I have long been fascinated by a peculiar chapter in recent Irish history; a set of experiments conducted in the early 1970s to record the voices of the dead. Not only does this illuminate the unusual nexus of science and religion that existed at the time but it also appeals to some distinctly Irish traits; the sense of time being thin, the communion with the dead and the love of a good ghost story.
Thanks to Darn and Mella at Darkroom, I finally captured some of the story of Electronic Voice Phenomenon in Ireland on film last week. The footage is now with Crystal Media for telecine but Darn organised a rough screening before I sent it, so I know it is in good order. Here's a cameraphone photo from the test screening.
This is a subject that has fascinated me since I found 'Breakthrough: An Amazing Experiment in Electronic Communication with the Dead' by Konstantin Raudive, as recommended by William Burroughs, and then the local history of the same sensation, 'Voices on the Tape' by Peter Bander. It contains that irresistible clash of rationality and superstition, religion and science that I think appeals to our distinctive cultural make-up.
In 1971 a group of Vatican-sanctioned researchers teamed up with electronics experts from Pye Laboratories to pore over tapes recorded in Faraday cages on high-end audiophile equipment, listening to the howling ether, as Alexander Graham Bell's assistant Watson did, in the hope of picking out voices from across the Great Divide.
The reconstruction was filmed in 7 Henrietta Street on the 28th of November. We used a 16mm Bolex and Fomapan black and white stock. Other than a problem with the smoke machine triggering the fire alarms, everything went off without a hitch.
The film opens with Tim Hawkins, playing a priest in the 18th century, experiencing a paranormal phenomenon that causes his death. Not that this actually happened, but it does give our real investigators an interesting haunting to work with.
The second scene picks up the thread when priests from the International Society for Catholic Parapsychologists (played by Sean Swords and Alan Lambert) supported by scientists from the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies (played by me) set up their equipment to detect traces of this ancient horror.
The equipment we used included a Bang & Olufsen Beocord 2000 reel-to-reel (as specified in the book) and a Compaq Portable II Computer. This experiment has a precedent in Ireland; WB Yeat's attempts to make radio contact with the deceased (as described in Roy Foster's biography as well as connections with a whole host of Irish parascientific endeavors, such as time travel outlined in J.W. Dunne's 'An Experiment with Time', 1927.
We also got to do a lot of work on Tim's short film, 'The Inheritance'. An unlucky beneficiary of a will (played by me) discovers odd things in the walls of his new house, all the while watched over by the previous inhabitant's spectral widow (Nodlag Houlihan).