How Peter Jackson Used Artificial Intelligence to Restore the Video & Audio Featured in The Beatles: Get Back

Much has been made in recent years of the “de-aging” processes that allow actors to credibly play characters far younger than themselves. But it has also become possible to de-age film itself, as demonstrated by Peter Jackson’s celebrated new docu-series The Beatles: Get Back. The vast majority of the material that comprises its nearly eight-hour runtime was originally shot in 1969, under the direction of Michael Lindsay-Hogg for the documentary that became Let It Be.

Those who have seen both Linday-Hogg’s and Jackson’s documentaries will notice how much sharper, smoother, and more vivid the very same footage looks in the latter, despite the sixteen-millimeter film having languished for half a century. The kind of visual restoration and enhancement seen in Get Back was made possible by technologies that have only emerged in the past few decades — and previously seen in Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old, a documentary acclaimed for its restoration of century-old World War I footage to a time-travel-like degree of verisimilitude.

“You can’t actually just do it with off-the-shelf software,” Jackson explained in an interview about the restoration processes involved in They Shall Not Grow Old. This necessitated marshaling, at his New Zealand company Park Road Post Production, “a department of code writers who write computer code in software.” In other words, a sufficiently ambitious project of visual revitalization — making media from bygone times even more lifelike than it was to begin with — becomes as much a job of traditional film-restoration or visual-effects as of computer programming.

This also goes for the less obvious but no-less-impressive treatment given by Jackson and his team to the audio that came with the Let It Be footage. Recorded in large part monaurally, these tapes presented a formidable production challenge. John, Paul, George, and Ringo’s instruments share a single track with their voices — and not just their singing voices, but their speaking ones as well. On first listen, this renders many of their conversations inaudible, and probably by design: “If they were in a conversation,” said Jackson, they would turn their amps up loud and they’d strum the guitar.”

This means of keeping their words from Lindsay-Hogg and his crew worked well enough in the wholly analog late 1960s, but it has proven no match for the artificial intelligence/machine learning of the 2020s. “We devised a technology that is called demixing,” said Jackson. “You teach the computer what a guitar sounds like, you teach them what a human voice sounds like, you teach it what a drum sounds like, you teach it what a bass sounds like.” Supplied with enough sonic data, the system eventually learned to distinguish from one another not just the sounds of the Beatles’ instruments but of their voices as well.

Hence, in addition to Get Back‘s revelatory musical moments, its many once-private but now crisply audible exchanges between the Fab Four. “Oh, you’re recording our conversation?” George Harrison at one point asks Lindsay-Hogg in a characteristic tone of faux surprise. But if he could hear the recordings today, his surprise would surely be real.

Related Content:

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Artificial Intelligence Program Tries to Write a Beatles Song: Listen to “Daddy’s Car”

Watch The Beatles Perform Their Famous Rooftop Concert: It Happened 50 Years Ago Today (January 30, 1969)

How Peter Jackson Made His State-of-the-Art World War I Documentary They Shall Not Grow Old: An Inside Look

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Stephen Fry Takes Us Inside the Story of Johannes Gutenberg & the First Printing Press

Stephen Fry loves technology. Here on Open Culture we’ve featured his investigations into everything from cloud computing to nanoscience to artificial intelligence and simulation theory. “I have never seen a smartphone I haven’t bought,” he wrote in 2007, the year Apple’s iPhone came out. But the iPhone would surely never have been if not for the Macintosh, the third of which ever sold in the United Kingdom went to Fry. (His fellow British technophile Douglas Adams had already snagged the first two.) And there wouldn’t have been a Macintosh — a stretch though this may seem — if not for the printing press, which by some reckonings set off the technological revolution that carries us along to this day.

The history of the printing press is thus, in a sense, a history of technology in microcosm. In the hourlong documentary The Machine that Made Us, Fry seeks out an understanding of the invention, the workings, and the evolution of the device that, as he puts it, “shaped the modern world.”

The use of movable type to run off many copies of a text goes back to 11th-century China, strictly speaking, but only in Europe did it first flourish to the point of giving rise to mass media. In order to place himself at the beginning of that particular story, Fry travels to Mainz in modern-day Germany, birthplace of a certain Johannes Gutenberg, whose edition of the Bible from the 1450s isn’t just the earliest mass-produced book but the most important one as well.

Fry may not have a straightforward relationship with religion, but he does understand well the ramifications of Gutenberg’s Bible-printing enterprise. And he comes to understand that enterprise itself more deeply while following the “Gutenberg trail,” retracing the steps of the man himself as he assembled the resources to put his invention into action. Since none of the presses Gutenberg built survive today (though at least one functioning approximate model does exist), Fry involves himself in reconstructing an example. He also visits a paper mill and a type foundry whose craftsmen make their materials with the same methods used in the 15th century. The fruit of these combined labors is a single replica page of the Gutenberg Bible: a reminder of what brought about the economic, political, and cultural reality we still inhabit these 570 years later.

Related Content:

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Oxford University Presents the 550-Year-Old Gutenberg Bible in Spectacular, High-Res Detail

The Oldest Book Printed with Movable Type is Not The Gutenberg Bible: Jikji, a Collection of Korean Buddhist Teachings, Predated It By 78 Years and It’s Now Digitized Online

The Art of Collotype: See a Near Extinct Printing Technique, as Lovingly Practiced by a Japanese Master Craftsman

Stephen Fry Profiles Six Russian Writers in the New Documentary Russia’s Open Book

Stephen Fry Introduces the Strange New World of Nanoscience

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

When Nikola Tesla Claimed to Have Invented a “Death Ray,” Capable of Destroying Enemies 250 Miles Away & Making War Obsolete

Just last week I visited Niagara Falls and beheld the noble-looking statue of Nikola Tesla installed there. It struck me as a fitting tribute to the inventor of the Death Ray. But then, its presence probably had more to do with Tesla’s having advised the builders of the falls’ power plant to use two-phase alternating current, the form of electricity of which he’s now remembered as a pioneer. And in any case, Tesla never actually invented a death ray, or at least he never demonstrated one. He did, however, claim to have been working on a system he called “teleforce,” which shot what he described as a “death beam” — rays, he insisted, would never be feasible — both “thinner than a hair” and powerful enough to “destroy anything approaching within 200 miles,” making warfare effectively obsolete.

These pronouncements attracted special media attention in the 1930s. “Hype about the weapon really took off in the run-up to World War II as Nazi Germany assembled a fearsome air force,” writes Sam Kean at the Science History Institute. “People in Tesla’s homeland, then called Yugoslavia, begged him to return home and install the rays to protect them from the Nazi menace.” But no known evidence suggests that the elderly Tesla had figured out how to actually make teleforce work.

At that point he had more pressing problems, not least the cost of the hotels in which he lived. “In 1915, his famous Wardenclyffe tower plant was sold to help pay off his $20,000 debt at the Waldorf-Astoria,” writes Mental Floss’ Stacy Conradt, and later he racked up a similarly large bill at the Governor Clinton. “He couldn’t afford the payment, so instead, Tesla offered the management something priceless: one of his inventions.”

That “invention” may have been the box examined after Tesla’s death in 1943 by physicist John G. Trump (uncle of former President Donald Trump). Left in a hotel vault, it was rumored to be “a prototype of his death ray.” Tesla had included a note, writes Kean, that “claimed the prototype inside was worth $10,000. More ominously, it said the box would detonate if opened incorrectly.” But when “the physicist steeled himself and began tearing off the brown paper,” he “must have laughed at what he saw underneath: a Wheatstone bridge, a tool for measuring electrical resistance. It was a common, mundane device — some old junk, really. It was certainly not a death ray, not even close.”

Though it must have been as powerful a disappointment as it was a relief, did that discovery prove that Tesla never invented a death ray? The U.S. government didn’t take its chances on the matter: as’s Sarah Pruitt tells it, agents “swooped in and took possession of all the property and documents from his room at the New Yorker Hotel” right after Tesla’s death. And “while the FBI originally recorded some 80 trunks among Tesla’s effects, only 60 arrived in Belgrade,” home of the Nikola Tesla Museum, nearly a decade later. The idea of death rays has long survived Tesla himself, taking on forms from the Reagan administration’s “Star Wars” nuclear defense program to the military laser weapons tested in recent years. Few such technologies seem capable of ending all war, as Tesla promised. But if one ever does, we could honor his memory by referring to it, in the manner he preferred, as not a death ray but a death beam.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Watch the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” Music Video Re-Enacted by Robots

When Microsoft released Windows 95, they didn’t skimp on the publicity. Their promotional campaign for the operating system even included television spots soundtracked with the Rolling Stones’ hit “Start Me Up.” The lyrics of its chorus neatly suited the product, which came with a re-engineered interface featuring a then-novel feature called the Start menu. Though hardly new even then, the song did also carry faint associations with innovation, having originally been released on August 14, 1981, just two weeks after the launch of a cable channel called MTV. Its music video thus received a great deal of airplay, proving to the public that the Stones could stay on the cutting edge.

By the 1980s, relevance was by no means guaranteed to any band formed in the 1960s. More than proven though the point may be today, the Michael Lindsay-Hogg-directed music video for “Start Me Up” demonstrated that even a group of rockers in or near their forties could perform with the same uncontainable vitality they always had.

Even now, forty years after that, the group’s surviving members show no inclination to retire, and the highest technology has only just begun to catch up to them. I refer, of course, to Spot, the model of robot dog previously seen here on Open Culture moonwalking and twerking to Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk.” In the years since then, it seems he’s learned to move like Jagger — as well as Richards, Wyman, Wood, and Watts.

In “Spot Me Up,” four Spot models together replicate about a minute of the “Start Me Up” video. That each robot really does seem to convey traces of the personality of its particular Stone — even the one tasked with replicating a glance from the late Charlie Watts, a force of subtlety behind the drum kit for more than half a century — speaks to the engineering skill marshaled by Boston Dynamics, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology spinoff where Spot was invented. Not everyone has warmed to the lifelike movements of their robots, a lineup that also includes the formidable humanoid Atlas. But dance videos like these serve as a form of public relations for its products, which were designed for not the stage but factories, mines, and power plants — places where they can do what any fan of the Stones in the 80s would surely call the dirty work.

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Keith Richards Demonstrates His Famous 5-String Technique (Used on Classic Stones Songs Like “Start Me Up,” “Honky Tonk Women” & More

Watch the Rolling Stones Play “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” While Social Distancing in Quarantine

The Rolling Stones Release a Timely Track, “Living in a Ghost Town”: Their First New Music in Eight Years

The Robots of Your Dystopian Future Are Already Here: Two Chilling Videos Drive It All Home

Twerking, Moonwalking AI Robots — They’re Now Here

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Story of the Edsel, Ford’s Infamously Failed Car Brand of the 1950s

For 60 years now, the name Edsel has been synonymous with failure. In a way, this vindicates the position of Henry Ford II, who opposed labeling a brand of cars with the name of his father Edsel Ford. The son of Ford Motor Company founder Henry Ford, Edsel Ford died young in 1943, and thus didn’t live to see “E Day,” the rollout of his namesake line of automobiles. It happened on September 4, 1957, the culmination of two years of research and development on what was for most of that time called the “E car,” the letter having been chosen to indicate the project’s experimental nature. Alas, all seven of Edsel’s first models struck the American public as too conventional to stand out — and at the same time, too odd to buy.

You can hear the story of Edsel in the two videos above, one from transportation enthusiast Ruairidh MacVeigh and another from Regular Car Reviews. Both offer explanations of how the brand’s cars were conceived, and what went wrong enough in their execution to make them a laughing stock still today. No Edsel postmortem can fail to consider the name itself, a choice made in desperation after the rejection of more than 6,000 other possibilities presented by the advertising firm of Foote, Cone & Belding.

Its manager of marketing research also unofficially sought the counsel of modernist poet Marianne Moore, whose suggestions included “Utopian Turtletop,” “Resilient Bullet,” “Mongoose Civique,” and “The Impeccable.”

Another factor cited as a cause of Edsel’s disappointing sales is its cars’ signature vertical grille, derided early on for its shape resembling a horse collar — among other, less mentionable things. Such aesthetic missteps may not have sunk the brand on their own, but they certainly didn’t counteract the effects of other, more mundane conditions. These included persistent assembly-line problems (without a dedicated factory, Edsels tended occasionally to come out with parts improperly installed or absent) and a 1957 economic recession that made upper-middle-tier automobiles of this kind unappealing to the American driver. Even the top-rated CBS television special The Edsel Show — despite its performances from the likes of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, and Louis Armstrong — drummed up little public enthusiasm.

Edsel lasted only from 1958 to 1960, in which time Ford manufactured 118,287 of its cars in total. Six decades after the mark’s retirement, fewer than 10,000 Edsel cars survive — most of them as sought-after collector’s items. For Edsels now have their appreciators, as evidenced by the video above from professional mid-century Americana enthusiast Charles Phoenix, who marvels over every feature of a 1958 Citation, Edsel’s top-of-the-line model, from its Teletouch push-button gear selector to its customizable speed-warning indicator. (Seatbelts came standard, despite being optional extras on other cars of the day.) Current Edsel owners also include lifestyle guru Martha Stewart, who showed off her mint 1958 Roundup in a recent video with Jay Leno — though she seems rather prouder of also owning Edsel Ford’s house.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Watch Django Reinhardt & Stéphane Grappelli Play Masterfully Together in Vivid Color (1938)

Few jazz guitarists today could claim to be entirely free of the influence of Django Reinhardt. This despite the fact that he lost the use of two fingers — which ultimately encouraged him to develop a distinctive playing style — and that he died 68 years ago. The unfortunate abbreviation of Reinhardt’s life means that he never built a substantial body of solo work, though he did play on many recorded dates that include performances alongside Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter. It also means that he left even less in the way of footage, though we do get a crisp and illuminating view of him and his guitar in the 1938 documentary short “Jazz ‘Hot,'” previously featured here on Open Culture.

“Jazz ‘Hot'” also features violin-playing from Stéphane Grappelli, who founded the group Quintette du Hot Club de France with Reinhardt in 1934. As they deepened their knowledge of jazz, the two influenced each other so thoroughly as to develop their own style of music.

Grappelli lived long enough to play with the likes of Jean-Luc Ponty, Paul Simon, Yo Yo Ma, and even Pink Floyd. Still, more than a few jazz fans would surely claim that none of his professional collaborators was more important to his musical formation than Reinhardt. Now you can see them playing together in color, and fairly realistic color at that, in the clip at the top of the post.

The original black-and-white footage (which appears just above) was colorized with DeOldify, a deep learning-based application developed to restore photographs and motion pictures from bygone times. Perhaps you’ve seen the previous DeOldify colorization projects we’ve featured here, which run the gamut from musical numbers in Stormy Weather and Hellzapoppin’ to scenes of 1920s Berlin and even an 1896 snowball fight in Lyon. Granted access to a time machine, more than a few jazz-lovers would no doubt choose to go back to the Paris of the 1930s to see the Quintette du Hot Club de France in action. Technology has yet to make that a viable proposition, but it’s given us a next-best-thing that no appreciator of jazz guitar — or jazz violin — could fail to enjoy.

Related Content:

Jazz ‘Hot’: The Rare 1938 Short Film With Jazz Legend Django Reinhardt

How Django Reinhardt, After Losing Two Fingers, Developed An Innovative Style & Inspired Black Sabbath Guitarist Toni Iommi to Do the Same

Django Reinhardt Demonstrates His Guitar Genius in Rare Footage From the 1930s, 40s & 50s

Hear Lost Recording of Pink Floyd Playing with Jazz Violinist Stéphane Grappelli on “Wish You Were Here”

One of the Greatest Dances Sequences Ever Captured on Film Gets Restored in Color by AI: Watch the Classic Scene from Stormy Weather

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Become a Project Manager Without a College Degree with Google’s Project Management Certificate

As we first mentioned last year, Google has launched a series of Career Certificate programs that allow students to gain expertise in a field, ideally enough to start working without a 4-year college degree. This initiative now includes a Certificate in Project Management, which consists of six courses.

  • Foundations of Project Management
  • Project Initiation: Starting a Successful Project
  • Project Planning: Putting It All Together
  • Project Execution: Running the Project
  • Agile Project Management
  • Capstone: Applying Project Management in the Real World

Above, a Program Manager talks about “her path from dropping out of high school and earning a GED, joining the military, and working as a coder, to learning about program management and switching into that career track.” An introduction to the Project Management certificate appears below.

The Project Management program takes about six months to complete, and should cost about $250 in total. Students get charged $39 per month until they complete the program.

You can explore the Project Management certificate here. And find other Google career certificates in other fields–e.g. UX Design and Data Analytics–over on this page. All Google career courses are hosted on the Coursera platform.

Find more online certificate programs from an array of providers here.

Note: Open Culture has a partnership with Coursera. If readers enroll in certain Coursera courses and programs, it helps support Open Culture.

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How Randy Bachman Found His Stolen Favorite Guitar After 45 Years, with the Help of Facial-Recognition Software

Facial-recognition technology has come into its own in recent decades, though its imagined large-scale uses do tend to sound troublingly dystopian. Still, some of its actual success stories have been pleasing indeed, few of them so much as the one briefly told in the video above by Bachman Turner Overdrive’s Randy Bachman. Its protagonist is not Bachman himself but one of his guitars: a 1957 Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins, a model named after the star Nashville guitarist. “This is the first really good expensive electric guitar I got,” he says, adding that he “played it on many, many BTO hits, and in 1975 it was stolen from a Holiday Inn hotel room in Toronto.”

“The disappearance triggered a decades-long search,” writes Todd Coyne in a feature at CTV News. “Bachman enlisted the help of the RCMP” — also known at the Mounties — “the Ontario Provincial Police and vintage instrument dealers across Canada and the United States. It also triggered what Bachman now recognizes as a mid-life crisis,” resulting in his eventual purchase of 385 Gretsch guitars. Those included a dozen 6120s from the 1950s, but none of them were the one he bought at age 20 from Winnipeg Piano. He must have given up hope by the time the message arrived: “I found your Gretsch guitar in Tokyo.”

The sender, an old neighbor of Bachman’s, had in fact found the Gretsch on Youtube. In the video below, made for Christmas 2019, a Japanese guitarist named Takeshi plays “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” on an orange 6120 that Bachman immediately recognized as his long-lost favorite instrument. Coyne writes that the neighbor “had used some old photographs of the guitar and rejigged some facial-recognition software to identify and detect the unique wood-grain patterns and lines of cracked lacquer along the instrument’s body,” as seen in the original video for BTO’s “Lookin’ Out for #1.” Subsequently, he “ran scans of this unique profile against every image he could find of an orange 1957 Chet Atkins guitar posted online over the last decade and a half.”

Persistence, at least in this case, paid off. But since Takeshi felt nearly as strong a connection to the guitar as Bachman did, an arrangement had to be made. With the Japanese wife of his son Tal (also a musician, best known for the 1990s hit “She’s So High”) acting as interpreter, he negotiated with Takeshi the terms of an exchange. As Bachman tells it, “He said he would give me back my guitar, but I had to find him its twin”: the same model — of which only 35 were made in 1957 — in mint condition with all the same parts and no additional modifications. And for a mere thirty times the $400 price he originally paid, he eventually found that twin. Now all that remains, as soon travel restrictions ease between the U.S. and Japan, is for Bachman and Takeshi to meet up at the Gretsch factory in Nagoya, play a gig together, and take care of business.

via BoingBoing

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Eric Clapton Tries Out Guitars at Home and Talks About the Beatles, Cream, and His Musical Roots

Guitar Stories: Mark Knopfler on the Six Guitars That Shaped His Career

The Captivating Art of Restoring Vintage Guitars

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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