Fair warning: unlike the majority of Halloween content, this post is quite genuinely frightening.
The recordings here come from a 3-disc collection called “Okkulte Stimmen – Mediale Musik: Recordings Of Unseen Intelligences 1905-2007” compiled by the German label Supposé.
Recording technologies have, since their inception, invited speculation about spiritual presences. We discussed recently in this space how music copied onto x-rays in Soviet Russia have served as a powerful metaphor for, and instantiation of, the association between technology and death.
In the realm of visual representation, spirit photography was something of a cottage industry in the 20th century. At one time, you could hire a photographer to capture hard visual evidence of a deceased love one in a space they were suspected of haunting. The camera, as they say, doesn’t lie. Of course, once people began to understand film technology a little better, and could identify light leaks, smudges, processing imperfections, and double exposures, photography’s spiritual intrigue was rapidly deflated.
The recordings on “Okkulte Stimmen,” however, are eerie in a very different, and perhaps more enduring sense. Even once we “get” them, they remain scary:
Though we may have theories about the actual nature of possession (delusion, disease) that differ from the exorcist’s, there is no reason to doubt the authenticity of this particular item. The exorcism, as an event, certainly occurred, and Anneliese Michel has a tragic story. Hers was the last exorcism sanctioned by the Catholic Church, and she died just a few months after the priest finished, presumably of malnutrition.
Regardless of its true explanation, there is something uncanny about hearing a possessed voice. In the conventional sense of uncanninness, this is a matter of cognitive dissonance caused by an auditory short circuit, of hearing an unexpected emanation from a source we thought we knew well. There are also technological, geographic, and linguistic short circuits – so much about this recording feels alien – that further distance us from any place where explication of the event might be possible. Even if we don’t believe in spirits, this recording confronts us with the fact that someone once did, and quite powerfully at that. Now an unsettling, material remainder of their belief has landed in our laps.
John Lydon sings the last line of PiL’s “Annelisa,” based on Annaliese’s life, in an imitation of her voice.