All you need is love, but artificial intelligence can sometimes help. Paul McCartney told BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday that he used AI to extract the late John Lennon’s voice from an old demo tape to create what he called the last Beatles recording. Although McCartney did not name the song, the BBC reports that it is “likely to be a 1978 Lennon composition called Now And Then”.
“We just finished it and it will be released this year,” McCartney said.
McCartney received the demo tape in 1994 from Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, on a tape marked “For Paul”. It is one of several songs that Lennon recorded shortly before he was killed in 1980. According to the BBC, Lennon sat down at a piano in his New York apartment at the Dakota and recorded the “lo-fi and embryonic” songs on a boombox.
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The surviving Beatles tried to record the song in the mid-1990s, but McCartney told Q Magazine that band member George Harrison objected because of the poor quality of Lennon’s vocals. The song also reportedly had a constant background hum from the noise in Lennon’s apartment.
“It didn’t have a very good title, it needed a bit of reworking, but it had a beautiful verse and John sang it,” McCartney told the magazine.
He said an AI program was used to separate Lennon’s vocals from the background to clean up the sound. The piece was inspired by McCartney’s work with Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson on the 2021 Beatles documentary series The Beatles: The Return.
Jackson was able to “get John’s voice out of a little rope on a tape,” McCartney said on BBC Radio 4. “We had John’s voice and a piano and he could separate them with AI. They say to the machine, “This is the voice. It’s a guitar. Lose the guitar.
There is no specific release date for the song.
AI to ‘enhance human creativity’
McCartney admitted to being a bit wary of AI. Since the launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT late last year, there has been a flood of new generative AI tools and services released by Microsoft, Google, Adobe and others. While some of these tools can help people craft their artistic ideas, some critics have raised concerns about AI.
“I’m not on the internet that much, (but) people will tell me, ‘Oh yeah, there’s a song where John sings one of my songs,’ and it’s just AI, you know?” McCartney said. “It’s kind of scary, but exciting because this is the future.” We’ll just have to see where it takes us.”
But at least one musician is excited about the news.
“What music lover couldn’t be charmed and intrigued by today’s announcement?” AI expert and musician Dr. Martin Clancy said in a statement. “This is a textbook example of how we should use this technology to enable and enhance human creativity, rather than reproduce endless fake copies of zombies.” I hope this will show the music community that AI is nothing to fear, as long as we take steps now to tickle the potential of the technology and rethink its application.”
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