Matiere Opaque : Ghost Stories Greeley's Rancho Arcana

Snap Taffy

Summer 2002
Location Withheld

A free-verse poem:

Beneath blue sky and feathered cloud
lingers a wandering chant
daydreaming green of childhood games

...snap taffy, not happy, oops!

Young voices joined in keeping time
now keep alive the time
of long afternoons and forgotten ways

...snap taffy, not happy, oops!

Free to spend the eternal day
conjuring smiles with rhyme
seeking the ear of those who still play

...snap taffy, not happy, oops!

My own children worry "Where do we go?"
Settle their fears, magic words
Does childhood live on, after child is gone?

"...snap taffy, not happy, oops!"


( ! )

Mysterious rhyme! confounding, obscure
Reveal to me your secrets!
Perhaps someday all your words I'll learn...

"Ha ha ha ha", but I'm in no hurry really; I can wait.


+ - + - +


I'm not a poet, as you may have noticed, so I'll beg your forgiveness here. As you can see, I didn't have much choice in setting the meter for this piece. A real poet might have done a better job of it.

I'm also going to come out and admit that I'm having a little problem coming up with a plausible explanation for this one.

What actually happened? You decide.

Here's the story:

While working up material for this series, I spent some time checking out how others present ghost stories on the Internet, and I came across a interesting site describing one person's experiences with EVP, also known as "Electronic Voice Phenomena."

EVP, in a nutshell, is the capturing of latent sounds on a recording medium. Typically, those who are carrying out the recording do not hear what appears on the tape at the time of the recording; the sounds are discovered on playback. Much depends on the credibility of those who gather these kinds of sounds, the techniques they use, quality control issues with recording equipment and methods, and the rigor they use for interpreting and discarding questionable material (frankly, you can hear anything you want if you listen to noise long enough).

And what exactly are they recording? Many claim the sounds are the voices of the dead. Quite an extraordinary claim, and to my way of thinking, a tough one to back up. I see little controversy in claiming that they're capturing unusual sounds, or even that they're capturing voices; but claiming that the sounds belong to the dead? A bit of a leap there; a leap requiring "extraordinary evidence."

In any case, the person who had put together the site described how she had come to develop an interest in the topic. It seems that after hearing of this phenomena some years ago she decided to go back and take a closer listen to some home videos she had made over the years; videos that she had no initial reason to suspect might contain anything odd. Lo and behold, upon closer inspection, she did detect voices in the background in some of her videos.

Intriguing, I thought. Did I have any videos that might contain "something" that I hadn't noticed before?

Obviously, I would need a video with few if any other people in it or nearby. There was a short video I had made two years ago while on a trip with another person to a number of remote places of historical interest (with regard to location, I will not add more, as I don't think those who live nearby would appreciate the notoriety this story might bring; sorry.) So, following the recommended technique, I popped in the original tape, put on headsets, and listened to the audio with my back to the screen.

For the most part there was nothing unusual at all, just natural background sounds and our voices. Then I heard a small laugh that I hadn't noticed before. I looked at the screen to see the person I was with walking away with her back to the camera, about 35-40 feet away. We were alone in a remote cemetery. Was it her?

I rewound the tape and watched. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I had never heard this person laugh that way before. I also noticed that I unconsciously responded to the laugh, so obviously I must have heard it while I was narrating the shot. Hmmm...

Here's the unedited audio clip.

Interesting. Still, I could not objectively say that it was not my companion laughing, as she had her back to the camera, so I set that one aside. Had she been facing the camera, then I or anyone else would be able to determine if it was her. That lack of certainty and the fact that I responded to the laugh suggested that this particular sound wasn't really too significant. In other words; Close, but no cigar. Just your typical mocking laugh in an old cemetery. Use it as a sound effect. Or in a poem.

I continued to listen. Near the end of the tape I heard a very, very faint sound, almost inaudible. It sounded like a snippet of children chanting a rhyme. I stopped the tape, rewound, turned up the volume and watched.

In this shot, I was trying to get good footage of a ruined building, and I was having a hard time shooting around and through the brush. I had switched off the camera, moved to another spot, turned it on again, and apparently captured the sound just a little after that moment, before I moved into the brush again.

Again, we were in a remote location, all alone, and the person I was with was off camera, but this time there was no question that she was not making the sound.

Here's the unedited audio clip. Listen carefully to the part moments after I say "...can't really get one." This is where I shut the camera off, moved, and started it again. You may need to turn it up a little bit.

There were no radios or other electronic devices around, except for the video camera. No children or other people about. No other sounds except for the birds overhead. I recall hearing nothing unusual when I shot that scene.

This was very interesting, so I ripped the audio into digital format and ran it through a sound editing program on my Mac to turn up the volume. Then I ran it through a noise filter in different ways to try and minimize the tape hiss and the rumble of the camera motors. I found that noise filtering cuts down the hiss and rumble but adds the weird overtones bubbling in the background.

You've heard the result in the poem above. Here's another version without noise filtering. Lots of hiss and rumble, but no weird tones, just volume.

I've listened to this clip quite a bit and have given it a lot of thought. It's impossible for me to say with reasonable certainty what this is a recording of, so I'm left with trying to determine what it isn't.

There was no visible person or thing nearby that could have made this kind of sound, and I doubt that this sound could have been carried on the wind from somewhere else, given the remote location of the site and the quality of the sound itself, which sounds near, not far. There's a noticeable amount of high range fidelity or "crispness" in the original that suggests the source was very close, perhaps 20 feet away or less. High range fidelity tends to drop out over distance. (Go back to the laugh in the cemetery to compare--that's a sound from much farther away--notice how dull it sounds?)

So if we accept that there was no common physical source, then we are left with technical considerations.

I had a new tape in the camera, so it's not an recording made over earlier material. Defective tape? Doesn't sound like a defect. Recording artifact? Sounds a bit too much like intelligent human speech. What's left?

The only other technical explanation I'm aware of is that sometimes recording equipment can pick up stray radio transmissions; but if this is a radio transmission, why does it start and stop in this way? If my camera's pulling in a radio transmission, I'd expect it to keep pulling it in. My camera has also never done that before, or since, so far as I know.

But let's say for the sake of analysis that it is a radio transmission, as this is the last reasonable possibility I can muster. Then what are the odds that I would randomly pick up this particular kind of sound in this particular place?

You see, the spot where I captured the sound was once a play yard for many children, mostly girls, a long, long time ago. know; skipping rope, circle dances, sing-along clapping games, that kind of thing?

What do you hear?






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Sorry I have to emphasize this point, but: All rights reserved. The audio files are the property of Chris Besenty and are offered from this server for personal use only.