing but hiss on playback. Barri also invited a member of the audience to repeat the experiment, but the result was the same.
The best thing about the British School Museum is that there was a comfortable, quiet room for the classroom parts of the day, but when we needed to go and chat to some ghosts, there were several areas we could use, most of which had their own ghost stories attached to them. Because the course was taking place in mid-winter, by the time we went around the building recording EVPs it was already dark outside, which added to the atmosphere.
The group I was with started out on the top floor of the main building, where we had three rooms and a long corridor to ourselves. We each had our own audio recorders, and took it in turns asking the questions. We recorded in short bursts and then played them back there and then to see if we'd captured anything.
We were joined by Barri for the start of the practical session. He got the energy going and made sure everyone was involved and confident in calling out.
When reviewing the audio we heard a few little sounds, none of them were very clear, but as we learnt later in the day to review the audio you really need a pair of good headphones and some time to listen through them all. Barri showed us how he does this and also went into some quite technical details about lowering background noise and boosting vocal elements.
EVPs Obtained During The Event
After reviewing my audio it seemed I had captured what could be the voices of spirits, some of the words were unclear, others could be understood. Since getting home from the course I've painstakingly been through all of my audio from the day, you can hear my best capture below.
The audio contains an EVP that I captured on my audio recorder on the day and enhanced using the techniques Barri described. It's not the best capture in the world but it does sound like a voice saying "hello".
This wasn't a quick half hour course, this was a whole day-long training event. The day started at 10am and finished just after 8pm, but it didn't feel too long as there was a good balance of theory, experimentation and analysis. There was also a thought-provoking segment delivered by Barri's team member Kate Ray that delved into the more spiritual side of EVP's including psychic development and thought projection.
The course was quite in-depth and technical at times, and for this reason some parts might have gone over the heads of some that attended. However, it was essential for a course of this nature and the majority of those who attended, including me, would have felt cheated if things like waveform analysis and audio enhancement was overlooked.
Overall I learnt a lot from the course, the tips were very useful and it was a fascinating insight into how ghost hunters capture, enhance and categorise EVPs. As I'd identify as a skeptic, there were elements to the course that I don't personally believe in, but I think this is normal. Every investigator and every team has their own beliefs about the paranormal and their own way of working. I wanted to attend this course to get an understanding of how Barri goes about capturing EVPs, as for me the most interesting thing about the paranormal is getting to see how different teams and people work.
Having said that, I don't think Barri necessarily limited the course to his own beliefs and ways of working, the methods he discussed in the course and the tips he shared seemed to be fairly standard throughout the field, making this an excellent starting point for anyone interested in EVPs. Although I would add that this course isn't just for those with a passing interest, it's very in-depth and nerdy.
To get started in the art of capturing EVPs, you'll also need to spend a little bit of money on some kit. Of course you'll need an audio recorder. These can range from a couple of pound through to around £70, but from what we heard on the course some of the cheaper recorders can work as well as the more expensive models.
Each of the students attending the course were asked to bring along a digital voice recorder, but even the audio recorder application already installed on most mobile phones is fine. We also needed to bring a pair of good headphones and a laptop. Barri recommend downloading and installing free audio editing software like Audacity.
Barri, who was down-to-earth, friendly and approachable, seemed genuinely interested in helping people learn about Electronic Voice Phenomenon, even offering his students help and support after the event should they need it.
Barri's Top Tips For Capturing EVPs
- Set your audio recorder to highest quality setting
- Do not record using mp3, always use wav
- Leave a 3-5 second pause at the beginning to get clean background noise
- Introduce your EVP session, say where you are for your record
- Project your thoughts - think it and say it
- Speak clearly and be as direct as possible
- Always be respectful
- Try not to move your hand while you hold the recorder
- Keep your recorder away from other electronic devices
- Record in short bursts (1-3 minutes)
- Leave a 20 second gap between questions for a response
As a paranormal investigator you'll often be required to analyse audio recorded during investigations in order to determine if any spirit voices or audible phenomenon have been captured in the recording.
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