“I miss people greeting and smiling at one another.”

Aydın Dorsay is a musician who has taken on different roles within Borusan Sanat, including his work with the BIPO, the Borusan Quartet, and as the Director of Borusan Music House. Dorsay has played a key role in bringing many events and projects to life at Borusan Sanat with the aim of providing different experiences for both artists and viewers. Since 2021, Dorsay has been the Director of Borusan Sanat. Now that I’ve found an Istanbul-born artist, I couldn’t help but ask him about the Istanbul of his childhood and all that’s changed in the city.

PAPER Which district were you born in in Istanbul? 

Aydın Dorsay I am actually an old Istanbul resident, so I was born and raised here. In fact, if you could believe it, I was born in Nişantaşı and I still live in the building where I grew up, located in the Nişantaşı-Topağacı neighborhood.

P Just like Orhan Pamuk…

AD Yes, but I became a Nişantaşı resident sometime after him, of course.

P How has the district changed from the past to the present?

AD In the ’80s, there was a place where we used to go on sled rides when it snowed a great deal. Now, there are high-rise buildings there, with people almost peering into one another’s rooms. You also witness changes such as these, naturally.

P Shall we talk a little more about the Istanbul of your childhood? How did you spend your time in Istanbul during those years?

AD Since I grew up in Nişantaşı, you could say that I grew up in the streets, even though I had a certain home life and order. We had a group of friends from the neighborhood, and there are still three people I could count in this group. Since I had such a close-knit friend group, most of my time outside of school and classes was spent gallivanting around. Before I was old enough to go out on my own, my mom or dad would take me. For instance, we would go to Belgrade Forest or Kilyos Forest every Sunday. In the Nişantaşı area, we would walk up to Maçka Park. We would also tour the palaces. Once I grew a little older and started going out with my friends, we would go to Ulus Park, where I had a friend group. Then we would go to Taksim and to Gezi Park—which is what it’s called now, but back then it was just “the park in Taksim.” We would play games and ride bikes…

P So, in those years and in your early adolescence, which neighborhood inspired you the most, and why?

AD The shoreline stretching from Beşiktaş to Sarıyer was pleasant. Taksim, Cihangir, Ortaköy, and the Kuruçeşme-Arnavutköy shoreline were pleasant. Since my circle of people were mostly on this side, I wouldn’t cross over to the Anatolian side much. I also loved II. Levent, meaning the area between IV. Levent and Yeni Levent, because it was and still is green. The houses there weren’t high-rises, and they were surrounded by gardens, which made the neighborhood beautiful. Of course, I also had friends there, so I loved going to those areas. I also spent most of my time on the European side due to my school’s location. I’ve never been an Asian-side kid.

P What district does this correspond to in today’s Istanbul?

AD I won’t say I enjoy this district or that one, but I’ve always loved Nişantaşı and Taksim for better or for worse, as I was born and raised and still live there. What’s interesting is that the Asian side begins to appeal more to me the older I get. Even though I rarely make the journey, the greenery and the calm atmosphere of that side affect me. But, for instance, Balat is still pleasant, as well. Of course, that’s just the Balat side, as the chaos resumes when you get over to Eminönü. And Eminönü is a whole experience on its own—a fun one, but I can’t deal with that chaos for too long.

P In your opinion, what has changed from the Istanbul of your youth to the present day?

AD For one, it’s become more crowded. Due in part to emigration, the demographic makeup of the neighborhood has started to change over time. Specifically in the case of residents over a certain age, some have moved elsewhere, even to other countries. As I said, the biggest change and the biggest issue is that the district has grown more crowded. A big factor in all this is the infusion of high-rise buildings and structures into city life. In fact, Marmara University’s Faculty of Communication had a campus behind the building where I live, and I had done my graduate studies there. Now, there are four 10-plus-floor buildings in the same location.

P It must be really fascinating to watch the view outside your window change…

AD Of course. Where I previously saw university students, I now see the pool on someone’s balcony. Similarly, that person sees my bedroom from their pool.

P Although we all complain from time to time about the growing crowds, on the other hand, could it be beneficial to come into contact with other cultures, perhaps?

AD When urban planning isn’t done to the requisite level, what you’ve described doesn’t occur as it should. I am someone who tries to understand people who wander and walk along the streets. But if we are to talk about Nişantaşı specifically, in addition to people, there are cars, motorbikes, and a lack of space due to pavement occupation. Add to that the entry into the workforce of people who don’t share the same native language, and the streets become a highly stressful experience. In cities where there is urban planning—and where people respect one another, of course—crowds turn into pleasant viewing and even feed people, as you said. But since this isn’t the case throughout Istanbul, it still feeds you, of course, but it can be a more negative experience.

P I wondered if it could be similar to the German concept of “Geräusch,” or noise turning into music…

AD Yes, I enjoy crowds because I grew up in a city. For instance, if I spend a week in a resort town or somewhere calm, I start to feel as if I have less energy for movement, given my current lifestyle. However, all this noise caused by lack of planning is also exhausting, of course. When you go somewhere quiet, you get a better sense of this exhaustion.

P If we were to go back to your school years, how was your relationship to music back then?

AD I first studied photography for my undergraduate degree at Yıldız Technical University. Then, I studied American Culture and Literature at Bilkent, where I graduated from. This gave me the opportunity to experience school outside of Istanbul. Then, I completed my graduate degree in Radio and Television at the Marmara Faculty of Communication, right by my home. So, I come from a different line of study, but my mother and father were two people who listened to a lot of music, so I grew up being intimate with music. My habit of listening to music comes from my parents. In fact, my interest in classical music goes back to my grandfather. I also tried to play at one point, but I didn’t consider myself to be very talented, so I chose to remain a good listener. Back then, they used to take me to concerts; now I take them.

P Yet now, you are in the world of music. How does the present-day music scene in Istanbul differ from that of your school years?

AD I started going to venues at age 17. I would get to know different music groups at these venues and also at outdoor festivals. When I compare those years to the present, there are still festivals today, but fewer of them. There are also very few venues devoted to rock and similar genres. So, music fans who could once access many different types of music nowadays complain about not finding that same flavor, especially on the European side. There would be discussions on music in those places, and you would meet different people. Now, you truly have to go abroad to experience such comfortable settings with more of an alternative sound.

P How do you think the demographic of people listening to live music has changed since your youth?

AD To be honest, access to music was something people cared about much more, and there was a group of people I would call fans, who would absolutely keep up with the bands who were brought here. Nowadays, I see a crowd of people who don’t care about the music but who are only there to show that they are there. Sometimes, if the ratio is off, you can feel bothered when you go somewhere to hear music. I think those two crowds need to be balanced.

P A little more nostalgia… Is there anything you miss of the old Istanbul that you can’t find nowadays?

AD You miss green spaces, of course. It’s not that there were more parks, but there were fewer apartment buildings. That’s why you miss the abundance of wide open spaces. Even though Istanbul was always crowded, it was a calm crowd—there was a calmness that you miss today. There was a great deal of respect, and you miss that, too. In general, people have forgotten how to smile. I might be repeating myself, but when there is no order, the crowds can really wear you down. And when you’re worn down, you can lose interest in the work you do, as well. That’s why you end up missing the old order and calmness, whether you want to or not. As I said, there are too many people and cars. It’s great that public transportation stretches throughout the entire city. The city must be constructed with consideration of parks and green spaces. There should be spaces removed from the city’s noise where people can go, even if it’s only for 15 minutes. I also miss people greeting and smiling at one another the most.

P On the topic of public transit, the percentage of bikes also used to be higher, didn’t it?

AD This situation also has to do with respect for pedestrians and non-motorized vehicles. Visible respect for one another would positively impact our desire to walk in Taksim-Tünel, for example, where our workplace is. Imagine you’re walking down the road and you have to pay attention to so many things: people, cars, potholes, indentations, removed paving stones, buildings under construction from where something may fall on your head… Additionally, the occupation of many pavements around the city by cars—and indeed the use of pedestrian roads as parking lots—are other factors contributing to a lack of desire to walk.

P Do you have Istanbul-related rituals or must-haves in your daily life?

AD Would you consider it a ritual to spend half the day in bridge traffic? (Laughs.)

P Lastly, which districts throughout Istanbul do you think have beensuccessfully preserved?

AD I suppose we could count Levent and Koşuyolu among these districts. For example, they’re currently building a mosque across from Kanyon. The green area right behind it is still green, and I hope it remains that way, along with its homes. That area is known as II. and III. Levent. So, there are small clusters of preserved areas, but even those are surrounded by concrete disguised as “modern structures.” As I said, there is an odd sort of planning; anything from architecture to pavement stones can change instantly. The backstreets of Balat are also the same. I hope they don’t change, either.