El Paraíso Perdido (Nas Hedron, Canada/Brazil) 3:17
Since this is my own track I have a lot more to say about it than about the others. I’ve inserted topical headings so that you can skip any parts that don’t interest you.
How It Fits With the Luck + Death Story
El Paraíso Perdido means, literally, “the lost paradise.” Less literally (but more to the point) it’s also the Spanish title for John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost (Wikipedia, Full Text), the tale of Lucifer’s banishment from heaven to hell and Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden.
In Luck + Death it’s also the name for a neighborhood:
Vicente Suarez’s headquarters, the home of the Suerte, is in an area called Paraíso Perdido – the lost paradise, and it’s located in these slums. Originally the name had applied to a government-planned community that was built to house a large population of squatters who were forcibly removed from dangerous, earthquake-damaged buildings downtown, ostensibly for their own protection. The overblown poetry of the title was supposed to suggest Shangri-La, or Eden, or some such thing. It was to be a place of refuge where the poor could at last ﬁnd peace.
The grand plan foundered for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that the government’s real intention had simply been to vacate valuable downtown land upon which the poor were inconveniently situated. The model community was deliberately placed in the area just outside the airport, already a slum. The community was built cheaply and, once built, was abandoned to its own devices. There was no follow-up, no funding for maintenance, no employment for the residents, nothing. The buildings soon deteriorated and the slum reasserted itself, growing up through the cracked pavement like an unkillable weed.
Soon the area was as poor and crime-ridden as the surrounding neighborhoods. Those with a literary bent took to calling it not just Paraíso Perdido, but El Paraíso Perdido. Adding that one small “el” turns it into the Spanish title of “Paradise Lost,” Milton’s classic tale of Lucifer’s fall from heaven into hell. It was an appropriate bit of black humor that took hold, but was eventually abbreviated. Now almost everyone simply calls it El Paraíso. The obvious irony of referring to this bleak area as “the paradise” wore off a long time ago and now El Paraíso is simply a name, nothing more.
WTF Is This Weird Song About?
As Gat moves deeper into El Paraíso, heading toward the Suerte y Muerte compound, two things change: the ambient music in the neighborhood gets angrier and apocalyptic street preachers make an appearance. These are the elements that I wanted to embody in this track, as much as I could with the tools at hand.
Here’s what Gat observes about the music:
As we move further into the slum, the music changes, too. When I got out of the cab I immediately noticed the racket of numerous stereos. The music came from shops, from homes, from cars, and from pedestrians carrying boxy old units of a kind that no one in L.A. uses any more. At that point the music was largely Latin pop: bouncy dance songs and smooth love ballads. Here, though, the music is aggressive, assaultive. Latin beats still form the foundation, but on top of that angry, crunching guitars spit and crackle while singers chant bitterly. Most of the lyrics are in Spanish, but some are Nahuatl, the ancient Aztec language that many people use even now. Still others use dialects that I can’t identify and that the translator can’t process. Sometimes the traditional rhythms are slowed to a crawl, the guitars are replaced with forlorn synthesizers, and the lyrics are sung quietly, desperately, creating tunes that are gothic and macabre.
And here are the preachers:
A new feature that appears as we move deeper into El Paraíso is the soap-box preacher. I notice one, then another, and then suddenly they seem to be everywhere, screaming, hollering, bellowing, pronouncing, intoning, and every single one of them sweating like crazy. The babble of voices is too much for the translator to keep up with, though I can catch words and phrases here and there with the directional mic as I direct my gaze at one street-corner savior and then another. Some wave Bibles. Others have only tracts, or no written material at all, but invoke the names of ancient Aztec or Maya gods, describing their powers and their roles according to each religion or cult. There is Cihuacaotyl, the Aztec god whose howl signals the beginning of war; Kisin, the Mayan god of earthquakes and death; and Yum Kaax, the Mayan god of maize and bounty. The preachers—if that is the right word—spread their messages, using these symbols to threaten doom, promise food, seek converts. Some hold up texts I can’t identify, likely from cults that have ﬂourished here as the poverty intensiﬁed over the centuries. One book’s cover shows a woman riding a ray of light. A poster portrays three old men arm in arm, staring out at me like fates. A leather-bound volume has nothing on its cover but a gold-embossed bull.
So against a backdrop of increasingly harsh music, he hears these folks proclaiming their faith.
Some reference Christian theology, others preserve indigenous Mayan and Aztec beliefs, and still others revere gods of more recent vintage. Sometimes these are mixed together in a syncretic blend—Christianity melding with Mayan beliefs, for instance—just as Christian beliefs and African ones are combined in Brazilian Candomblé, Haitian Vodou, or the Santería that spread outward from Cuba.
The idea in this song was to convey the end-of-the-world, prepare-to-meet-your-maker mood conjured up by the preachers. As sometimes happens in the real world, their message isn’t just a warning—behind the warning is an ecstatic embrace of the radical change that will come with an apocalypse.
I wasn’t going to try to do this in Spanish, which I don’t speak or write. That would have been an abomination. So instead I simply did it in English and you can use your imagination to transpose it into Spanish (or Nahuatl if you prefer), like watching a World War II movie where the Germans speak English.
I wrote a set of verses that were tailored to fit into the musical foundation that I had decided to use (more about the music in a moment) and the setting that I’d picked.
I’ll set out the words, then clarify a point or two about their contents.
The streets are glutted with ghosts and gods;
Ah Puch has called them here—
Crowding the scarred skin of the city,
Dusty, dreadful, and fearsome.
Paradise is lost.
Paradise is lost.
Bride of sleep, dream-concubine
Salacious and perfumed—
A sleek temple of muscle and skin,
Saliva and fragrance.
Biting you, saying your name
A slick, heat-sick lullabye—
Sugar and perspiration
Curing you of every virtue.
Paradise is lost.
Paradise is lost.
With bandoliers of bullets and knives in his boots.
He is blessed bloodshed,
Whose commandments are
Suckle on horror.
Paradise is lost.
Paradise is lost.
And on the horizon, storming, headlong
Rushing toward this city, this street, this spot
Are nine red horses
And ten bloodied bulls
While above them
I watch a dragon torment the sky.
Amid the rising waters and the falling stars
Its scalding breath stains the sunset
saffron and citrine and carmine—
The colorful end
Of the very last day on Earth.
Paradise is lost.
I’m not going to interpret the lyrics for you—you’re perfectly capable of finding your own meaning in them—but here are one or two bits of mythology that might be unfamiliar that are incorporated into them:
- Ah Puch is one of several names for a Mayan god of death
- Selene is a Greek goddess of the Moon and her domain includes pretty much everything associated with the moon, including the nighttime, sleep, and madness
- Sabazios is another name for Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, ritual madness, and ecstasy
How the Music Was Created
Since I Dunno would form the framework of the piece, with everything built around it, I first timed out the sections of of Kendall’s piece in an approximate way to get a general sense of its structure.
Next, I wrote lyrics that seemed like they might fit more or less to the structure I’d mapped out, with specific sections of lyrics intended to go with particular portions of the composition. I took each section of lyrics and did sample readings, timing each one. I then checked the samples, determined how much each one had to be tailored, and then made the necessary cuts to get them to the exact length I needed (I had intentionally written all of them a little long).
Once the words were pretty much finalized, I recorded several takes of each section. As I did, I made small, last-minute changes to the text so that it read more naturally, flowed better, and so that it was better in terms of content, all while ensuring that I hit the exact length necessary.
I took the recording and chopped it up into segments, several for each verse or chorus. I listened to all the versions of each segment and picked the best one.
Because I created this mix while in Brazil–and therefore far from my friends at the TTG Music Lab studio in Toronto–I had to record the vocals on a terrible, cheap microphone, and in a room with some echo, so the next step was to process the recording for clarity, using noise reduction and dynamic range compression.
I opened I Dunno in Audacity and added a channel, then started adding the vocals in pieces, sliding the pieces forward and back until they fit just right.
I adjusted the volume of each segment (and sometimes, as discreetly as possible, adjusted the volume of words or phrases within segments), to ensure that the overall volume level was more or less even, but also that each line of the lyrics was audible even with the music in place. I allowed the volume of the vocals to rise somewhat over the course of the song, partly because it was necessary in order to ensure that the lyrics could be understood over the music and partly because the song builds to a climax.
Once I had an instrumental track and a vocal track that worked together, I mixed them and then began adding other layers.
I added an intro using three samples from FreeSound. I first used an edited down section from a crowd noise sample, into which I inserted an excerpt from a field recording of a vendor in Mexico City who used a loudspeaker to announce the tamales he’s selling. This blend then segued into a synthesized civil defence siren.
I composed the “demon horse” sound using elements from FreeSound.com. In sequence, the parts are (1) a sample from a horse neigh (which I stretched in Audacity using the Paulstretch effect), segueing into another sample from the same horse neigh (unaltered), which then segued into a sort of snort from another sound sample. I found what seemed like the right spot for it (the second “paradise is lost” after the Saint Selene verse). After listening to the whole piece with the demon horse in place, I decided to add it in the same position after the Saint Sabazios verse.
In the middle of the Saint Sabazios verse I added the sound of a bolt-action rifle being cocked. This was based on another sample from FreeSound, which is altered by lowering the pitch and enhancing the bass.
The Saint Sabazios verse is shorter than the Saint Selene verse, so I added a “slink” sound at the end, which acts as a bridge to the next section. This sound was based one of the same samples from ccMixter.org that Kendall used in composing I Dunno in the first place, which was made up of sounds made by a board covered in needles.
I took one sound from that sample and worked with it by itself. I cut away the first half, leaving only the second half, which I preferred. Then I created a reversed version of the second half to act as a new first half. I assembled them together into one sound, and then added a fade in at the beginning and a fade out at the end, so that I ended up with a shimmering metallic sound that fades in and then fairly quickly fades away again, a bit of aural decoration that acts as a transition.
In the bridge between the Saint Sebazios verse and the finale, I used a sample from a guitar line that (like the slink sound) came from a source Kendall used in composing I Dunno. I lifted the guitar line and laid it in over top of I Dunno to add a more foregrounded riff before the finale.
Just before the final verse begins, I added a sample from a field recording on ccMixter of surf on a beach that includes the gorgeous scrunching sound of the gravel as it’s pulled back out by each retreating wave. This plays through the final verse and continues to the end of the recording, past the end of I Dunno, forming a coda.
After the final verse, during the last few seconds of beach sound, I added some seagull cries from another FreeSound sample.
My Version, Your Version
After the gulls were added, my version of the track was complete, but you’re free to create your own version (in fact, if you scroll down, you’ll see that someone has). You can find a download link that will give you all the sound files used in this track at the bottom of the Download the Album page.
Add other sound effects, music samples, or your own vocal track. Take my vocal track and use it with completely different music. Or create your own version entirely from scratch.
If you create your own version, send me a copy or send me a link where I can download or stream your creation. With your permission I’ll post it to this site (or not, if that’s what you prefer), just like the one by Borni, below.
El Paraíso Perdido was sampled almost immediately once I posted it, but the first real remix has just appeared. Lost in Space was posted on ccMixter by Borni, who’s done a great job (I’ve taken the liberty of reposting it to Soundcloud so I can take advantage of their embedding).
It’s a great jazzy, slightly trippy version of the song that uses my vocal track, but sets it to entirely new music. It preserves the original theme of being lost (metaphysically speaking) but sets it against a spacey musical backdrop, hence Lost in Space.
The song El Paraíso Perdido is an original mix by Nas Hedron. The instrumental track is I Dunno by Jeff Kendall, which can be found here, released under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License (grapes / CC BY 3.0). The vocal track is an original recording, which is released here under the same license.
The photograph by email@example.com shows a shop window in the Chinatown in Los Angeles and was released under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License. It can be found here. I cropped the original and altered the saturation.