For a certain segment of the population, hearing that there will be a brand new track from The Beatles this year is equivalent to the discovery of the Holy Grail. It’s been more than 50 years since the group disbanded, and almost 30 years since the last Beatles collaboration (Anthology). Only two of the four band members remain alive, so how, one might ask, can they release a new track? Paul McCartney has the answer: artificial intelligence.
Before you get visions of a ghostly, semi-robotic John Lennon being resurrected from beyond the grave, this isn’t the kind of wholesale A.I. that invents an entirely new vocal (á la that creepy version of Lennon lauding A.I. that went viral last month). Instead, with technology pioneered by Peter Jackson for his documentary Get Back, Lennon’s voice can be isolated and strengthened from an existing unreleased demo.
“He [Jackson] was able to extricate John’s voice from a ropey little bit of cassette. We had John’s voice and a piano and he could separate them with AI. They tell the machine, ‘That’s the voice. This is a guitar. Lose the guitar,’” McCartney explained on BBC Radio 4’s Today (via BBC). “So when we came to make what will be the last Beatles’ record, it was a demo that John had [and] we were able to take John’s voice and get it pure through this A.I. Then we can mix the record, as you would normally do. So it gives you some sort of leeway.”
Speculation suggests the track will be “Now And Then,” a demo that was considered for the Anthology project. “It didn’t have a very good title, it needed a bit of reworking, but it had a beautiful verse and it had John singing it,” McCartney told Q Magazine in 2006 (via NBC News). “[But] George [Harrison] didn’t like it. The Beatles being a democracy, we didn’t do it.”
Since it was tinkered with during the Anthology, that means it also features some work from Harrison, the band’s other deceased member. Add some drums from Ringo Starr, and you’ve got a bonafide Beatles track—the very last one that will ever be released. That is, unless their voices and sound are harvested by A.I. in the future.
“I’m not on the internet that much [but] people will say to me, ‘Oh, yeah, there’s a track where John’s singing one of my songs’, and it’s just A.I., you know?” McCartney said in the radio interview. “It’s kind of scary but exciting, because it’s the future. We’ll just have to see where that leads.”