WASHINGTON, January 2, 2016 — Tales of the macabre, said author H.P. Lovecraft, should elicit “a subtle attitude of awed listening, as if for the beating of black wings, or the scratching of outside shapes and entities on the known universe’s utmost rim.”
Have you heard of the Ouija Board’s sinister companion, called the Demon Board? Or the occult influence of mathematics’ Pythagorean Comma on music, the Devil’s Cord? Or that Russian dictator Vladimir Lenin was seen in his Kremlin office while simultaneously lying on his deathbed in Gorki – a phenomenon known as bilocation?
These are just a few of the ingredients that add layers of complexity to the tasty digital offering called “The Black Tapes Podcast,” hosted by Alex Reagan.
“This podcast started as one thing, but very quickly became something else,” says Reagan with the sincere naiveté of a young National Public Radio presenter.
“At a certain point, my producers and I had to make a decision: do we stick with our original vision or do we follow the interesting, confusing and occasionally macabre story that started spilling out around the edges?”
The series, you see, was meant to “examine interesting lives” and “remarkable occupations” However, it was the first fascinating vocation they presented that the podcasters could not move beyond: paranormal investigators.
“I love ghost stories,” Reagan admits in the first episode of the serial, “even if you don’t really believe in ghosts, it’s fun to suspend disbelief. You dim the lights, set the mood, and tell the scariest story you can think of. And it’s fun because we know it’s probably not real. Ghosts don’t actually exist, do they?”
According to the Pew Research Center, “Nearly one-in-five U.S. adults say they’ve seen or been in the presence of a ghost.” So popular is ghost hunting in America that Amazon sells the GhostPro Waterproof Action Camera with infrared illuminator, and Wal-mart offers the all-in-one Gen-El P741 Starter Ghost Hunting Kit.
But paranormal investigator Raymond Savorski gives Reagan unsettling information, noting all paranormal activity boils down to three types: 1) residual haunting, in which a tragic event plays out at a specific location like a video recording on a loop; 2) an intelligent haunting, where spirits of the dead interact with the living; 3) an inhuman or demonic haunting, the most terrifying of human interactions with the unseen world.
And this is where Dr. Richard Strand of the Strand Institute enters the picture. He’s a paranormal investigator of a different stripe, insisting that he is “not making extraordinary claims against the laws of nature already established by the larger scientific community. I don’t have to prove that gravity exists, that cells die, that life ends. We know these things. The burden is on my [paranormal investigative] colleagues to prove that life doesn’t end in death. And they haven’t provided anything but weak conjecture.”
In short, Strand is a paranormal debunker.
So confident is Strand that his institute offers a one million dollar reward for anyone that can prove, within the strict confines of the scientific method, the existence of life after death.
It is while interviewing Strand in his office that Reagan discovers a set of files, “The Black Tapes.” They contain evidence from cases Strand has been unable to debunk.
Following up on the people and events in these files leads Reagan down a dark corridor, the listener in tow. But you might learn something while in the process of being scared out of your wits.
Such as the fact that early 20th century Russian composer Aleksandr Scriabin, a devotee of the occult, was fond of using augmented 4ths in his music – known as the “Devil’s Interval.”
In the 1930s, Britain’s Sir Adrian Boult banned Scriabin’s compositions from airing on the BBC because he considered them “evil music.”
So, you ask, is “The Black Tapes Podcast” real or just a modern take on Orson Welles’ 1938 radio adaptation of “The War of the Worlds,” a vivid drama that convinced millions of radio listeners that Earth was being invaded by Martians?
I’ll leave that up to you.
“The Black Tapes Podcast” is available for free on iTunes and at http://theblacktapespodcast.com.