Schools Training

Audio Forensics – From Audio School to Crime Scene Investigator

14 AUG 2012
Career Path : Audio Engineering

Because the fatal shooting of unarmed African American teenager Trayvon Martin was caught on a 911 recording, the outcome of the murder case against shooter George Zimmerman may hinge on the expert testimony of specialists in a little known field called audio forensics, in which the kinds of skills learned in audio school are used to solve crimes.


In the Zimmerman case, some leading American audio forensics specialists have already weighed in on the recordings. One of the techniques used, audio enhancement, is a staple of the sound engineering school curriculum.


Cases like these remind us that not all audio school graduates are destined to work back stage or in recording studios. In fact, many of the techniques taught in sound engineering school have their roots in fields other than entertainment. Audio forensics, for instance, came into being during WWII, in an effort to glean as much information as possible about the enemy from their radio broadcasts.


(Some of the names that students may encounter in their history courses at audio engineering school are notable for their military service. While in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, American sound engineer Jack Mullin recovered revolutionary German magnetic tape recording technology. Crooner Bing Crosby was an early adopter of this technology. Up until that time, most radio programs were broadcast live. Crosby was looking for a high quality way to pre-record shows, and this was it.)


So, instead of working for studio executives and recording artists, graduates of audio engineering school may find themselves working for:


-          police departments

-          prosecutors

-          private detectives

-          defence attorneys

-          investigative media


Graduates of audio engineering school who go on to specialize in audio forensics may be called upon to analyze:


-          recordings made by undercover officers

-          answering machine messages

-          audio footage from surveillance cameras

-          as in the case of Trayvon Martin, 911 recordings


Main tasks of audio school grads who pursue a forensics career include:


-          audio enhancement: the goal of this classic sound engineering school technique is to make sounds, especially voices, clearer. It is frequently applied to surveillance video, which is notorious for its poor sound quality.

-          speaker recognition: using audio school engineering techniques to determine the identity of speakers. (In the Zimmerman case, the identity of the person crying for help is of particular interest.)

-          authentication: in many cases, graduates of sound engineering school must determine whether or not audio evidence has been tampered with. With the advent of digital technology, it has become easier to tamper with recordings.


Recent developments in audio forensics


Students in audio school programs may have already heard about new automatic speech recognition software that is applied to hearing aids. These tools, which try to mimic the way humans perceive sound, are now being applied to speaker recognition in forensics research.


In conclusion, life after sound engineering school can take enterprising students in any number of exciting directions, including audio forensics.


Visit Trebas Institute for more information on audio school.