When yesterday meets AI's tomorrow

Ultimately, "Now and Then" is more than just a song—it's a bridge across time, a labour of love that connects us to The Beatles once more


Even though The Beatles had long since parted ways by the time I came into the world, their songs were the soundtrack of every family car trip. I remember staring out the window, the world whizzing by, as 'Here Comes the Sun' played. Those melodies became the backdrop of my childhood memories, accompanying me through everyday chores.

Fast forward to 2023, half a decade after their dissolution. The Beatles are once again aiming to capture the charts, this time with a song that fuses their timeless appeal with the cutting-edge intricacies of Artificial Intelligence (AI). "Now and Then", a track from a bygone era, is finding its way into the future, thanks to AI. This isn't just a song; it's an audacious step into the amalgamation of human artistry and machine precision.

Sir Paul McCartney, alongside Peter Jackson, has harnessed AI to separate John Lennon's voice from an old demo tape. The technology, which allows for the segregation of vocals from the cacophony of background noise, was perfected during the making of 'Get Back', the documentary that gave us a glimpse into The Beatles' creative process.

McCartney, at the age of 84, acknowledges the trepidation and thrill of using AI, reflecting a sentiment many of us share when confronted with the relentless march of technology. It's a dance between the nostalgia of Lennon's voice and the innovative algorithms of AI—a duet spanning decades.

But this revival is not without its complexities. The prospect of using AI to recreate and perpetuate the work of iconic artists like John Lennon is a topic ripe for deep contemplation. The technology offers a seductive promise: the voices and visions of cherished artists need not fade away; instead, they can continue to create and inspire. "Now and Then," with Lennon's digitally resurrected voice, stands as a testament to this promise, a marvel that blurs the lines between past and present.

Yet, therein lies a paradox. The very technology that offers immortality also invites controversy. For purists, the posthumous release of Lennon's voice may feel like an artificial echo rather than a true continuation of his art. The creative autonomy of the artist is posthumously compromised; Lennon had no say in this new composition. It raises the spectre of ethical concerns: do we have the right to repurpose an artist's legacy in such a way?

Looking at other examples, we've seen hologram tours of Whitney Houston and new songs featuring the voice of Freddie Mercury long after they left us. These projects were met with both acclaim and disquiet. On one hand, they offer fans a chance to relive the magic, to experience what might have been. On the other hand, they open up debates about consent, artistic intent, and the commercial exploitation of legacies.

In the case of Freddie Mercury, the release of a box set featuring previously unheard tracks was a gift to fans. Still, it also prompted questions about whether these were pieces Mercury intended for the public ear. Similarly, Michael Jackson's posthumous album "Xscape" was a commercial success. Still, it was also critiqued for its use of unfinished demos, stirring discussion about the sanctity of an artist's unfinished work.

The utilisation of AI in these contexts is a double-edged sword. It possesses the extraordinary ability to bring a semblance of life to what was silent, to craft new experiences from the whispers of the past.

Yet, it also challenges our traditional understanding of artistic creation and ownership. Who, after all, is the creator of these new works? Is it the technology, the technicians who operate it, the publisher that authorises it, or the artists themselves?

As "Now and Then" is released, it beckons us to reflect on the seamless integration of technology into the most human of our creations—music. It's an invitation to witness history in the making and to contemplate the role of AI in our cultural scene.

Ultimately, "Now and Then" is more than just a song—it's a bridge across time, a labour of love that connects us to The Beatles once more. And as we listen to this new yet familiar tune, we can't help but marvel at the magic that happens when yesterday's voices meet tomorrow's technology.

During its release, I am reminded of those car journeys, the songs of The Beatles an ever-present echo. With "Now and Then", that echo reverberates afresh, promising to evoke the same timeless spirit that once filled the air on those long drives. It's a stark reminder that while technology moves us forward, it's the memories and music that keep us anchored, ensuring that the voices of our cherished artists continue to resonate for eternity.

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