Pianist and composer Kaan Bulak’s music transcends boundaries. Extending beyond geographical and cultural borders, his compositions keep the experience of sound at their core. Set free by music himself, Kaan wants everyone to see a part of themselves within the staves.
Each day, Kaan gets up early to read and starts writing music at 07:30 on the dot. He admits it’s probably not a typical Berliner’s morning routine but although he moved out of his club studio in Friedrichshain, the city’s underground scene remains a true inspiration to his own sound: “[the] underground clubs with their immersive sound systems – they're definitely the place that lead me to better sound appreciation.”
Kaan grew up with the piano, and his talent was evident from an early age. At some stage, he remembers, he was enticed by Berlin’s electronic sound: “I was very interested in clubs, and hung out there and played there. Then I found my way back to composed music.” The multifaceted nature of Berlin allows for an eclectic range of experiences, Kaan explains: “I can go east or west and it's like two different cities”. And within his compositions, the sounds of Berlin’s clubs and concert halls converge.
Influenced by both Istanbul, where he grew up, and his hometown of Berlin, Kaan believes his music will always contain a trace of place: “My cultural roots from Istanbul definitely influenced the scales and the tonality in my music. But coming to Berlin, that influenced my sound.” Similarly, Kaan rejects the idea that music should be confined to a particular genre. Disregarding distinctions between acoustic and electronic instruments, Kaan creates unique cross-genre arrangements: “To me, there is not really a difference between classical or techno or whatever. There is the experience of music.” Music and the listening experience, he explains, is totally subjective: “I'm not trying to project a message through my music. It's much more transcendental and much more personal for the people listening to it.”
And what inspires him most about Berlin? Its sense of honesty. Departing from conventional storytelling, Kaan instead maintains the listener and the musical experience at the core of the piece. The pure, abstract quality of his sonic creations allows the listener to project themselves into the music, encouraging a more personal connection with the arrangement. “I feel like what I took from Berlin is an honest approach,” Kaan explains, Berliners “[leave] out all the noise. [They’re] just straight to the point.” From his perspective, what makes Berlin interesting is the raw, honest quality of its inhabitants and culture. “Why pretend [to be] someone else if you could just show who you actually are?”
“I feel like what I took from Berlin is an honest approach, Berliners leave out all the noise. They’re just straight to the point.”
The city’s landscape itself shapes the soundwaves of Kaan’s music. Exploring the city by bike entices adventure, coaxing out the lesser seen geometrical shapes of the city – its striking architecture, parks, and topography – by which his compositions are inspired. An island surrounded by water in the city’s lush Tiergarten park is Kaan’s latest source of inspiration: “It's a nice, natural shape and I think it's become my muse. I look at it, and then I write pieces.” Access to water in a city, perhaps owing to his formative years in Istanbul, is essential for Kaan: “Water is shaped like sound waves. And I can somehow translate that to sound in my brain.”
Composing, or music more generally, is Kaan’s release; or in his words: “Music is the best way I know how to be free.” And wherever his music takes him next, a little piece of Berlin – whether it’s the shape of the water surrounding the Tiergarten island, or the heart-shaking thumps of its underground clubs – will be forever a part of his sound.
In the series Rider Stories, we explore perspectives on living and working in cities and beyond through the eyes of our riders.