from the book "And the Sound of a Voice" - V . Carleton Jones
Recording spirit voices
by L. Lloyd, A.M. (S.A.) IEE
It may be helpful to give some idea of our voice circle.
Started in 1929, it was named by the spirit guides the Circle of Service, that being its specific object. It has held approximately 1200 voice circles, all in complete darkness.
At no time has any charge been made. The medium, Mrs. L. A. Barrett, was prohibited by the spirit guides from receiving any gifts in return. Occasionally a bouquet of flowers was sent to her as a token of appreciation of her help and cooperation.
The procedure is that the spirit guides invite all visitors but occasionally agree to invite those whose names are suggested by the sitters.
Records of the proceedings, taken down sometimes in shorthand and sometimes in longhand, often by the medium, have produced some astounding evidence. On instruction from the spirit guides, this has now been all collated and indexed.
The first recording of spirit voices was attempted in 1947 on a Brush Sound Mirror Recording Machine, using a specially prepared paper tape. These experiments helped us to realise some of the difficulties, technical and otherwise, that beset our efforts. For instance, loved ones of the sitters who were manifesting for the first, or even the tenth time could more often only speak in a whisper and then with the trumpet placed over the ear of the sitter. How could we record this, except by the sitter repeating what had been said to him? That would not be recording the actual spirit voice, and was therefore not evidence. Again, some of the guides would speak with such volume that the microphone would suffer from what is technically known as blasting, and the recording would be unintelligible.
One of the biggest difficulties was the elimination of background noises. These consist chiefly of music and record-changing noises, produced by a radiogram always used in the circle. Then there were the interpolations of some of the sitters, mainly visitors, who in their excitement wanted to ask questions or speak to the communicating intelligence, frequently a loved one, in consequence of which the spirit voice, often weak, was drowned by that of the sitter and could only be heard at intermittent intervals. By no stretch of imagination could this be considered a satisfactory recording of the conversation between a sitter and a spirit communicator.
Another difficulty became apparent. The spirit guides would have to adjust their voices and tempo of speech to suit the requirements of the microphone, without losing the individuality of the voice, no easy task, especially as English is not the native tongue of all the guides. We were fortunate in having the cooperation of one of the guides who is a scientist, responsible for the control of the psychic power in the Circle. When the difficulty was mentioned he readily understood and was able to explain to the others that we would all have to co-operate in experiments to adjust the correct volume of sound, distance from the microphone, and rate of speech.
Unfortunately the length of tape on the Brush Recorder is limited to half an hour of recording. This meant that the circle would have to stop whilst the tape was rewound on its spool and another inserted, occupying approximately fifteen minutes and necessitating the light being switched on in order correctly to insert the new tape. An interruption of this nature meant the closing of the circle for that session.
Our first real success was when Dr. Graeme expressed a desire to record a message for the World Centenary Commemoration Service of Spiritualism to be held in the Duncan Hall, Johannesburg, South Africa, on March 28th, 1948. After considerable experiment, we were able to record the oral message from Dr. Graeme, and it was reproduced with perfect clarity and audible to a full audience at the above meeting.
Towards the latter part of 1949 a few loyal friends formed a fund for the purchase of the necessary apparatus, which remains the property of the Circle of Service, and two trustees have been appointed.
After lengthy experiments it was decided to purchase two Webster Wire Recording Machines, Model 80, as these appeared to offer the greatest facilities. Moreover the spools would carry sufficient wire for at least an hour's recording.
By adding extra wire we have built up one spool on which is recorded one and a quarter hours of continuous music, the volume of which can be regulated from barely audible to loud. Moreover the spools can very easily be reversed in the dark by simply swinging over a switch. As the re-wind is seven times faster than the reproduction we can, in a few minutes, have at our command music for an indefinite period by repeating the musical spool as often as necessary.
Not only does this overcome the difficulty of the background noises but also of the gap between the changing of the gramophone records and the clatter incidental to it.
Our first experiments were with one microphone. We found that when the trumpet was pointed away from the microphone, to speak to one of the sitters, and the voice was weak, the microphone was unable to record the sound. To overcome this it was obvious that a number of microphones would have to be used to pick up the sound of the voice, irrespective of the direction in which the trumpet was pointing.
This could only be accomplished by designing a suitable mixer, into which the four microphones, the number we decided were necessary, could be plugged. From the mixer, which has a stage of amplification, a lead is plugged into the Webster Recording Machine. There is also a socket into which headphones can be plugged for monitoring purposes by the one operating the apparatus.
An alternative arrangement has now been devised by plugging in a special meter, the dial of which has been blackened out, whilst the moving needle and the two limits of its travel have been illuminated with the same substance that is used for luminous watches. This allows the operator to hear everything that transpires; at the same time he is watching the needle that indicates the volume of sound being recorded, and is able to operate the volume control accordingly.
In the case of multiple microphones, varying from two to four, which are mounted on adjustable stands, we encountered some unforeseen snags. Using three microphones plugged into certain sockets we recorded an interesting circle, at the close of which we anticipated, with great joy, listening to the replay of what had been recorded. To our horror there was superimposed upon the voices one continuous roar of which we had heard nothing during the circle. This called for further experimenting and eventually we located the cause. It was occasioned by the use of a certain combination of sockets causing the valves in the mixer to become unbalanced. The various combinations have now been charted; thus, we know which to use and which combinations create the fault.
Experiments have made considerable progress, not only by us, but by the spirit guides, who are also making new apparatus on their side for better reproduction. They inform us that with the use of our apparatus they are able to conserve considerably the psychic power.
In our last recording of the voice circle, the guides carried out an important experiment. The music on the one machine was played until we were told to shut it off entirely and switch on the recording machine. They then spoke continuously for a period, all of which was recorded, with practically no background noise. We were then instructed to switch off the recording instrument and switch on the music; they state that in this way they are able to build up the psychic power again. This procedure continued throughout the circle sitting. When the recording was played back, we had a continuous speech from the guides, with, of course, short breaks occasioned by the stopping and restarting of the machine.
A valuable feature in these experiments is that we are now able to record the complete conversation between the sitter spoken to and the spirit communicator. To give greater evidential value to these recordings each sitter is asked to record his own voice, so that evidential comparison may be made between the voice and those of the spirit communicators. This is done by each individual sitter stating his name, and any other details he may desire.
An important feature is that all our apparatus is portable, so that it can be easily transported in the boot of a car. This enables us to hold the circle in any suitable place where the correct type of electricity is available. Thus, we are not confined to any one house, though, naturally, where the circles are mostly held there is a quicker and often better response, probably due to residual power and harmony with vibrations.
An interesting point is that the medium retains all her normal faculties and is able to take part in any discussion during the circle. Our success so far points the way to still further experiments for the greater perfecting of such recordings. It also opens up the possibilities of records being made in one country, possibly in different languages, and bringing corroborative evidence to people in another country who may not be known to the sitters and of whose language they have no knowledge.
Mrs. Barrett is my daughter. These experiments largely were carried out in my own home and all the apparatus was set up and operated entirely by myself. None of the other sitters or the medium has any technical knowledge of electricity or radio.
As an electrical engineer, with experience of commercial radio, I have an extremely analytical mind and am possibly more exacting in view of the medium being a member of my family. I have had thirty-six years' continuous active participation in the Spiritualist movement, twenty-seven years in commercial radio, and twenty years' experience of direct voice.
[This chapter consists of extracts from an article in The Quarterly Review of the Spiritualist Church of South Africa.]
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