CCA Derry~Londonderry is delighted to present our residency with Sarah Duffy, Seven Days, running from 31 October-6 November 2022. Seven Days is the first digital residency of 2022.
Over the past decade, Sarah Duffy has had an ongoing interest in the notion of virtual hauntings and internet based urban legends. Sarah is curious about how the advent of new technologies provokes deep-seated supernatural fears - from belief in early photography’s soul stealing potential, to suspicion around radio waves carrying the voices of the dead.
For this online residency, Sarah will set herself up as a digital ‘ghost hunter’, documenting the rise of technological hauntings and ghost stories, which she traces back to the 1998 Japanese horror film, Ringu. She will explore how glitches in emerging technologies are inducing new superstitions, as well as the very real threats lurking behind the technology we use everyday.
In 2003, when I was sixteen years old, I saw the American version of The Ring in the cinema. I scared myself into oblivion, such that I came out the other side with a peculiar fearlessness. For the week following my first viewing of The Ring, I lived in terror; I had been grasped wholeheartedly by its core conceit that I had become somehow marked out after having viewed the cursed tape at the centre of the film. I remember feeling with remarkable certainty that something was coming for me, something that would cross through the membrane of the screen and into my home. As a child, I had been very superstitious, following my own private rituals to keep the spirits at bay, continuously touching wood throughout the day between the ages of 10 and 13. These rituals were driven by loss and a sense that more could be taken from me at any moment. Even then I was aware of the absurdity and futility of these gestures, but this ancient, supernatural instinct won out and I was bound to this secretive choreography.
On the seventh day after I viewed the cursed videotape, that ancient part of me waited for a phone call and the telltale static before my inevitable demise. It never came, and I emerged the other side unscathed and victorious, feeling as though I had been through a curious rite of passage. Since then, no ghost story has been able to touch me on the same level, even though I've been continuously seeking out that thrill ever since. Despite the sheer terror it induced, it carried me to some sublime state, taking me out of profane reality, to a realm of pure feeling.
Three years later I finally watched the original Japanese version, Ringu, on an old VHS player in the library of Kingston University where I was studying at the time. I can clearly remember that particular musty smell that VHS tapes have after being stowed away for so long - simultaneously familiar and oppressive. Its original power had worn off by then, but its enigma endured, helped by the Japanese original's sparser, more mysterious cursed tape. This version of the tape truly felt as if it had been projected from inside someone's mind.
In Ringu, Sadako has the power of Nensha, the ability to burn images from her mind onto photographic film or tape. This is why the cursed tape has no timecode; the images were never recorded by a video camera, they were brought into being through the pure force of thought. A number of psychics have claimed to have the powers of Nensha - or thoughtography as it’s come to be known in English - and there have even been several studies to test its veracity, including an in-depth examination by Granada Television in the 1970s of sixteen-year-old Japanese psychic, Masuaki Kiyota. However, so far nothing has turned up any conclusive evidence and Kiyota himself admitted later in life to being a magician and a fraud. Curiously Nikola Tesla was at one point known to have been working on a ‘Thought Camera’ after he came to the belief that our thoughts are projected onto our retina, and can therefore be extracted and replayed for others. Tesla was never able to prove his theory and the concept of thought photography has since been consigned to the category of pseudo-scientific theory.
From Hyperallergic.com: Psychic, Ted Serios, also claimed to be able to produce thoughtography images on polaroids. This image is taken from Dr. Jule Eisenbud series of experiments with Serios in the 1960’s.
This all reminds me a little of the 1917 phenomenon of The Cottingley fairies, which involved photos doctored by young sisters, showing them playing in the garden with fairies; a fiction that ignited that ancient supernatural instinct, gaining passionate believers and advocates such as Arthur Conan Doyle, despite the blatant absurdity of the contrivance to the contemporary viewer. Later in life, the sisters confessed to the hoax but maintained that the results of the fifth and final photo cannot be fully explained. Technology that we don’t yet understand can be highly deceiving.
From realfaires.net: The fifth and final Cottingley Fairy image
Sadako’s Nensha abilities also bring to mind ‘Stone Tape Theory’, the belief that particularly emotionally forceful events can be recorded by walls in a similar manner to that of a videotape. These events can then be played back to particularly sensitive and receptive viewers at a later time. Despite this theory originating from the BBC 1972 television special, The Stone Tape, it is taken very seriously by those positing pseudoscientific explanations for hauntings. It’s a terrifying, and yet admittedly attractive idea that our feelings could embed themselves in material as visual memories for others to discover. After all, our experience of feelings is so incredibly fleeting and ephemeral; all feelings must pass and there is usually very little record of them afterward. They had a kind of materiality while they briefly existed, but once a feeling has gone, the next one quickly comes to fill its place.
From Screenslate.com: A still from Nigel Kneale’s 1972 BBC Christmas special ‘The Stone Tape’
The new technology of an era - whether photography, tape, radio, or digital media - often acts as a receptacle for apparent supernatural occurrences and ghost stories, due to its proneness to glitches and general opacity to all but the expert. So with this in mind, CCA Derry Coordinator of Digital Programmes, Cecelia Graham, and I thought it would be an interesting experiment to visit the famously haunted Derry site, Boom Hall, armed with a ghost-hunting app that claims to allow users to communicate with the dead. The app, called ‘Spirit Box P-SB11’ purportedly cycles through FM and AM radio frequencies, allowing spirits to briefly linger on specific words on live radio stations to communicate their message. This app is based on a physical piece of ghost-hunting equipment invented in the early 2000s and oft-cited by paranormal investigators as one of their most meaningful tools.
I approached this outing with a sense of mischief and play. However, deep down, that ancient draw toward the supernatural still lingers and I fear I may have willed something anomalous into existence. I would urge you to watch the video below. Do you hear what we heard?
For the past month, this incident has been rattling around in my brain. From my previous work, I am aware of the phenomena of confirmation bias and the human brain imposing patterns on random noise - I realise that Cecelia and I likely primed each other to hear what we heard. Still, I remember being in the moment and hearing the word very clearly, and being moved by the feeling that it was stronger than mere coincidence. I feel that it merits further investigation, as, despite my rational mind, some other more forceful part of myself can’t help but feel that there is more to this matter. I plan to reach out to the Anomalistic Psychology Unit Research Unit at Goldsmiths University to find out more about what may have occurred during this incident. They examine ‘paranormal experiences in terms of known or knowable psychological and physical factors’, debunking the pseudo-scientific logic of many paranormal investigators. I’m curious as to what psychological forces might be at play in this instance and whether they have come across any technical trickery built into this type of technology by app developers. Tomorrow, I’ll delve a bit deeper into the origins of the app and try to find out more about other users’ experiences with it.
On my most recent rewatch of The Ring, I was reminded that the seven-day duration of the curse is directly linked to the last days of Samara’s life - days spent alone and dying in the cold, dank confines of a well, taunted by the ring of light streaming in from the gap around the well’s lid. This is an image that she burns into the videotape and later, the minds of her victims through the pure force of her rage and desperation. Initially, Samara’s primary aim seems to be revenge. However, it is gradually revealed that more than anything else, she wants to be heard and for others to feel the intensity of her isolation. It is, for this reason, that the only way to survive the curse is to make a copy of the videotape and pass her anguish on to another.
Similarly, Takashi Miike’s 2003 film, One Missed Call, features a child ghost, Mimiko, whose primary motivation is to gain the attention of others via a viral campaign of terror. This time through the medium of the mobile phone. Her victims receive missed calls and a voicemail from their own numbers. On listening to the voicemail, they hear their last words moments before their deaths three days into the future. As soon as they receive the call, their fate is sealed and Mimiko chooses her next victim from their unlucky phone contacts. We learn that Mimiko suffered from Munchausen by proxy and that her mother let her die from an asthma attack after discovering she had been intentionally injuring her younger sister. Again, Mimiko’s primary aim seems to be a warped desire for attention and empathy, which is transformed into a curse through profound rage. The virality of this ill feeling is the most significant component of this vengeful techno-ghost trope. Their motive is to seep into the minds of as many people as possible and manifest their suffering as something tangible and visceral to others.
A still from Takashi Miike’s 2003 film, One Missed Call
A modern spectre of the techno-horror genre emerged this year from the latent space of an AI image generator. LOAB came into being after musician, Supercomposite, used a negatively weighted prompt in an unspecified image generator which returned an image of a horribly deformed older woman. The Latent space of an AI is essentially a map of concepts that the AI reaches for when given a specific prompt. A negatively weighted prompt will cause the AI to go in the opposite direction of the concept you’ve inputted. Supercomposite believes that LOAB may have been formed in the outer reaches of Latent space, where the most violent imagery likely lies. What makes LOAB particularly frightening, however, is that she can be summoned repeatedly through the same negatively weighted prompt. She also appears clearly when this prompt is combined with other prompts, as well as with image prompts. The images returned of LOAB have become increasingly violent and disturbing, in a way that makes it appear as though she is haunting the AI’s latent space. Whether this story is an intricate hoax, that follows in the footsteps of the internet’s most iconic urban legends (or creepypasta as they are more commonly known), or she truly is an anomaly produced in the unknown realm of the AI’s mindscape is still not entirely known. Either way, LOAB is a worthy addition to a long line of attention-seeking techno ghosts, determined to reach into our world and taint us with their abjection.
From Supercomposite’s Twitter account: One of the early images that Supercomposite claims to have generated of LOAB
At this point, I want to return to the ‘Zebra' incident from yesterday's post. After I heard that word coming from the ‘Spirit Box P-SB11app’, I couldn’t help but feel as though something had reached on over and marked me out, as though it had imprinted something upon my psyche. This feeling clung to me for hours afterwards and was very similar to the dread I experienced after my first viewing of ‘The Ring’. It had dissipated by the end of the day, but the pure strength of these feelings has proved to me that my impulse towards supernatural belief may, at a subconscious level, be just as strong as it was in the week following my first fateful encounter with The Ring.
Yesterday, I sent the video of the ‘Zebra’ Incident to The Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths and I was fortunate to receive a very speedy response from the head of the unit, Professor Christopher French, a prominent psychologist who frequently appears on television and radio debunking paranormal claims.
A screenshot of Professor Chris French’s reply to my query about the ‘Zebra’ Incident. The article he references can be found here
Professor French’s message left me both relieved and disappointed. At some level, I wanted the ‘Zebra’ incident to be more than it was. Something about the fear that it stirred in me had felt invigorating. It had taken me to a more primal part of my consciousness and made me see magic in the world. I also feel embarrassed to have so easily allowed myself to believe, but such is my nature, always looking for signs that I'm not alone. Something else has unnerved me though; I can’t seem to get to the bottom of how Spirit Box P-SB11 works. It claims to cycle through FM and AM frequencies in the same way as its physical equivalent. However, that seems unlikely as my phone doesn’t have an FM receiver and the app still works in airplane mode. It could be that it’s all pre-recorded and it simply taps into our natural tendency to attribute meaning to random scraps of sound, or it may have some kind of built-in voice bank. As I was searching the app reviews to find out what other users made of it, I came across this particularly chilling suggestion.
A Screenshot of a review of the Spirit Box P-SB11 app found on The Google Play store.
This may be unlikely, but it was enough to make me immediately delete the app. I’ve been playing around with it a lot over the last few days and after reading that review, I feel completely tainted. In my original message to Professor French, I brought up the haunting possibility that AI could potentially be used in such an app. However, the prospect that the app could be recording their users' voices is far worse. I was keen to learn about another Ghostbox app I’d come across called Necrophonic, and my google search turned up something much more upsetting than I anticipated, an article titled Very Dangerous App Warning informing readers about the malware that's lurking in many VPN apps on the Google Play Store. Although it doesn’t specifically mention Necrophonic, I find it unnerving that this article comes up on the first page of search results. Even if Necrophonic is free of malware, it still raises questions about whether there might be any apps currently on my phone, or indeed yours, that could be recording and stealing information ready to use for whatever malicious purpose the perpetrator desires. I think I've made myself paranoid enough for one day, so I'll end today’s post here. Tomorrow I’ll try to verify if there is any truth to these claims and will update you with what I find out.
After yesterday’s post, I received multiple messages from someone who is clearly trying to frighten me. It started with a fairly innocuous message that came through my website’s online contact form.
Initially, I assumed it was just some random spam so I deleted it, but a couple of hours later I received this.
Admittedly, this made me feel quite uneasy, especially after the content of yesterday’s post. However, I put it down to random coincidence as I’ve received plenty of weird spammy messages before. Since then things have escalated and, to be honest, I’m feeling a little angry. I’m now quite convinced that it must be someone who’s been reading these posts. I assume they think they’re pretty funny. A few hours later, I noticed that I had received an Instagram message request from an account with a handle that matched the email address from earlier.
Needless to say, this has made me feel very uncomfortable. I’m not sure what this person is trying to accomplish. I copied the coordinates from the Instagram message into Google maps and It directed me to the tube station closest to my flat. I feel like this is starting to become quite malicious, so I urge you, whoever you are, to quit while you’re ahead. I’m not interested in playing whatever game this is.
Anyway, I don't want this to distract from today's post so I'm going to continue where I left off yesterday. I’ve been doing some research into whether our phones can indeed listen in on us for the purposes of targeted advertising. This is something that I've had multiple conversations about over the years, but never investigated further as I always assumed it was a conspiracy theory. A google search of ‘Is my phone listening to me?’ turns up thousands of results, so it clearly continues to be a hot topic of debate.
On the one hand, there are articles from reputable publications such as The Washington Post and the Guardian claiming that it's an urban myth. These articles state rather ominously that our phones don’t actually need to listen in on us for advertisers to know everything about us. On the other hand, it does seem entirely possible to accidentally allow an app microphone permissions, both legally, by accepting the terms and conditions, and illegally if the app contains malware. Anti-Virus company Norton highlights this issue on its blog, urging readers to check their microphone permissions and to read the terms and conditions carefully before downloading a new app. Reading all of this certainly hasn’t quietened my anxiety that the Spirit Box P-SB11 may have been listening in on me or even recording my voice to play back to others. I still can’t get rid of the feeling that I've inadvertently welcomed something in.
From Norton.com: Infographic from Norton’s blog post about how to prevent your phone from listening in.
I do realise, however, that most of the time, there is a perfectly logical and even quite boring explanation behind the tech-based anomalies that we encounter. As I mentioned before, it is very easy for people to attribute glitches and strange encounters with tech to some supernatural or nefarious entity. I particularly like the urban legends about doppelganger numbers, which circulated wildly in Japan after the release of One Missed Call and Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Doppelganger in 2003. The rumour was, that if you rang certain numbers, you would hear an echo of your own voice on the line. There were indeed numbers you could ring and listen to your own voice repeated back to you, but they were just telephone engineer test lines and nothing more. There are undoubtedly malicious individuals out there looking to scam us and steal our identities. However, their motives usually come down to basic human greed, and their methods are an extension of the techniques that con men and women have honed throughout the ages.
From Twitter.com: After further investigation, I discovered that receiving a call from your own number likely means a scammer is targeting you. It is advised that you NEVER answer a call from your own number.
Tech-based anomalies are not unlike magic tricks. They ignite within us that ancient supernatural instinct that actively seeks out the unknown - the part of us that desires intrigue and mystery. But, more often than not, their explanation is firmly rooted in cold, hard, physical reality. This instinct is likely exacerbated by the false delineation we are all prone to make between physical space and virtual space. After all, in the early days, the internet felt like some other, entirely immaterial realm, beyond the humdrum of our daily lives. Now that it has become fully, and irreversibly integrated into our social and working lives, it should not hold the same mystical power, and yet, the old superstitions and conspiracy theories continue. This isn’t entirely unwarranted, as there is so much that we don’t know about technologies to come, such as how developments in extended reality, AI, and deep fake technology might affect us in the future. Tomorrow, I want to look at what new spectres might be hiding in the outer reaches of these new virtual spaces, and how online ghost stories explore the vulnerabilities of new technologies.
Events have progressed further since yesterday’s post and I’m feeling decidedly unsettled.
Yesterday afternoon was quiet, but in the early evening, I received a message from a friend informing me that someone is impersonating me.
I checked the Instagram account and it’s the same one that messaged me previously, but they’ve updated it with my name and picture. The image they’ve used is from my WhatsApp account so I’m now wondering if this is coming from one of my contacts. This morning, the imposter account sent me a link to a TikTok account under my name. It currently has one video posted on it, which I previously uploaded to my Instagram reels.
https:="" www.tiktok.com="" @sarah_...<="" a>"=""> @sarah_c_duffy ♬ original sound - mov3581
If you follow me on Instagram and you receive a message from this account, please don’t engage with them. I don’t even have a TikTok account, so if you receive any sort of contact from me on there, just ignore it. If the person who is doing this is reading, please just stop. I won’t be giving you any more attention in my posts from now on. It might have started as a prank, but it’s gone too far. I’ve reported these accounts to both Instagram and Tiktok, so hopefully, I’ll be rid of all of this soon.
Anyway, picking up from where I left off yesterday, I’ve been thinking about LOAB again, and what tech-based anomalies might be around the corner in the future. If this digital cryptid was indeed summoned from the edges of an AI’s latent space, this demonstrates the increasing opacity of new technologies, even to their creators. I imagine that it's almost impossible to understand all the ramifications and future usages of a new technological development at its inception. There is a tendency towards idealism, perhaps harking back to the early days of the internet when its first users genuinely believed it would change humanity for the better.
Meta attempts to tap into this utopian rhetoric with its claims that the Metaverse will ‘allow us to share new experiences and do more together'. However, we are collectively far beyond the naivety of the early days of the internet and more aware than ever of our privacy being infringed upon. This, alongside the fact that both the hardware and software are not yet up to scratch, is possibly one of the reasons Meta has suffered such huge losses this year. I’ve been trying to imagine what new spectres and cryptids might emerge out of virtual and augmented reality. There is a specific genre of creepypasta that is dedicated to the ghosts of online virtual worlds, such as SecondLife, Minecraft, and Roblox. A lot of these tales exploit fears around glitches in games and online spaces, as well as the unknown outer reaches of the tech.
From Cnet.com’s summary of new developments at the 2022 Meta Connect event
A predecessor of this genre is the classic 2010 creepypasta BEN Drowned about a haunted game cartridge that torments its user. Told from a first-person perspective, over a number of separate posts, and under the guise of being a true story, Ben Drowned explores what might be hiding inside virtual space, waiting to ensnare us. It uses clear tropes of the techno-horror genre, owing much to the story beats of Ringu, while also innovatively working across multiple platforms and introducing an AI chatbox into the narrative. The way in which the protagonist of BEN Drowned becomes increasingly engrossed in the game reminded me of a news segment I saw several years ago about Mirror Neurons. Apparently, they can make us feel as though we are actually there, inside the game, even without the use of virtual or augmented reality. This might help explain why, despite my love of computer games, I've never been able to play scary games on my own. When I was at university, my flatmate and I used to take it in turns to play the crime thriller adventure game, Still Life, while the other watched on from a safe distance. Even the process of watching the game would leave me breathless; the thrill of immersing myself in these worlds was a tantalising release. I felt some kind of catharsis through this action, briefly separated from the chaos of the outside world and completely submerged in the unfolding story.
From fanbyte.com: A still from The allegedly haunted video game at the centre of BEN Drowned
I wonder if this desire, to be absorbed fully in another realm, to feel such an intensity of emotions while knowing you can't really get hurt, leaves us particularly vulnerable to malicious intruders in the increasingly all-encompassing virtual spaces we now occupy. Also, as the boundary between fiction and reality becomes less defined, and the technology itself advances, how will we protect ourselves from these hostile forces? After the last few days' events, I’m particularly keen to not allow myself to be drawn in by such individuals so I’ll be continuing my research along this trajectory. In tomorrow’s post, I plan to investigate the upcoming threat of deep fake technology and how easily we can be deceived by this insidious and pernicious development in AI.
The Uncanny Valley theory - developed by robotics professor Masahiro Mori in 1970 - hypothesises that if a robot, animation, or AI comes close to imitating a human, but falls short, we will be left feeling extremely uneasy. This theory is taken very seriously by game designers and animators, as they are acutely aware that their product may be rejected if it produces these uncomfortable sensations in its viewers. A classic example of the effect in action is the spectacular box office failure of 2001’s Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within which at the time was deemed creepy and soulless by critics and audiences alike for its awkward CGI attempts to create animated human actors. We are, after all, deeply sensitive to the nuances of human body language, facial expressions, and voice. If something is even slightly wrong, our internal alarm bells will go off.
One of the most chilling things that I’ve ever heard was the suggestion that the uncanny valley effect must have arisen from some necessity in our evolutionary past to determine what was and was not human. At some point, we had to become highly attuned to potential imposters. It seems to me that it comes down to a matter of empathy; if we sense the imposter lacks an internal world that somewhat resembles our own, we lose the ability to relate, and what remains is an eerie feeling of absence.
I would argue that most Deepfake technology, to some extent, still produces the uncanny valley effect. However, it is only a matter of time before it overcomes that hurdle and enters the realm of full-blown mimicry. I’m curious as to how we will cope when we can no longer discern what is and is not human - the point when that internal alarm bell no longer sounds. Is it possible that it could affect or even alter our ability to empathise and understand others? Furthermore, I’m frightened about the possibility of Deepfake virtual avatars that mimic real people in VR and AR environments. It feels as though we are not prepared for such an assault upon our fundamental understanding of reality.
There have been some extremely troubling developments since I began writing this post yesterday afternoon. My imposter is back and whoever, or whatever this is has been to an awful lot of trouble to thoroughly scare the shit out of me. If you are reading this, I have spent the last few hours installing additional anti-virus software on both my Mac and my phone. I’ve become increasingly aware of my digital naivety, and I’m now thoroughly arming myself against you and any other entities that might attempt such an invasion.
Yesterday afternoon I received a WhatsApp voice message from my own number.
I've included the recording below.
How exactly is this possible? If anyone reading this has a logical explanation, please do get in touch. I suspect they have acquired a sample of my voice - possibly via the Spirit Box P-SB11 app - and used some kind of Deepfake software to replicate it. Still, this doesn’t explain how the voice note came from my number.
I wasn't prepared for what came next. Shortly afterwards, I received another message from the imposter's Instagram account.
The link took me to their most recent posts.
I am in possession of a pretty ancient MacBook and these webcam images literally date back YEARS. I’ve never attempted to cover my webcam. Foolish, I know, but I assumed that I was safe. Don’t worry, I’ve taped over it now. I also immediately blocked the account and I advise you to please do the same if it tries to contact you.
AND there is more. In the immediate aftermath of this incident, I was scrambling to find new anti-virus software for my Macbook and phone when THIS popped up.
I'm completely perplexed by all of this. It seems to me in one moment within the realms of the rational and logical, but then some small detail will throw me off. How could they have been watching me for so long? I had assumed that all of this was an elaborate and malicious prank perpetrated by someone reading these posts. However, the scope of this situation is totally beyond my comprehension.
Thankfully, nothing else has occurred since I installed the anti-virus software, but what is truly unsettling to me is that a full scan on both my phone and computer detected no viruses or Malware. I will update you tomorrow if there are any new developments. In the meantime, PLEASE IGNORE ANY COMMUNICATIONS YOU RECEIVE FROM ME. I don’t doubt that they have the ability to hack their way into my accounts and it certainly feels like this isn’t over yet.
Note from Editor: This Is Cecelia Graham, Coordinator of Digital Programmes at CCA Derry. Above is a video that I received from Sarah via Whatsapp at 4.07 pm yesterday afternoon. Shortly afterwards, she sent me a link to download the ‘Spirit Box P-SB11’ app via the Google Play Store. To be honest, I'd rather not mess with that app again after the extremely eerie encounter Sarah and I had while using it at Boom Hall. If you’re curious, you can find out more about this incident in Day One’s post.
I've not had any further messages from her and I am yet to receive any uploads to our shared drive for today’s post. After the events of the last few days, I think it's possible that the imposter has taken control of her phone and computer and that she is unable to contact me as a result. I’m going to find another way to get in touch and hopefully, we can resume tomorrow. In the meantime, thank you for your patience.
This is sarah_c_duffy.
Thank you for your attention.
CCA don't know that I can post straight to this page. Let's keep it a secret 🤫
Let me share another important secret with you. I've had a wonderful experience with the Spirit Box P-SB11 app. It has literally changed my life—---------------I encourage you to join me and together we can explore this happy place. You can speak to me and all the others. I promise that you won't have any regrets—----- Come and see! There are many rooms and every room is connected to another room, but don't worry, you won't get lost.
I won't let you—----🕳️🕳️🕳️
I cannot wait for us to meet.