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EVP & Rorschach Audio – Clarifications

August 1, 2016

An article called “Pulse Shape 22: Audiovisual Performance and Data Transmutation” by media artist Mark Cetilia has just been published in Leonardo, Volume 49, Number 4, 2016, pp. 317-323. The article describes “an improvisational audiovisual performance featuring shortwave radio transmissions as the sole source material for real-time audio processing alongside video of the sun” – a performance whose structure is “derived from metrics on energy accumulation over a period of 2.2 nanoseconds resulting from the targeting of 60 laser beams on a single tetrahedral hohlraum in weapons testing experiments as carried out by the Los Alamos Inertial Confinement Fusion unit”… wow! The performance sounds astonishing, and, although linking such ideas to EVP may sound equally extraordinary, in fact Mark Cetilia states that “though I am not looking to communicate with the dead, the concerns of my artistic practice are somewhat analogous to the concerns of the EVP community” since “I not only carefully scrutinize the radio noise I use as raw sonic material… (and) I also look for ways to make meaning from this material”, hence the relevance of quoting “Rorschach Audio”. The article states that…

“Belief in EVP has become widespread since (Friedrich) Jürgenson’s time, and with the advent of the internet, numerous groups and forums have appeared wherein users trade tips on how best to capture these recordings. Joe Banks… has, in Rorschach Audio, framed EVP as sound recordings whose existence is “as relevant to the emergent field of sound art as studies of optical illusions have been to the study of visual art” (with Mark’s article citing the version of “Rorschach Audio” that was published in 2001 by Leonardo’s sister publication, Leonardo Music Journal).

While all research is selective to varying extents, unfortunately Mark’s article quotes the earlier article out of context, in a way that that could lead to misunderstandings. While it does seem to be true that “belief in EVP has become widespread”, at least in some circles, what the earlier article offers is “the primary hypothesis that an understanding of the relevant aspects of psychoacoustics provides a complete explanation for most EVP recordings”, and the “secondary hypothesis that an informed understanding of these processes is as relevant to the emergent field of sound art as studies of optical illusions have been to the study of visual art”.

So, what “Rorschach Audio” says is that it is an understanding of psychoacoustics which is as relevant to the field of sound art as the understanding of optical illusions has been to the study of visual art, and not that EVP themselves are as relevant to sonic art as optical illusions have been to visual art; and the reason this distinction’s important is because without it one could be forgiven for thinking that “Rorschach Audio” seeks to celebrate or to elevate the status of EVP research in relation to the arts, whereas instead what “Rorschach Audio” points-out is that EVP is blatant pseudoscience.

“The Illusioned Ear: Disembodied Sound & the Musical Séances of Francis Grierson” is a huge, fascinating and minutely researched treatise on the life of the now little-known singer, pianist, essayist, psychic and mystic, written by the sound artist Matt Marble, published in April 2014 by Ear Wave Event. Although the following offers a summary of what the “Rorschach Audio” book says rather than a direct quote, the article compares Francis Grierson’s interests in Spiritualism etc to EVP research, and says that the “Rorschach Audio” book “repeatedly notes” that “illusioned auditions of spirit” (meaning EVP recordings etc) “are fundamentally a creative activity, engaging in perceptual ambiguities, imaginative projection, and often theatrical persuasion”; then Matt’s article (directly) quotes the book as saying that “EVP experimenters… are or were, in effect, creative artists, producing, through their audio experimentation, forms of sound art and poetry”… which is true, but it’s more complex than that.

In fact what the “Rorschach Audio” book says is that “a common reaction from within the arts community to genuinely critical appraisals of EVP has been the counter-argument that EVP experimenters are or were, in effect, creative artists, producing, through their audio experimentation, forms of sound art and poetry”. The book says that the view that EVP is a form of art or poetry has been a response, put forward by other people in the arts, reacting to the critique of EVP provided by “Rorschach Audio”. So, while the book does argue that accurate and illusory perceptions both rely on creative faculties, and does acknowledge that this means that EVP is artistic and poetic to an extent, it is important to remember that the book also says that EVP is no more creative than any other form of hearing. The “perceptual creativity” argument is democratic and inclusive, but also a great leveller, and, invoking Jean-Paul Sartre’s dictum that “anyone can write bad verses”, the book argues that the fact that EVP is artistic does not mean that EVP makes good art. Notwithstanding that clarification, Matt’s article’s well worth a read…

Thanks to all researchers who’ve quoted “Rorschach Audio”.

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