Spirit Voices: The First Live Conversation Between Worlds
By Mark L. Cowden
From the publisher’s website: Mark L. Cowden is the audio-visual technician who recorded what is believed to be the first ever documented case of a live, two-way conversation with the spirit world. In early 2010, at an apparently haunted hotel in Northern Ireland, Mark was part of a small team of people who were filming a television documentary series about ghost stories when something incredible happened. While a medium and a psychic investigator sat on a bed in the next room and attempted to contact the spirit of a ghost in the hotel, Mark was able to record not only the medium's side of the conversation—and her report of the responses she was receiving from the spirit—but the spirit's replies directly as well! With cameras rolling, an independent television crew documented the whole process. Not only is this believed to be the first time anybody has ever managed to record a whole conversation between this world and the next, it was also a first for television. Spirit Voices documents Mark's work in the field of paranormal forensics and details the technology and methods he developed to achieve such ground-breaking results.
Spirit Voices. Anomalist Books, June 2011. ISBN: 1933665548
Reviewed for the SPR by: Tom Ruffles
Mark L Cowden’s claim, as indicated by the subtitle, is that in early 2010 he recorded a live two-way conversation between this world and the next. However, the book is more than an account of this event, which comes right at the end. He also covers his previous experiences with the paranormal, the development of his views concerning it, and how one can obtain the optimum conditions for interaction with the afterlife.
In his examination of the field he came across a number of groups of self-styled experts. He writes amusingly of the deficiencies of many of these ghost-hunting teams, their obsession with equipment masking their lack of knowledge – most of which seems to be culled from watching ghost-hunting shows on television and the internet – and usually led by someone whose sole credential is that he had the idea for the group and thought up the name. All that Cowden leaves out is the group medium who never comes up with any information that can be verified.
I have to agree with his assessment. As he suggests, the thought of such groups being unleashed on the vulnerable public is scary. You could say that however much the idea of commercial companies charging large fees to organise ghost hunts which are little more than a social activity feels exploitative, at least they are keeping individuals off the streets who might otherwise be causing extra stress to householders who already have enough problems to keep them busy. Cowden himself avoids such ‘house calls’.
He is an expert at using audio-visual equipment, and inventive in developing technology to improve Instrumental Transcommunication (ITC). He came up with the idea of the ITC Orchestra, adding a violin and cello to his set-up to act as ‘natural amplifiers’ which extended the range of his audio equipment into the infrasound and ultrasound ranges, beyond that which humans can hear.
His approach, in contrast to the one adopted by many groups, is to blend the technology with a spiritual approach. So as well as the hardware he packs a pendulum to dowse a location, and places emphasis on mediation and spiritual development. This allows him to form a psychic connection with a location and any spirits that might be present, rather than adopt a gung-ho approach typical of many investigators who have an obsession with the latest gadgetry. In his work with groups he recognises that, without some psychic sensitivity, they will not be successful in their efforts. While important, the kit is secondary, the intentions and attitude are crucial. More people can achieve results, he argues, but are blocked by the limitations of their approach.
The key event of the book, recording a conversation with spirit voices, occurred during the filming of a paranormal television show, Northern Ireland's Greatest Haunts. This was a rather complicated set-up, with a medium and another colleague sitting in one room attempting to communicate with a spirit, while Cowden and his monitoring equipment were in another room recording both the medium’s and the spirit’s responses, while a camera crew in each location made a visual record. The spirit replies could not be heard in the room in which the medium sat, so Cowden, who could hear them, had to feed them to the medium. He was not able to relay all of the messages at the time, but enough to assist the medium conduct a meaningful conversation, and both sides were available in full for later analysis.
ITC samples are usually difficult to decipher, and there are issues of interpretation. Cowden claims that his spirit voices increased in clarity until they were as clear as the voices of those in the room, and their utterances made sense within the conversation. Whether the voices are real and not artefacts of the recording process, and more to the point there is intelligence behind them, will hopefully be established with further work.
As to whether this really was the first ‘live’ dialogue, well, not really. Father Gemelli’s frustrating experience with a wire recorder in 1952, leading to a brief exchange with his deceased father, and George Meek’s Spiricom spring readily to mind as involving real-time communication. Marcello Bacci’s Direct Radio Voice method, using old valve radios with bits removed to render them useless for their intended purpose, is able to obtain voices on a regular basis which can hold a meaningful conversation (and be recognised by relatives). Bacci can be seen in action in Tim Coleman’s film The Afterlife Investigations.
Cowden’s recording may be superior to these efforts, and he may be implying that all past results, or at least those obtained prior to the beginning of 2010, were fraudulent (and this is certainly a controversial area), but he does not discuss them at all, nor say why he feels he has priority. He appears to have achieved promising results with his set-up, and hopefully he will publish more on his work, with further detail than he has given here. In the meantime this is a very readable account of one person’s journey in the field of paranormal investigation.