Rants // Beatles, Avant-Garde and the Art of Reanimating the Dead
Rants // Beatles, Avant-Garde and the Art of Reanimating the Dead

Rants // Beatles, Avant-Garde and the Art of Reanimating the Dead

Without hearing a note of Now and Then, final Beatles song, I can safely assume there’s nothing avant-garde or outre about it whatsoever. I also assume it resembles Free as a Bird, 1995 Jeff Lynne produced track – one that also tampered with Lennon’s vocals, minus the use of AI (which, if existed at the time, was really in its infancy).

Why am I bringing up avant-garde, you may ask? The answer is – Carnival of Light, 14-minute composition that may never see the light of the day (pardon the pun). As per Wiki

Carnival of Light” is an unreleased avant-garde recording by the English rock band the Beatles. It was commissioned for the Million Volt Light and Sound Rave, an event held at the Roundhouse in London on 28 January and 4 February 1967. Recorded during a session for the song “Penny Lane“, “Carnival of Light” is nearly 14 minutes long and contains distorted, echo-laden sounds of percussion, keyboards, guitar and vocals. Its creation was initiated by Paul McCartney‘s interest in the London avant-garde scene and through his connection with the design firm Binder, Edwards & Vaughan (often called BEV, and headed by the partners Doug BinderDudley Edwards and David Vaughan).

Its particularly interesting to read quotes from Lennon (avant-garde is French for bullshit) and George Harrison (avant-a-clue). Isn’t that the same band that recorded Revolution No. 9 which is often referred to as precursor to industrial music? And between all the members of the Beatles (plus Yoko) the only person that never expressed much interest in experimentation is Ringo. Puzzling, utterly puzzling.


Anyway…what I wanted to say is that I’d much prefer for Carnival of Light to be released. Even if its not particularly Beatlesque in any sense of the word, I think it would’ve helped to show a different side to the band. Awhile ago I heard someone quipping on the radio

There are 3,000 Beatles fans and they all like totally different things. Some are into bubblegum pop period, some are into psychedelia. Then you have people into both.

And he wasn’t wrong there. Most people know Beatles as thee pop band, British Invasion and all that. Pop with a capital P – that’s how my dad viewed them (yes, the story of two Pops – puns be damned). So did people in my high school, it seems and I don’t recall ever discussing “Helter Skelter” or “Revolution No. 9” with anyone, even after getting into industrial music.

And that’s a damn shame, because now that I think about Beatles transformed like no one else in those 10 or so years they were together, perhaps second only to The Beach Boys. Listening to both bands side by side it seems that the two were locked in a competition as to who throw everyone the listeners for a loop the most

And while I tried to figure out who won this competition, another quote came to mind. That one comes from Jaco documentary

You gotta understand – this was 1976. Everybody was experimenting – if you weren’t, you were corny.

The Beatles were long done by that point (and so were Beach Boys, more or less). But their adventurous spirt blew the doors wide open for people like Zappa/Mothers of Invention, Sabbath and countless others. History could’ve been much different without those two pushing the envelope…

Now, onto reanimating the dead part…

Apparently what was done by AI with Then and Now was impossible to achieve before. And the remaining members of Beatles aren’t the only one to say they’re amazed by result – Krist Novoselic also expressed some interested in the idea of finishing certain Kurt’s songs in a similar fashion.

Personally I’m not entirely sold on AI – it can do amazing things whenever artists are involved or when it goes beyond mere prompt-generation. Looked at the other way it could also put a lot of musicians out of work in due time. Combined with recent Bandcamp struggles and Spotify’s promise to reward those succesful more than anyone else it feels like we’re about to enter a very uncertain era for anyone trying to make it in arts and especially those outside the mainstream.

For now I’d err on the side of caution. My own experiments with AI come down to this interesting little tool called Video Killed the Radio Star. Part of its appeal to me is that goes beyond just prompt – it could also be quite a struggle to make it work and produce results, which is appealing as well. It also  produces things that look rather un-AI like. Exhibits A and B

Again – it bears repeating that I’m not into the idea of AI replacing creativity or musicians. Now let me push “play” and see whether an attempt to bring John Lennon and The Beatles back to life was succesful.

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