Sometime in the late 1970s, John Lennon sat at the piano in his New York City apartment, tickling the ivories while recording a demo called From time to time.
More than 40 years later (with the help of his bandmates and a little artificial intelligence) From time to time It was to be released on Thursday, and the two surviving members of the Beatles called it the band’s last album.
Production on the song began in 1994, when Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, sent Paul McCartney three Lennon demos, two of which were completed and later released by McCartney, Ringo Starr and the late George Harrison.
But they had difficulties with From time to time, in which Lennon’s voice was sometimes overpowered by his piano accompaniment. The remaining trio shelved the project until they had the technology to clean up their grainy mono track.
“We’re actually playing with cutting-edge technology, which is something the Beatles would have been very interested in,” McCartney said in a short documentary ahead of the song’s worldwide release Thursday at 10 a.m. ET.
SEE | Short film From time to time: the last Beatles song:
While longtime fans welcome the release of new material and what it could mean for the band’s legacy, experts are cautiously optimistic about the technology, depending on how it is used.
The same AI used in the Beatles docuseries
A fifth Beatles AI is not: it is not the generative technology that was used, for example, to create a Drake song from scratch. From time to time was completed using the same audio technology that director Peter Jackson pioneered when making his 2021 Beatles documentary series. Return.
“This is not a fake John Lennon created by a computer,” said Michael McCarty, CEO of Kilometer Music Group, a Toronto-based music publisher. “This is the real John Lennon, whose voice was basically buried in tape hiss and wobbly piano on an old demo.
“And so what they’ve been able to do is extract his voice and turn it into a pure, clean voice, as if he recorded it today.”
Returnwhich was compiled entirely from footage from 1969, required technology that could separate the film’s mono soundtrack into its parts, isolating song vocals from accompanying music and conversations from background noise.
This technology was then applied to From time to timemixing Lennon’s original vocals with Harrison’s guitar (recorded during ’90s studio sessions before his death in 2001), McCartney’s backing vocals and instrumentals, and Starr’s drums.
“It’s like you’re eating stew,” McCarty said. “You have all your potatoes and carrots and everything in them and you decide, ‘I want to take those things out.’ Well, now you can take out the carrots and potatoes and put them back in their original form.”
‘Homunculus John Lennon’
Toronto culture writer Niko Stratis said the release of a new Beatles song is a treat for fans and that the technology used to produce it will have a broader ripple effect throughout the music industry.
It can be used by music professionals and archivists to restore old recordings, giving new recognition to lost artists and preserving music the public might not have heard otherwise, he said. But it can also take the music industry into a danger zone.
“I hope that now we don’t use this isolated vocal track that we have of John Lennon and then build this kind of homunculus of John Lennon, made up of all the parts of him that we find out there,” Stratis said.
“That’s not real because it doesn’t have the soul of the music as much as the audio notes,” he said. “That’s something different.”
I hope that now we don’t use this isolated vocal track that we have of John Lennon and then build this kind of John Lennon homunculus.-Niko Stratis
McCarty believes the practice will become more common, creating more possibilities for the art form and business.
“There’s always a concern that you might do something that violates the ethics that the original artist had,” he said. “So you hope that control of your assets is in the hands of someone who has empathy and knows you.”
He added that the creation of From time to time It’s not entirely different from how the Beatles made music during their final years, with the band members working from separate cities and studios.
“Starting with the White Album, that’s basically the way they work,” he said.
“They were always trying to move it forward.”
Piers Hemmingsen has been a Beatles fan since 1963.
The Toronto author, who wrote the 2016 book. The Beatles in CanadaHe said he remembers when free as a bird and True love (the other two cassettes that Ono gave to McCartney in 1994) were released and marketed as the last Beatles songs.
“We’ve heard this and my enthusiasm has not diminished in any way,” he said, adding that this will be the last song released by the group that was specifically intended to be a Beatles single.
“They were always trying to move things forward. So I think if they weren’t happy with From time to time in 1995, maybe they are happy now,” Hemmingsen added.
McCartney himself questioned whether the band members were doing the right thing by using Lennon’s voice posthumously, he revealed in the documentary released Wednesday.
“Is this something we shouldn’t do? Every time I thought like that, I thought, wait a minute,” McCartney said. “Let’s say I had a chance to ask John, ‘Hey John, would you like us to finish this last song of yours?’ I assure you, I know the answer would have been, ‘Yes!’ “He would have loved that.”