Both Guglielmo Marconi and Thomas Edison believed in the possibility of using new recording devices to contact the dead, or the "living impaired," to use Edison's uncanny twenty-first century term. Sir William Crooks, President of the Royal Society and inventor of the cathode ray tube, and Sir Oliver Lodge, one of the leading contributors to radio technology, believed the other world to be a wavelength into which we pass when we die. In the 1950s, Friedrich Jürgensen, a painter, archaeologist, and former opera singer living in Sweden, found traces of extra voices on tapes with which he was trying to record birdsongs. Over the years, Jürgensen made thousands of recordings of the voices of the dead, ranging from his family and friends to people such as Vincent van Gogh and Himmler's masseur. These are claimed to be the world's first recordings of Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP), the paranormal appearance of strange voices on magnetic tape. The following is a sketch of Jürgenson's life and his remarkable and persistent "audioscopic research" into contacting the dead. Some of the recordings from Jürgenson's vast archive have recently become available on the CD Friedrich Jürgensen: From the Studio for Audioscopic Research (Ash International).
Friedrich Jürgenson was born in Odessa on 8 February 1903. His mother was Swedish and his father was of Danish descent, practicing as a physician in Odessa where the family had moved from Estonia. After living through World War I and the Russian Revolution as a child, Jürgenson trained as a painter at the Art Academy, and as a singer and musician at the Odessa Conservatory, where he was a contemporary of the concert pianist Svjatoslav Richter. In 1925 the family was allowed to move back to Estonia where Friedrich continued his training as a singer and painter, and shortly afterward he moved to Berlin for more studies. Here his tutor was the bass singer Tito Scipa. Scipa, a Jew, fled to Palestine in 1932 and Jürgenson accompanied him, staying for six years. During this period, while still studying, he made a living as a singer and painter, and some predicted a successful career for him in opera.
In 1938 Jürgenson left Palestine for Milan for more studying and performances. In 1943, when he went to visit his parents, the colder climate caused him serious health problems and his voice was partially damaged. Jürgenson decided to give up his professional opera career to concentrate entirely on painting. He was a realist painter, mostly doing portraits, landscapes, and still lives.
Driven out by war in that year he moved to Sweden. Located in Stockholm, he married and became a Swedish citizen. Here he also learnt his tenth language. During the following years he painted portraits of wealthy Swedes and of the town of Stockholm. In 1949 he visited Pompeii in Italy and in order to get easier access to the buried city he showed some of his work to the Vatican. A few days later he received a proposal: the Vatican recognized his talents and asked him to catalogue their archaeological works buried beneath the Holy City. He returned the following year and for four months sat in this damp underworld, painted, and contracted pneumonia. The Vatican medics cured him and when Pope Pius XII saw the results of his work he asked Jürgenson to paint a portrait of him. In all, Jürgenson produced four portraits of the Pope. Now he had full access to Pompeii as well, and he returned there many times to paint.
In 1957 Jürgenson bought a tape recorder to record his own singing, and he started to notice at this time some quite strange phenomena; inexplicable fade-ins and fade-outs on the tapes; abstract visions and telepathic messages. Jürgenson understood that these events were produced by his highly developed aural and visual senses caused by his artistic prowess.
In the following year Jürgenson had his first major exhibition amidst the ruins of Pompeii.
Back in Stockholm his telepathic contacts continued:
"I sat by the table, clearly awake and relaxed. I sensed that soon something was going to happen. Following an inner pleasurable calmness, long sentences in English appeared in my consciousness. I did not perceive these sentences acoustically but they formed themselves as long phonetic sentences and after a closer study I couldn't conceive the words as correct English but in a disfigured almost alphabetical way—completely deformed. I did not hear a voice, a sound, or a whisper. It was all soundless."
Later he also recalled that in the spring of 1959 he "got a message about a Central Investigation Station in space where they conducted profound observations of Mankind. [...] My friends spoke about certain electro-magnetic screens or radars, that were frequently transmitted, day and night, in batches of thousands to our three-dimensional life levels and, like living beings, had a mission as mental messengers. Undoubtedly one could see these radars as half-living robots that, remote controlled, had the ability like an oversensitive television or radio to correctly register and transmit all our conscious and unconscious impulses, feelings, and thoughts." Jürgenson knew that these fantastic facts really belonged to science fiction but he continued hoping to capture these messages on tape.
On 12 June 1959, Jürgenson and his wife Monica went to visit their
country house to enjoy the warm summer. Jürgenson brought his tape
recorder to record the singing of wild birds, especially the chaffinch.
Listening to the tape he "heard a noise, vibrating like a
storm, where you could only remotely hear the chirping of the birds. My
first thought was that maybe some of the tubes had been damaged. In
spite of this I switched on the machine again and let the tape roll.
Again I heard this peculiar noise and the distant chirping. Then I
heard a trumpet solo, a kind of a signal for attention. Stunned, I
continued to listen when suddenly a man's voice began to speak in
Norwegian. Even though the voice was quite low I could clearly hear and
understand the words. The man spoke about 'nightly bird voices' and I
perceived a row of piping, splashing, and rattling sounds. Suddenly the
choir of birds and the vibrating noise stopped. In the next moment the
chirping of a chaffinch was heard and you could hear the tits singing
at a distance—the machine worked perfectly!"
From this point Jürgenson continued to investigate these
phenomena and at first he thought it was his "friends from outer
space," but very soon he began to believe that these voices were "from
the other side," or the "Voices of the Dead." Was he close to solving
one of the fundamental mysteries of death?
At this moment Jürgenson experienced a remarkable event that would change his life:
"I was outside with a tape recorder, recording bird songs. When I
listened through the tape, a voice was heard to say 'Friedel, can you
hear me. It's mammy. ...' It was my dead mother's voice. 'Friedel' was
her special nickname for me."
At this point Jürgenson abandoned painting for his audio recordings and in 1964 he published Rösterna Från Rymden (The Voices From Space, published by Saxon & Lindström Förlag in Stockholm).
"My love for the arts was still alive now as ever, and I asked myself
if it was the right thing for me to abandon the art of painting—a
creative occupation to which I had dedicated my whole life." Later, he
writes "Instead, I was sitting here with an enormous jigsaw puzzle
brooding in despair over the problem of whether one could assemble a
more complete picture from all these fragments. And, likewise... I had
never before been so touched and captured by any other urgencies than
by these mystical connections, literally floating in the ether."
Now located in Mölnbo, south of Stockholm, Jürgenson held
his first press conference.The Swedish press was stunned by Jürgenson's
scientific approach to these matters, and was understandingly critical.
The International Paranormal Societies, as well as the Max Planck
Institute, the University of Freiburg, and the Parapsychological
Association in the USA, also took a keen interest. Others, like
Konstantin Raudive and Claude Thorlin, came to visit and began to work
with tape recorders.
At first Jürgenson only used a microphone and a tape
recorder. He simply set up the microphone, set the recorder on
'record,' and spoke clearly into the room, leaving space for voices to
respond. This was a bit tricky for Jürgenson, since he always had to
play back the tape, sometimes at a lower speed, to hear the voices.
These voices spoke in a combination of various languages —Swedish,
German, Russian, English, Italian—all languages that Jürgenson knew
and could speak. He called this new mixture of languages "polyglot,"
or, "many tongues."
In spring 1960 one of the voices told him to "use the
radio" as a medium and this was the technique he used until his death.
He connected a microphone and a radio receiver to the tape recorder and
in this way he could have a real-time conversation with his "friends."
Usually he set the radio reception in between frequencies where there
is generally a variation of noises. Later, he fixed the receiving
frequencies to around 1445-1500 kHz (1485.0 kHz is now called the
In 1965 Jürgenson took up painting again but recording
remained his main activity. At this time he also revisited Pompeii and
found that the site was being mistreated. Sponsored by Swedish National
Television, he made the documentary film Pompeii: A Cultural Relic That Must Be Preserved, in 1966. A vast output followed in the en- suing years from this highly energetic and creative figure.
In 1967 his book on EVP, Sprechfunk Mit Verstorbenen, was published by Freiburg's Verlag Hermann Bauer KG. In 1968 Jürgenson made four documentaries: The Temples at Paestum and the City of Temples and Graves, a film on the ancient Greek city south of Salerno; The Death of Birds In Italy, about the purposeless killing of birds in Italy; The Miracle of the Blood of St. Gennaro,
about the famous blood phenomenon in Naples; and a film documenting
Jürgenson's own archaeological diggings at Pompeii. In 1968 his third
book was published in Swedish: Radio och Mikrofonkontakt med de Döda
(Radio and Microphone Contact with the Dead, published by Nybloms in
Uppsala). Rome was impressed with Jürgenson's documentary output. The
result of his work at Pompeii was another mission for the Vatican, and
in 1969 his documentary The Fisherman from Gallilee: On the Grave and Stool of Peter
was finished. For this, Jürgenson received the Order of Commendatore
Gregorio Magno from the hand of Pope Paul VI. Shortly after, he also
made a film about the life of the Pope, and Paul VI's high regard for
this film prompted him to contact Jürgenson again. Jürgenson then
painted three portraits of his second Pope. Around this time he was
also permitted to conduct his own archaeological diggings in Pompeii
and he dug out the large house of the governor in Pompeii.
In the 1970s, Jürgenson continued to record and paint.
Moving from Mölnbo to Höör in Skåne, southern Sweden, he found a more
peaceful place for his work. Age began to take its toll and Jürgenson
spent more time with his recordings at home, making an occasional trip
to Italy. There was also serious talk about founding an EVP research
institute in Italy. In 1978 he held his third press conference and gave
a large number of lectures. Here he predicted that we will soon be able
to receive messages through television as well. He labeled the work
"Audioscopic Research." His German book was translated into Dutch,
Italian, and Portuguese at the beginning of the 80s. In 1985 he held
his last press conference in conjunction with a nationwide television
Friedrich Jürgenson died in October 1987 and left several hundred tapes of recorded material.
- Ash International and the Parapsychic Acoustic Research Cooperative (PARC) have also released The Ghost Orchid: An Introduction to EVP, which draws heavily on the work of Raymond Cass. For more information about both CDs see Ash's website and PARC's website.
Carl Michael von Hausswolff is an artist based in Stockholm. His work has been exhibited in many international events, including documenta X, the Istanbul Binennial, and Site Santa Fe. Von Hausswolff and Leif Elggren are the double monarchs of the Royal Kingdoms of Elgaland-Vargaland. For more information on the kingdom, see here. Von Hausswolff is a contributing editor to Cabinet.
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