In a world where the past and future collide, the Beatles’ latest single, “Now and Then,” emerges as a captivating paradox.
Released on Nov. 2, the song showcases the voices of two musical legends no longer with us while symbolizing the inception of a groundbreaking musical era, where artificial intelligence (AI) takes centre stage.
The intrusion of AI in the creative industry has caused intense anxiety over the prospect of humanity’s creativity becoming replaced by a soulless machine. While AI taking over the music industry is worrisome, the band that’s leading us into these uncharted waters is the very same band that’s done it countless times before.
Before delving into the Beatles’ most recent use of AI, it’s worth recalling that this isn’t the first time they dipped their toes into murky waters of technology. Between 1966 and 1969, the band crafted a blueprint for artists who sought to transcend the confines of traditional studios by constructing their own unique soundscape. The groundbreaking use of multitracking, spearheaded by the Beatles and their equally mad studio producer George Martin, indicates the group never sought to exist by any single definition.
The use of AI in “Now and Then” had its beginnings when it was developed for Peter Jackson’s 2021 documentary Get Back. This documentary chronicled the turbulent Get Back sessions, a period of great tension for the band which resulted in Let it Be, the Beatles’ final album.
When restoring old footage for the documentary, a process called de-mixing emerged. As Giles Martin describes it, demixing involves separating every element of a studio recording. AI is then trained to learn the way the artists play their instruments and how they sing their vocals, allowing them to be separated and remixed for enhanced clarity.
Perhaps the greatest insight to what “Now and Then” is likely to sound like is the 2022 mix of the Beatles’ iconic album, Revolver. Comparing the 1966 original mix with the demixed 2022 version proves the potential for this technology is endless. Both critically and commercially lauded, the remix tops the original mix, which is already considered to be one of the greatest albums ever produced.
Despite all this, I’m not naive, and I recognize the debate around AI in the creative industry runs deeper than a band from the 1960s getting a swan song. There’s a possibility this new technology could be utilized by studio executives to cut corners and costs at the expense of artists.
Though this is a valid critique, I find it fitting the Beatles—a group of four working class lads from Liverpool who formed a band for simple love of music—are the ones to lead us into this new era. Being the forebearers of a technology people believe the bourgeois will exploit is yet another Beatles counter cultural moment.
After all, we’re talking about the same band that refused to play to a segregated audience in the deep south in the US, at the height of Jim Crowe, getting their way in the face of a culture that was backwards by simply letting their music speak for itself.
Like their past endeavours, this new project ushers in a new technology from a band who refused to accept the status quo. With “Now and Then,” the Beatles invite us to join them in the evolution of the world itself, just as they’ve done before.
The Beatles have been the guiding hand through music’s evolution, even after their initial run ended in 1970. This last project marks the end of their guidance, having done their bit and then some. From here on, out we’re alone as we test the depths of a technology that can make or break the creative industry.
While many consider this the Beatles’ final act, their impact on our emotions, consciousness, and music is an ongoing narrative, a song without an end, and refuses to fade. I can’t write an epilogue for the band I’ve cherished all these years, as it’s one that’s still being written and rewritten, even if we only listen to them every “Now and Then.”
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