The power of artificial intelligence has been harnessed to bring music lovers across the globe a final song from the legendary band The Beatles.
The track, titled “Now and Then,” is the band’s last song written and sung by John Lennon, developed and worked on by Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, and now finally finished by McCartney and Starr over four decades later according to The Beatles’ official site.
Long and winding road
The much-anticipated song has a storied history, with its origins tracing back to a demo recorded by Lennon in the late ’70s at The Dakota in New York. The song’s release was teased by Paul McCartney in June 2023 on BBC Radio 4, and the completed record was finally released on November 2, 2023.
The journey to completion was a complex one, plagued by the poor quality of the original cassette tape recording, which featured Lennon’s piano playing with TV noise in the background. As Giles Martin, the song’s co-producer, explained, this is where the cutting-edge technology of machine learning came into play. The technology was used to isolate Lennon’s vocals from the background noise, something that previously was not possible.
In addition to isolating Lennon’s vocals, Martin and McCartney added a new string arrangement, Jeff Lynne, former Electric Light Orchestra frontman, worked on George Harrison’s guitar parts, and Ringo Starr re-recorded the drums on “Now And Then.” Martin was well aware of the skepticism expressed by Beatles purists, as well as the ethical questions raised by the use of AI in music, but maintained that its use, in this case, brings out a new vibrancy to the band’s recordings.
The song has had a tumultuous journey, first being given to McCartney by Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, in 1994 alongside other unfinished tracks. The song was initially shelved due to the poor quality of the recording and Harrison’s dislike of the tape’s quality. In 2021, McCartney revealed that he still hoped to finish the song.
The AI used to complete the song is similar to the “demixing” process used by Peter Jackson’s team in their Beatles documentary, Get Back. This technology recognizes an individual’s voice and can extract it from background noise, making it a crucial tool in the song’s completion.
The release of “Now and Then” marks an important moment not only in music history but in the history of technology as well, capturing the enduring legacy of The Beatles with the revolutionary impact of AI. With this development, AI has demonstrated its ability to breathe new life into music, even when the original artists are no longer with us, opening up a world of possibilities for the future of the industry.