3 July 2015


Steven T. Parsons and Callum E Cooper (editors). Paracoustics: Sound and the Paranormal. White Crow Books, 2015.

This collection of papers by the editors and a number of contributors covers several areas of sound and the paranormal, after general discussions of the physics and psychology of sound. The first area of discussion are the various knocks, raps and imitative sounds encountered in haunted houses; in many ways these, rather than visual experiences, constitute the essence of the haunting experience and a number of examples are given.

There had always been a discussion as to whether these are subjective or objective sounds, and an area which has not been explored properly is whether some of these sounds are actually internal body sounds that the brain normally filters out.

Some of the raps are objective because they have been recorded; and in his paper Barry Colvin compares these sounds with normal percussive raps, and seems to show that they have different acoustic properties. This seems like an excellent area for experimental study.

Whether the alleged paranormal voices reported during the Enfield poltergeist belong in this section is rather doubtful. Perhaps they belong in the next chapter dealing with raps, voices and other sounds heard during séances. Here perhaps the role of fraud is more prevalent, for example in the case of trumpet and other forms of direct voice mediumship. For years that was the opinion of most members of the SPR. Raps of course were at the heart of the story of the Fox family which led to the birth of spiritualism. I suspect that the two girls at the heart of this had accomplices, or rather were themselves accomplices in a hate campaign directed by a young woman named Lucretia Pulver and her friends against her former employer.

The next area covered is that of various forms of Electronic Voice Phenomena and the editors provided a very comprehensive and balanced summary of this, though they could perhaps have added cases of alleged EVP involving aliens rather than spirits, such as those recorded by Phillip Rogers, the partially sighted musician and ufologist back in the 1960s (I can’t say that I found these very impressive, the aliens sounded more like little children, or someone imitating little children). There were also cases of alleged radio communication with aliens back in the 1950s.

Related to these are telephone calls from the dead, a topic first raised by Scott Rogo and Raymond Bayless. As with many of these anecdotal reports it is hard to know which of a number of possible explanations might apply; the story is just being made up; the sequence of events as become distorted in memory, empty lines and random calls are misperceived; the calls took place in dreams or dream like states or the recipient was the victim of a prank. Ufology also has its anomalous telephone calls, reports of which can be found in the works of John Keel, Brad Steiger etc.

Among the odd things reported over the phone is phantom music, which leads into wider discussions of that topic by C R Foley and Melvyn Willin, the latter discussing its role in out of the body and near death experiences. This music, which the late Scott Rogo called NAD, can range from the disquietingly eerie or even threatening, to the transcendental. It is interesting to note that a number of paleoanthropologists believe humans possessed vocal music long before abstract language, so there is something very primal in this. Of course all music emerges from the human mind, and perhaps this music of the mind can only be imperfectly reproduced by physical instruments.

These musical sounds are however only part of the sounds heard during OBE/NDE and these should be compared to those heard during aware sleep paralysis and in general hypnogogic/hypnopompic states. They might be compared with sounds heard during UFO experiences, as documented by Dan Butcher in his Reference Book of UFO Sounds which actually compares them to those in Out of Body Experiences.

Jack Hunter then discusses the role of music in generating alternate states of consciousness.

A rather different approach to sound and the paranormal is the study of the role of infrasound in producing uncanny feelings and experiences, a study pioneered Vic Tandy and continued by co-editor Parsons, who provides a discussion. Some of the original papers are reproduced as appendices. It is a pity that the original paper as reproduced here breaks off in mid-sentence on p209 (the following page being blank). Needless to say much of this is of a technical character.

Regrettavly there is no index but despite this, this will be a most useful book for anyone interested in psychical research. -- Peter Rogerson.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your considered review Peter. It was always going to be a fine balance as to what to include. Space & cost considerations meant ultimately much deliberation went into the content.
    Future revisions or editions will hopefully address some of the valid points raised.

    Steve Parsons