Music composer AR Rahman loves to use technology in his work. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in 2016, he created a sensation by making music without real instruments using Intel’s Curie-based technology. Now, he has gone a step further by using Artificial Intelligence to bring back the voices of renowned playback singers Bamba Bakya and Shahul Hameed - both died in 2022 and 1998, respectively.

In Rajinikanth’s upcoming movie Lal Salaam, Rahman has brought back the mesmerising voices of the late singers in the song Thimiri Yezhuda. This was made possible using Timesless Voices AI, a Chennai-based music platform preserving the voices of legendary artists using AI.

Rahman, in a tweet, said, “We took permission from their families and sent deserving remuneration for using their voice algorithms… technology is not a threat or a nuisance, if we use it right.”

TimelessVoice uses AI to model legendary voices, helping music producers create timeless vocals. Under Studio-Grade, creators access top-notch voice models ethically trained from high-fidelity studio recordings. In fair compensation, artists and their estates earn revenue and retain release rights for content made with their models and under Artist First - Protecting artists is our priority, the company said.

However, Rahman’s efforts stirred a controversy. Many welcomed his initiatives, but some opposed them.

Industry reacts

Reacting to Rahman’s tweet, Aravind said, “already trained professional singers are not getting many chances in films as heroes, heroines, directors and their families are singing playbacks. Now, if we adapt to this specific technology, won’t an entire generation of singers go jobless? Feels wrong sir.”

However, Shouvik S Mazumdar said, “absolutely. Ethical use of AI is so powerful. Excellent innovation and thank you for bringing this forward.”

Some urged Rahman to bring back the voice of the legendary playback singer SP Balasubramanian, who died in 2020.

Reacting to this, a professional singer in the industry says, “ A coin has two sides…there are numerous talents out there, it would be fair to allow somebody new. However, Shahul Hameed and Bamba Bakya had unique voices but left this world without accomplishing great heights, unlike SPB. I would like to see this as Rahman’s way of offering a tribute to them using the latest technological advancements.”

An emerging singer in the southern film industry adds: “ARR, upon entering the industry with Roja, revolutionised the music landscape. From extensive use of autotune to complete programming and the introduction of novel sounds, he transformed the composition and consumption of music. Usage of auto tune for the longest time was heavily criticised because it eliminated the need for singers to sing in pitch. It was a controversial tool. And as composers adopted samples [preexisting piece of music that does is not composed or played] and programmed instruments, the need for instrumentalists diminished. Decades later, we have the best artists in India such as Arijit Singh and Monali Thakur speaking for auto tune, calling it an essential tool; and additional programming and programming is now by job itself.

“In my opinion, using AI to bring back dead artists, particularly to create new works, certainly raises ethical concerns. It’s crucial to respect the legacy of artists and their unique contributions. But a few years later, this will be looked at differently. If not ARR, somebody else will bring in this technology. This is not a black or white issue.”

MG’s experiment

 Meanwhile, MG has leveraged the capabilities of AI to create a virtual representation of Cecil Kimber. Utilising cutting-edge AI technology, MG has revived the essence of the visionary who laid the foundation for MG’s legacy of joy back in 1924.