Crook Frightfulness was first brought to my attention by the marvel Westwyrd the Bard: drum-specialist and custodian of curiousness. For those unacquainted with the book, it's an autobiography of a man tormented by crooks who embark on a campaign of staring, ventriloquism and covert psychological harassments against the author. The "Victim" writes of his personal hell in which everybody else is either complicit, or simply fails to notice the ventriloquist abusers who stalk him across the British colonies. Crooks are also able to hear the Victim's thoughts by a theorised listening apparatus used with headphones (a sort of powerful stethoscope device). Some of the antiquated colonial sentiments add an extra dimension of bizarreness. A colleague described Crook Frightfulness as an "acoustic mystery thriller" although it's generally seen as a schizophrenic emission. For anybody interested in sound, its psychology and its perception/misperception, it's a particularly fascinating book, as the author manages to "attain a degree of impersonal interest" (as he puts it) and proceeds to investigate the phenomena from his own practical, acoustical viewpoint.
Crook Frightfulness is split into three parts. The first part - some 40 odd pages - begins almost like a potboiler; autobiographical sensationalism comparable to, say, Sydney Horler's 1934 exposé, London's Underworld. Part two is written more matter-of-factly, albeit disjointedly and with heightened paranoia. Here, the author writes of his experiences and travels around the colonies to outmanoeuvre the 'crooks'. The third part is the 'Vital Climax' where the crooks' terrible practices are examined (involving listening apparatuses). In FT305, it is suggested that the Victim did experience a genuine low-level persecution that left a lasting resonance.
|Charles Wheatstone's 'Telephonic Concert' at the Royal Polytechnic Institution|
"I frequently tried to stifle the annoyance by stopping or closing my ears with my fingers, and when doing so, I rested my elbows on my knees or put my elbows upon the wooden table. Strange to say, I found that neither of these expedients stopped or banished the sound (...) The sound when I stopped my ears must have travelled through the wood of the floor and of the table and then through my bones to my ears! (...) They no doubt send sounds (by means of some instrument) to molest any intended victim who is in the same premises, or even in adjoining premises."
|A BBC "sound 'outfit'" of the period|
The compilation of biographical facts (gleaned from both the first and expanded editions) revealed the author was born in the East End of London, in or around 1875. He was involved in rent collection and property. He left Britain for New Zealand in 1924, moved to the British West Indies around 1928, and returned to Britain to settle in Aberystwyth in March 1932. Many hours at Kew's National Archives yielded a list of some fifty or so names, gradually whittled down as each name was followed up. The use of digital archives plays a key role in such research.
The book presents quite a sad predicament, but it's hoped that the discovery of the author's name will enable further study of the text, which charts the onset of auditory disorientation at a point in history where technology could not quite yet provide reasonable objective explanation for the phenomena. There are a surprising number of narratives very similar to Crook Frightfulness (some early examples are examined in the article). Today, people with these afflictions/assailments often cite James Lin's 1978 textbook Microwave Auditory Effects and Applications that superficially appears to corroborate all sonic "unseen assailment" phenomena (although, in practice, such technology is very impractical).
Anyways... It's not my intention here to delve into the arguments surrounding these phenomena (perhaps in a future posting), it is simply to examine curios and mythologies from acoustical hinterlands. (It is worth mentioning that a semblance of 'voices' can be perceived during exposure to fluctuating white or pink noise for extended periods. This is a psychoacoustic effect: auditory pareidolia. In one notable example, it is employed in a sound installation by U.S. sound artist Ellen Band in her Acoustic Mirage.)
The full particulars on Crook Frightfulness can be found in Fortean Times #305.