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The Beatles released what they’re calling their “last song” on Nov. 2, featuring vocal tracks of the late John Lennon developed with the assistance of artificial intelligence (AI).
“Now and Then” was released by Universal Music Group, one of the world’s leading music companies, and was accompanied by a short documentary detailing how the track was created using new technologies.
The video explains how director Peter Jackson developed software while working on his comprehensive Beatles documentary, “Get Back,” that allowed the team to uncouple Lennon’s vocals from his piano part in the original cassette tape recording of “Now and Then” from the late 1970s that he initially made as a demo.
“[We developed] a technology which allows us to take any soundtrack and split all the different components into separate tracks based on machine learning.”
In a separate interview, the track’s co-producer Giles Martin explained that AI can be taught to recognize voices:
“So if you and I have a conversation and we’re in a crowded room and there’s a piano playing in the background, we can teach the AI what the sound of your voice, the sound of my voice, and it can extract those voices.”
Paul McCartney, one of the four original Beatles members, said that after they heard of Jackson’s new technology, they “better send John’s voice to them off the original cassette.”
Thus, the new track got off the ground with a little help from AI. John Lennon’s son Sean Ono Lennon commented in the video that his dad “would’ve loved that because he was never shy to experiment with recording technology.”
McCartney echoed the sentiment, saying:
“To still be working on Beatles music in 2023… wow. We’re actually messing around with state-of-the-art technology, which is something the Beatles would’ve been very interested in.”
Along with John Lennon, the track features the two remaining members of the Beatles — McCartney and Ringo Starr — and the late George Harrison.
In response to McCartney’s post on X (formerly Twitter), fans called the new track “beautiful” and a “work of art and perfect way to end the discography.” One fan even said they hope AI will help make a “Beatles live hologram concert on stage” for those who missed the opportunity to see them live.
In a recent survey of musicians conducted by music studio house Pirate, 53% of respondents said they have “concerns about how their audience might perceive music created with the assistance of AI.”
The survey also inquired into why musicians were reluctant to use AI, with 58% reporting that “loss of authenticity” was the primary concern.