The two surviving members of the Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, have released a song John Lennon wrote in the 1970s. McCartney wrestled with the ethics of releasing the band’s last song using artificial intelligence (AI) technology developed by filmmaker Peter Jackson.
The artificial intelligence helped McCartney and Starr bring out Lennon’s vocals from an otherwise grainy mono recording. Unlike the recent AI songs mimicking the vocals of artists Drake and The Weeknd, the record uses the same technology Jackson used in his 2021 Beatles docuseries.
Beatles Refresh Lennon Vocals With AI
Instead of creating a new song, the Beatles used Jackson’s technology to extract and polish up vocals Lennon recorded. Toronto-based music publisher Michael McCarty affirmed this was not another instance of AI-generated music.
“This is not a fake John Lennon created by a computer. This is the real John Lennon whose voice was basically buried in tape hiss and a wobbly piano on an old demo.”
McCartney and Starr began production on the track in 1994 after receiving three demo tapes from Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono. Unsatisfied with the quality of the original recording, the pair abandoned the production until restorative technologies were developed.
Jackson’s documentary tech gave the duo the ability to separate different elements of the original mono recording. McCartney compared the process to isolating different ingredients of a stew.
“You have all your potatoes and carrots and everything in it, and you decide, ‘I want to take those things out.’ Well, now you can take the carrots out and the potatoes out and put them back in their original form.”
Now and Then was released at 10:00 Eastern Time on Thursday.
How Should We View Posthumous AI Art?
The release of the restored track raises questions about the ethics of releasing an artist’s work posthumously with the help of AI. McCartney said he wrestled with the ethics of using Lennon’s vocals, and asked himself whether this is what his former bandmate would have wanted.
In the end, based on his previous longstanding relationship with Lennon, McCartney concluded he would have consented to the process. But what happens if an AI song disrupts the connections fans have with the original artist?
With this in mind, McCarty argued that Lennon’s legacy should not be conflated with snippets of his voice. These, he argued, don’t embody the “soul of music.”
Indeed, an artist can infuse a composition with vocal and musical nuances that AI may not have the ability to fully reproduce. Like any restorative effort, the process needs human judgment to burnish an artist’s well-established legacy.