Don’t worry, John Lennon’s voice isn’t being turned into a disembodied “AI model”… Not yet, at least.
Last week, Paul McCartney revealed that artificial intelligence (AI) was used to aide in the production of what he dubbed “the last Beatles record”. He said the technology was used to get John Lennon’s vocals whipped into shape for an as-yet-unreleased song – but according to the late Beatle’s son, Seán Ono Lennon, the situation isn’t quite as intense as McCartney let on.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4, McCartney explained that he and his team were “able to use that kind of thing [Peter Jackson did when he] did the film Get Back” – that being the use of AI to salvage and remaster otherwise unusable content – noting that Jackson “was able to extricate John’s voice from a ropey little bit of cassette and a piano”.
McCartney continued: “He could separate them with AI. They tell the machine, ‘That’s a voice, this is the guitar, lose the guitar.’ And he did that, so it has great uses. So when we came to make what will be the last Beatles record it was a demo that John had that we worked on and we’ve just finished it up, it’ll be released this year. We were able to get John’s voice and make it pure through AI and then we could mix the record, as you would normally do.”
Naturally, some Beatles fans were more excited than others. While most were elated by the prospect of a “new” Beatles song being released, some were fearful that Lennon’s legacy could be tarnished by having his work altered by AI. One fan on Twitter, Tony Rosamilia, reached out to Seán for clarification: “Why is Paul McCartney turning John Lennon into an AI model for an ‘unreleased’ song based on demo tapes?? Are you OK with this? Did you reach out??”
Seán was quick to swoop in with an explanation, clarifying that McCartney and co. were not in fact “turning John Lennon into an AI model”. He replied to Rosamilia: “That is not happening. All we did was clean the noise from the vocal track. People are completely misunderstanding what occurred. There have always been ways of ‘de-noising’ tracks but AI just does it better because it learns what the vocal is and is able to very precisely remove everything that is not the vocal.”
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That is not happening. All we did was clean the noise from the vocal track. People are completely misunderstanding what occurred. There have always been ways of ‘de-noising’ tracks but AI just does it better because it learns what the vocal is and is able to very precisely remove…— Seán Ono Lennon (@seanonolennon) June 17, 2023
Seán later told another fan that while he “shouldn’t speak too much” about what the song in question actually is, he’s optimistic for its release. “I’ll just say the track turned out beautifully and I think everyone will be very happy,” he wrote.
Hey Carolyn…I shouldn’t speak too much on this yet but I’ll just say the track turned out beautifully and I think everyone will be very happy.— Seán Ono Lennon (@seanonolennon) June 18, 2023