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Moby creating "Gone to Sleep" for NPR's Project Song. (NPR)

Moby: One Song, Two Days, Three Versions

May 4, 2010

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Moby's Project Song

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It takes weeks, even years, to write a song. NPR Music's Project Song challenges musicians to do it in just two days. And every Project Song participant has worked right up to the last minute — that is, until Moby.

He and collaborator Kelli Scarr finished their song in a little more than a single day. In fact, they had so much time left over, they recorded a second version of the song. And after that, they gave a small concert for the staff at NPR.

Moby has carved out a career making electronic dance music. He knocked everyone out in 1999 with a record called Play, which sold more than 10 million copies.

Moby generally works alone in his New York apartment, but for Project Song, we asked him to bring along a collaborator. He picked Kelli Scarr, a Brooklyn-based singer and songwriter with a breathtaking voice. They arrived at NPR, a bit nervous and eager.

I kicked off the songwriting process by showing them a series of photographs and words. The surreal images came from New York artist Phil Toledano; you can see more of his work at NPR's Picture Show blog. Moby and Scarr are both drawn to an image of a man in the woods wearing a trenchcoat. There's a brown briefcase on the earthen floor beside him, and his head looks like a glowing storm cloud.

Next, I gave them a series of words to chose from. Moby picked the word "flight." Scarr chose "Sunday," which Moby calls "the most depressing day of the week."

Not too long after, Moby puts the card with the word "Sunday" printed on it, along with the photograph, on a nearby chair. He picks up a bass guitar and immediately starts playing a riff in the key of E. Turns out, this hastily played bass line would become the bedrock for their new song.

Just six hours later, the first of three versions of "Gone to Sleep" was recorded. You can see and hear two of those, and watch the song grow from conception to completion, on this page. We've also included a version performed at NPR Music's offices for our Tiny Desk Concert series.

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