HOW PETER JACKSON BROKE UP THE BEATLES AND USED AI TO MAKE REVOLVER BETTER THAN EVER:
Beginning with Sgt. Pepper, the Beatles recorded most of their instruments and vocals to separate tracks. So for [Giles] Martin, boosting the volume of a guitar or organ from Abbey Road or “The White Album” was probably as simple as moving a fader. But on earlier albums, the band often combined a few sounds to the same track. The effect was to lock multiple voices or instruments in place together, leaving no easy way for future remixers to tweak just one by itself.
Non-audiophiles may ask: Who cares? The original Revolver sounded good enough to top lists of the greatest albums ever made. Did it really need the overhaul?
Arguably, yes. For all the Beatles’ genius, they never imagined a day when their music would mainly be played through earbuds. The stereo versions of their early albums were mixed for novelty, with extreme separation between sounds in the right and left speakers, sometimes to the point of lopsidedness. (The Beatles themselves preferred the mono mixes, which are harder to find these days.) “Taxman” was a notorious offender, with bass, drums, and rhythm guitar on one side, and for much of the song, just tambourine and cowbell on the other. It’s been reported to cause dizziness in headphone listeners. For 56 years, there was no way to separate those instruments and rearrange them across the stereo field.
But then Peter Jackson took up the case. A few years ago, the Lord of the Rings director was hired to sift through 60 hours of unused footage from the 1970 Beatles documentary Let It Be and cut it into his own movie — 2021’s Get Back. Large sections of that footage had been marked as unusable because the band’s conversations were drowned out on the mono audio tapes by the sound of their instruments: John, Paul, and George had deliberately hidden their sensitive discussions from the original doc crew by noodling on their guitars. Jackson asked the engineers at his production company, WingNut Films, to see what they could salvage, and so they developed their own machine-learning “de-mixing” software capable of splitting up interlocked sounds. It worked so well decoupling music from speech on the Let It Be audio tapes that Get Back, which had been planned as a two-hour film, grew into an eight-hour TV miniseries (a hit for Disney+ last fall and, by some estimations, the best rock documentary ever).
Martin wondered if Jackson’s software could also be used to isolate the sounds on the Beatles’ early studio albums. Could it ever! And so now we have a remixed Revolver, a “Taxman” that won’t make anybody sick, and, presumably, boxed-set remixes of the band’s other six albums on the way for the 2023-2028 holiday seasons. At last, the most valuable music catalogue in history will be AirPod compliant.
Hopefully Jackson’s technology will eventually filter down to the prosumer level, as the currently available demix technology is still filled with plenty of noticeable audio artifacts: How to Rebuild a Recorded Song When You’ve Lost the Multitracks.