The physical component of this piece is a dossier envelope labeled “Crypto Acoustic Auditory Non-Hallucination” with a logo of three overlapping rings. Inside are ten or fifteen loose-leaf sheets of paper.
Photo of a white woman in a fitted lab coat working in a dated lab environment. On the back of the photo it says:
Pictured: Dr. Janet Herman
Date: February 10, 1967
[Handwritten in a blank space above the memo text] The information included in this memorandum is a result of research done from 2017 to 2019. I compiled this dossier from filed notes, correspondences, university archives, and audio recordings. Some questions remain unanswered due to few key documents I haven’t been able to locate. —A.S.
[Typewritten] When I was a kid I was positive I could hear ghosts. No matter where I was or what I was doing, strange sounds would crowd my mind. Once, while walking home from school when I was ten years old, I heard a sound I could only describe as “a broken radio.” I mentioned this to a friend, who later told everyone at school. I claimed I’d been joking—I didn’t want to be the four-eyed kid who also heard creepy stuff—but the sounds continued. When I told my great-grandmother what I’d been experiencing, she sat up in her blue leather chair and smiled. She said, “Andrew, your dead relatives are letting you know they’re looking out for you from heaven above.” This obviously freaked me out. I couldn’t sleep for weeks, wore earmuffs in the summer. The sounds eventually stopped, I moved on, and the memory lay dormant for three decades. Until I came upon the work of Dr. Janet Herman.
In the early ’60s, before developing her monumental study at Duke University on the hearing of blind people and its connection to trans-dimensional consciousness, Dr. Janet Herman was working as a research assistant at Duke’s Corrective Ocular Laboratory (COL). She was part of a team studying Charles Bonnet syndrome, a type of visual hallucination experienced by people with vision loss. (Among the things the study’s participants reported seeing were purple cats, floating handkerchiefs, and people with large teeth attending fancy weddings.) The study’s goal was to “relieve the patients of these interruptions.” But while the hallucinations one experiences with Charles Bonnet syndrome are strictly visual, some patients also reported hearing unexplained events that were as vivid as the images they described. The rest of Herman’s cohort was quick to dismiss these claims as “deranged” or as outright lies. Disgusted by the treatment of these blind patients, Dr. Herman left the study to pursue her own research.
Around this time, Dr. Herman discovered the writing of Dr. H. McKenner, a Duke alumnus and new age science scholar working on a personalized mode of space transit. McKenner, a practitioner of transcendental meditation and admirer of Ram Dass, asserted that cultivating a heightened level of sensory awareness to the universe’s subharmonics would be key to unlocking interdimensional travel.
This idea fascinated Herman, who had observed the heightened sensory capacity of the blind research subjects at the COL. Herman posited that the blind patients’ reports of supposedly hallucinatory sounds proved that blind individuals were not just sharper hearers than the sighted population but were actually in tune with the subharmonics of our universe in ways sighted people weren’t. It’s unclear if Dr. Herman’s implication was that blind people were supernatural, a commonly held stereotype that prevails today, or if this attunement meant they were better positioned for the interdimensional travel McKenner wrote about. What is clear is that she designed a study to test her new theory and returned to Duke in 1966 for funding.
In her study, she interviewed dozens of blind participants and found that many indeed experienced aural events not based in our corporeal reality. Her participants spoke candidly about the sounds they heard: “trucks falling from clouds,” “women dancing on their hands,” “electric snakes,” and “kids building televisions in their workshop.” The descriptions astounded Herman. In a department-wide memo, she explained her developing theory as such: “Crypto Acoustic Auditory Non-Hallucination is the idea that individuals who are totally blind have the ability to hear trans-dimensionally. Those without sight possess the power of extended eavesdropping far beyond our own dimension.” In other words, Dr. Herman sought to prove that these patients weren’t hallucinating at all—they were overhearing sounds from another dimension.
Dr. Herman attempted to record the sounds her participants described. Using custom microphones that she referred to as “Transitory Sound Catchers,” she filled countless reels of tape in hopes of capturing these sounds. She was not successful at recording a single trans-dimensional sound, and after two years of research, Duke finally pulled Dr. Herman’s funding. She immediately resigned from her position at the school and went back to her private practice.
For decades Dr. Herman’s research remained untouched in Duke’s library—until a few months ago, when I obtained some of these recordings. I happened upon this study while researching the misrepresentations of blindness in science fiction films for an upcoming sound installation I was putting together. The piece was to include a five-hour-long loop of blind oracles and blind space monks dispensing mystical wisdom, compiled from dozens of movies. The goal was to explore the trope that blind people possess a kind of otherworldly insight.
While I was digging for material in an online forum dedicated to “real-life science fiction,” I found a post from a woman explaining how her blind brother heard things no one else could. She mentioned a study he had participated in when he was a kid. According to her, he was flown to North Carolina to tell a doctor about his “secret sounds.” She said her parents thought her brother was not only blind but also deranged because of what he said he heard, a perception I certainly feared when I was experiencing my own secret sounds as a child. The study this woman referred to took place in the late ’60s at Duke, and that’s all I could find out. After months of searching for more information, on the brink of walking away, I received an email from Mike Pellet, a Duke University information technician: “Hey Andy Slater, I heard you were searching for those Crypto Hallucination tapes. I actually came across them in a storage room we cleared out a few years ago and digitized them at ‘CD quality.’ Here’s the link.”
The tapes contain the voice of Dr. Herman as she introduces her participants and recounts the sounds each one is hearing. Much to my disappointment, the recordings had no trace of the elusive transitory sounds. Nevertheless, I was intrigued by how ambitious Herman’s research was, and so, despite the lack of proof, I decided to restore the audio and archive her recorded voice in the name of absurdity. Late one night, though, while in the process of restoring the existing audio, I uncovered something incredible. It was just a matter of adjusting the phase inversion and amplifying the frequencies to those above and below the threshold of human hearing, and suddenly there they were: the transitory sounds described by Dr. Herman’s subjects. The dance recital, the electric abacus, the kid building a television—everything the scientific community had dismissed as nonsense over half a century ago. I was hearing into another dimension.
The recording I’ve included herein contains excerpts of reel 4 from June of 1967. You will hear Dr. Herman’s voice announcing each study participant, followed by the participant’s description of the sounds and, finally, the sounds themselves. More than fifty years later, the world will finally be exposed to Dr. Herman’s explosive discovery. I can’t say I haven’t wondered if this means blind people really are the wisdom-dispensing oracles so over-depicted in movies, but there’s no doubt in my mind that these materials will astound the scientific community.
Press play to listen to the audio as you read along.
[Audio begins. Slightly echoey recording. Flat and measured speech of a woman] Crypto Acoustic Auditory Non-Hallucination study, day four. This is Dr. Janet Herman. The date is June 22, 1967. I am reporting from Laboratory 2. I will be meeting with the subjects all day. This will be the fourth attempt at recording what the subjects can hear. The last attempts were not successful. The information given by each subject has been fascinating. I am convinced that none of the subjects are experiencing any kind of mental episode when cooperating with this study.
Although none of the subjects have described hearing the same transitory sounds, there have been similarities. I will be meeting with Dr. Harold McKenner on June 26 to discuss time and space travel. He has shown interest in my theory and believes he can help understand the events experienced by every participant. Dennis has recalibrated the recording machine. He believes that there was a problem catching the transitory sounds due to a phasing issue. He has also replaced the transistors in the two microphones and reversed the polarity for this session.
Our plan is to send all of the tape reels to Halifax Audio Systems at the end of the week for inspection should this session fail. The university is fighting me on my budget so this operation may have to come from our own funds.
It is now 9:17 AM.
[All patient files are forms and include a place for a small identification photo. The photos have the feel of 60s yearbook pictures—black and white, posed studio portraits. A mix of men and women in formal clothes, all appear to be white. The “Participant’s Descriptions of Auditory Non-Hallucination” are both handwritten on the forms and spoken by Dr. Herman in the recording, preceding the recording of the sounds themselves.]
Name: Wendy F. [next to her name is a handwritten note: “Left study early”]
Age of Diagnosis: 5
Location: Terre Haute, Indiana
Wendy pictured with a bob and blunt bangs. Smiling slightly with a gap tooth.
Notes: [handwritten] Made hand gestures imitating an abacus and tuning a radio. She turned her head from side to side as if to hear each voice more clearly. Covered ears numerous times during recording.
Participant’s description of auditory non-hallucination: [handwritten] “There are two voices speaking an unknown language. I believe they are women. They are playing their music too loud and I don’t like it. Sounds like an electric abacus.”
[Audio. Alternating voices, responding to each other. Lilting and singsong. Casual back and forth.
Voice 1: “Em atta nesca na ma muva.”
Voice 2: “Nesca linguava.”
Voice 1: “Uhdes nu dov uh!”
Machine beeping in the background, irregular as though measuring or monitoring.
Voices become more urgent.
Plopping, playful xylophone music layered in. Sometimes music, beeps, and voices all at once.
Name: Charles S.
Age of Diagnosis: 8
Location: New Brunswick, New Jersey
[Photo box says: Photo not available]
Participant’s description of auditory non-hallucination: [handwritten] “A dance recital. A wooden stage. I think that this person is dancing on her hands.”
[Audio. Something small and hard is hitting something big and flexible. Repeated booming knocks. Discernible rhythm with some shifts or missed beats.
Switch to slowed and more spacious rhythm.
Now more chaotic, oscillating between rhythms.]
Name: Dani W.
Age of Diagnosis: Birth
Location: Bakersfield, California
Dani pictured smiling warily, looking directly at the camera through browline glasses. She is wearing a cameo necklace, pearl earrings, and a patterned frock
Notes: [handwritten] Had to be asked to stop talking when tape was rolling. She commented on matters of religion.
Participant’s description of auditory non-hallucination: [handwritten] “I hear a mathematician writing on a chalkboard. The numbers are like ours but the equation lasts forever. I heard this eight times in the past week and he was still writing. I never heard a repeated number.”
[Audio. Dry rasping layered with low bumps. Fast, purposeful dashes and scrapes with occasional long drags.]
Name: Cynthia C.
Age of Diagnosis: 15
Location: Council Bluffs, Iowa
Cynthia pictured looking away from the camera. Her facial expression has the feel of someone slightly caught off guard
Notes: [handwritten] Held hand over her heart the entire time. When asked why, she requested that I stop asking.
Participant’s description of auditory non-hallucination: [handwritten] “I have never seen a child build a television. But I am certain that this is what I am hearing.”
[Audio. Loud static. Shifting pitch with sticking and skipping. Very high-pitched squeaking. Mechanical lurching with hectic thuds and tapping. Uncomfortable escalation.]
Name: Frederick K.
Age of Diagnosis: Birth
Location: Friendsville, Maryland
Frederick pictured with an air of slight concern or sorrow.
Notes: [handwritten] Smiled throughout the reading.
Participant’s description of auditory non-hallucination: [handwritten] “There is something very wrong with this plane. Perhaps it’s the pilot.”
[Audio. Constant thumping hum. Varying tone and volume, veering and arcing. Fading, fainter and fainter.]
Name: Esther B.
Age of Diagnosis: 30
Location: Denton, Texas
Esther pictured with a faint smile and one eyebrow slightly lifted while the other is relaxed.
Notes: [handwritten] Rested head on table during recording.
Participant’s description of auditory non-hallucination: [handwritten] “A hummingbird in slow-motion. Certainly made of metal.”
[Audio. Shuffling clank followed by some echo. Slipping, grazing, crashing. Low, slow respiration like that through a scuba mask. Cycles of movement followed by quiet.]
Name: Lou D.
Age of Diagnosis: 11
Location: Slidell, Louisiana
Lou pictured in a suit and stiff smile
Notes: [handwritten] Curious about my shoes. Stated that they were too loud.
Participant’s description of auditory non-hallucination: [handwritten] “I hear snakes that might be electric… like those eels they got in the South. There’s no water. I know because I’m afraid of water.”
[Audio. Chirp and shimmy. Wet shuffles and creaks. Drips. Whines. A wobbly gentleness. Silence punctuated by unique bursts. Crackling and soft hissing. Chirp. Repeated slippery squeaks. Boing. Rumble. Click. Long pause before tinny jangle.]
Name: Mickie B.
Age of Diagnosis: 17
Location: Taos, New Mexico
Mickie in thick-framed glasses with gelled hair. He’s wearing a suit and a pleasant expression.
Participant’s description of auditory non-hallucination: [handwritten] “People are exhaling but not breathing in. They do not sound well. They are surrounded by a fog and then a ray of light breaks through. And they leave.”
[Audio. Soft, slow moans and sputtering zooms. Muffled scratching. A chorus of yearning calls. More rumbling. Repeating gentle woosh. Slow, bumpy scrape. A sudden electric wiggle!]
Date: July 3, 1967
Dr. Janet Herman
Lab 2, Duke University Medical Ctr.
Durham, NC 27710
Re: Termination of Ms. Wendy Freinklin’s Participation in Crypto Acoustic Auditory Non-Hallucination Study
Dear Dr. Herman,
I reviewed the documents that you had my client Ms. Wendy Freinklin sign and have concluded that she was not of sound body and mind when agreeing to the terms. Under North Carolina General Statute Section 35-2, those contracts are void and unenforceable.
Given her incapacity, she has signed over power of attorney to her parents, who demand that you discharge Ms. Freinklin from your study. The Freinklins believe your practice is harming Wendy’s fragile mental state. The family has prepared the following statement:
“Wendy has started talking about the invisible girls again. She says the electric abacus is too loud and that she cannot stand the music anymore. Wendy had been silent about her delusions for years until your study began.”
Cease all communication with Ms. Freinklin immediately. Should you fail to release her from your study, we are prepared to proceed with formal legal action.
Please contact my office with any questions.
Roger Grundig, Esq.
Grundig & Mirkil Law, LLP
Grundig & Mirkil Law. 57910 Benivuti South Ave. La Crosse, Wisconsin
July 10, 1967
Dear Dr. Herman,
We have inspected the reels of tape you brought in and were unable to recover any “transitory sounds.” Also it appears that there is nothing cosmetically wrong with them. This disproves your suggestion that “half the tape got splintered in the machine.”
Our head engineer, Ward, recommends adjusting the input gain levels on your “transitory catchers.” Ward also recommends that you make sure you’re plugging in your homemade microphones.
We understand that your practice is considered experimental. We are only certified to work within the laws of physics, not metaphysics. If you would like a second opinion, please give Murray’s Stereo Jungle a call at (919) 301-9879. Murray and his team distribute far-out music. They are well versed in psychedelics and the sounds of “the unexplained.”
We wish you luck with your research and hope you find a cure.
Department of Ophthalmology
March 10, 1968
Dear Director Hempstead,
I am writing to inform you that I am resigning from my position as professor and research fellow. I have continually faced discrimination from the university’s administration as well as from many of my colleagues regarding my work. My research has been dismissed and my funding depleted.
Various members of the administration have called my studies “woo-woo.” Despite this, I have taken my role at this institution very seriously over the past twelve years and maintained my professionalism.
If I am able to obtain proper funding through private sources, I will continue this work. Should that happen, I will not be presenting any subsequent data to Duke. I will return to campus in one month to retrieve my property. Until then, my office will remain locked.
It is unfortunate that you stopped believing in me and my work. I can only hope that you will better support your doctors and scientists moving forward. The future has no concern for you or your limited beliefs. It begins now and ends never.
Dr. Janet Herman
Project name: Transitory Sound Catcher
Project number: 854305493872
Inventor: Janet Herman
A diagram of the transitory sound catcher, accompanied by a numbered key labeling each component. A large copper ring holds a tuning crystal. The crystal powers two microphones, held within the ring by suspension cables, which connect via cables to audio output jacks. There is a gooseneck attachment so that the entire sound catcher can be put on a mic stand
Drawing approved by H.Z.
Submission date: June, 1967
Term: 4 years
Andy Slater is a media artist, researcher, and disability advocate living in Berwyn, Illinois. His heroes are Jim Rockford, Pauline Oliveros, and Darryl McDaniels. Someday he’ll get around to finishing “______________.”
Shannon Finnegan is a multidisciplinary artist. Some of their recent work includes Anti-Stairs Club Lounge , an ongoing project that gathers people together who share an aversion to stairs; Alt-Text as Poetry , a collaboration with Bojana Coklyat that explores the expressive potential of image description; and Do You Want Us Here or Not , a series of benches and cushions designed for exhibition spaces.