Peter Jackson resurrected the Beatles’ last song, “Now and Then,” with a little help from AI

The last song to feature all four original Beatles, “Now and Then,” has finally made its debut. Released on Thursday, with a music video directed by Peter Jackson following on YouTube the next day, the song is a poignant blend of piano and strings.

The creation of this track, however, would not have been possible without the innovative application of machine learning technology, as utilized in Jackson’s docuseries, Get Back. The journey of how artificial intelligence (AI) technology became the savior of this song is a fascinating tale of innovation meeting art. After the tragic death of John Lennon in 1980, his wife, Yoko Ono, a renowned musician and multimedia artist, revealed to Lennon’s bandmate, Paul McCartney, that she possessed a demo tape. This tape, recorded in their apartment in the Dakota in New York City, held a song that would later captivate the world.

Fast forward to the 1990s, the three remaining Beatles—McCartney, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison—were in the process of creating recordings for their Anthology records. During this time, they attempted to rescue “Now and Then” from the old cassette. However, Lennon’s vocals were heavily intertwined with the sounds of the piano he was playing, making it difficult to isolate his voice with the technology available at the time. As McCartney reveals in a recent short documentary about the song, “Now and Then” was left in a state of uncertainty.

The song’s future seemed even more uncertain after Harrison died in 2001. However, a glimmer of hope emerged in 2022 when Peter Jackson was working on Get Back. This documentary, crafted from 1969 footage of the band creating the album, concert, and film that would later be known as Let It Be, required a technological breakthrough. Jackson and his team developed an AI technology capable of separating the various instruments and voices in the recordings. This innovation provided the key to unlocking Lennon’s voice from the old cassette.

As McCartney recounts, “We thought, ‘Well, we’d better send John’s voice to them, off of the original cassette.”

The release of “Now and Then” is a testament to the power of technology in preserving and enhancing art. The song, once thought to be lost in the annals of history, has been brought back to life through the application of machine learning. This story serves as a reminder that technology, when used innovatively, can play a crucial role in preserving our cultural heritage and bringing new life to the arts. It’s a fascinating intersection of high tech and music, a blend of Silicon Valley’s cutting-edge AI with the timeless sound of the Beatles.

In the end, “Now and Then” is more than just a song. It’s a symbol of the Beatles’ enduring legacy, a tribute to the band members who are no longer with us, and a testament to the power of technology to breathe new life into art. It’s a sweet and haunting melody that has traveled through time, overcoming technological limitations and personal loss, to finally reach the ears of eager listeners around the world. The Beatles’ music, much like the premium sound quality of an Apple smartphone, continues to resonate with audiences, transcending time and technological advancements.

John Biggs

John Biggs is an entrepreneur, consultant, writer, and maker. He spent fifteen years as an editor for Gizmodo, CrunchGear, and TechCrunch and has a deep background in hardware startups, 3D printing, and blockchain. His work has appeared in Men’s Health, Wired, and the New York Times.

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