NPR | By Bill Chappell / Published June 13, 2023 12:41 PM ET
The music has analog roots, but now it’s being revived by futuristic technology: The Beatles have completed a new recording using an old demo tape by John Lennon, thanks to AI tools that isolate Lennon’s voice, according to Paul McCartney.
“We just finished it up, it’ll be released this year,” McCartney, Lennon’s former bandmate, told the Today program on BBC Radio 4. It will be “the last Beatles record,” said McCartney, who along with Ringo Starr is one of two surviving band members.
But if you’re picturing McCartney sitting at a keyboard and telling ChatGPT, “sing a John Lennon verse,” that’s not what happened. Instead, they used source material from a demo recording that Lennon made before his death in 1980.
“We were able to take John’s voice and get it pure through this AI, so that then we could mix the record as you would normally do. So, it gives you some sort of leeway.”
McCartney says he realized technology could offer a new chance to work on the music after seeing Peter Jackson, the famously technically astute filmmaker, resurrect archival materials for Get Back, his documentary about the band making the Let It Be album.
“He was able to extricate John’s voice from a ropey little bit of cassette which had John’s voice and a piano,” McCartney said of the director.
“He could separate them with AI. They could, they’d tell the machine, ‘That’s a voice. This is a guitar. Lose the guitar.’ And he did that.”
McCartney didn’t give details about what he says is The Beatles’ final record, poised to emerge decades after Lennon was shot and killed in December 1980.
But author Keith Badman has reported that in 1994, Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, gave McCartney several of the late singer and songwriter’s home demo recordings.
The tape included Lennon’s love song “Now And Then.” As the BBC’s Mark Savage notes, previous attempts to finish the song were abandoned due to the poor audio quality of Lennon’s voice on the recording.
In the interview, McCartney also said he’s concerned with how AI might be used going forward, given its ability to perform trickery like replacing one singer’s vocals with another person.
“All of that is kind of scary,” McCartney said, “but exciting — because it’s the future.”