Recently it was reported that a new Beatles track would be released using AI. The headline is disarming for a true Beatles fan. Would this be like the Drake/Weeknd track that is essentially a deep fake that the artists never approved of and tarnishes their creative talent and output? That Drake/Weeknd collaboration racked up 600,000 listens on Spotify before Drake’s label had the ripoff track pulled. It’s hard to know what to think about this considering Drake himself has alluded his audience to whether he is the real deal or a guy riding the coat tails of other rappers or employing ghost writers to write his lyrics. Music journalists and artists rallied to remind audiences of the danger to creative arts and copyright.
Faster Networks has written extensively about AI’s use in conversation, email communication, digital arts, photos, videos and all the options for deep fakes. When we discussed deep fakes here, we concluded that, “if basic lies can influence entire communities, then the synthetic production of deepfake media to create any story, using any character, backdrop or message is something that should keep us alert and alarmed”. That was written some years ago and we are fully in and invested in what is means to steal someone’s creative capital and spread it, even if, the platform where it sits pulls it in a reasonable time. It’s too easy to dismiss all AI as a negative influence on creativity. However, the Beatles’ Spotify catalogue is blemished with all sorts of AI, just the old kind, remastering. See Help! (Remastered) and Revolver, etc. In fact the whole Beatles prolific collection has been remastered. That used to be humans taking apart the song, clearing debris and polishing the sound.
Digging deeper however, we come to learn that there is a real and beautiful story playing alongside this new song, told by Paul McCartney himself, that is nuanced and is blessed with good intentions and is, essentially about preserving an archive while continuing the creative output of a band that changed the world.
The song is an old demo on cassette that John Lennon recorded “For Paul” in 1978. There were 4 songs and 2 of those songs were released in 1995 and 1996 on Anthology CD’s. The recordings were updated using the technology at the time, a reworking from the 3 remaining living Beatles’ members, George, Paul and Ringo. The world at large has never heard this final recording rumoured to be titled, Now and Then.
As AI revolutionises the art world, conversation, knowledge access, and all the genres of science, creativity, entertainment and communication, it’s so easy to go down a negative thinking spiral that ends with the question, what is left that is real? Let’s unpack that a little bit using the new Beatles song as an example. When Peter Jackson made the 9 hour documentary series Get Back (2021), he used AI technology that ‘demixed’ original recordings of their rehearsals that were originally filmed for the 1970, fly on the wall documentary, Let It Be. Lennon and McCartney went out of their way to subvert the recordings of private conversations by strumming their guitars and turn up their amps while talking, knowing that the filmmakers would never be able to decipher their words. The demixing effect Peter Jackson employed enabled them to strip the guitar sounds from the recordings and have only the talking and voices remain, #genius.
George Harrison believed the Now and Then recording compromised the breadth of talent in a Lennon vocal and Paul acknowledges that the Beatles were always a democracy and so this recording gathered dust. But now, with AI demixing technology Paul has another chance to release this tune in its best light. The Beatles talent lives on, as it always will, but what a fantastic opportunity to celebrate AI technology at its best.