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Soundtrack review: City of ghosts (Jackson Greenberg & H. Scott Salinas – 2017)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: City of ghosts (Jackson Greenberg & H. Scott Salinas – 2017)


A real life international thriller, CITY OF GHOSTS exposes a new type of warfare: a battle over ideas, a fight for hearts and minds, a conflict over clicks and views. Captivating in its immediacy, it follows the journey of “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently”—a handful of anonymous activists who banded together after their homeland was taken over by ISIS in 2014. With astonishing, deeply personal access, this is the story of a brave group of citizen journalists as they face the realities of life undercover, on the run, and in exile, risking their lives to stand up against one of the greatest evils in the world today. The score was written by Jackson Greenberg & H. Scott Salinas.

The main theme is quiet and thoughtful, with atmospheric sounds of chimes blending with a cello motif and a constant electronic heartbeat in the background that builds up the tension. It’s not a momentary tension though, the composers create a permanent feeling of tension, something the characters maybe got used to living in. What was just a hint turns into a full blown sensation in the second cue “Meet the team” as the guitar sound is more Latin than Middle Eastern. I get a Gustavo Santaollala feel from this cue.

Since this is an investigative thriller the composers chose to write a textural score that can accompany the viewer in his journey of discovering the lives of the citizen journalists; there aren’t any themes or epic cues as the music stays quiet and in the background. Every now and then the piano blinks and punctuates a special moment but other than that, the first half of “City of ghosts” is purely textural and a score like this is not easy to fully enjoy outside the context of the movie it was written for. The music is quiet and the melodic moments are my favourites. I like the subtle emotion in “Nagi dies”, a cue that doesn’t get dramatic and tells its story without leaving the textural confines of this score.

“The center of the city” has a beautiful minimalistic Middle Easter echo that really gets to me; as a fan of ambient music this one is right up my alley and I like what the composers managed to do here. I like the solo strings in “Satellite” as they remind me of the score for “Babel” and its unique ambient sound. The middle section of the score gets livelier and uses what sounds to me like a zither to give the album a genuine middle eastern vibe. I feel like I am walking the streets of Morocco again, blending with the crowd, taking in the scents and the aromas.

For me the textural fabric of “City of ghosts” worked; I liked a lot of the cues because the ambient soundscape was appealing and fresh and the composers weren’t just content with writing their entire score as a background element and in the second half of the album they made the music another character in the story. The use of ethnic instruments and vocals make this score well worth a listen.

Cue rating: 82 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 12 / 44

Album excellence: 27%

The Center of the City
Walking Through Berlin
Rose and Snow
Pulling Back the Curtain
Broken Wings

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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