'One Key Magic' is the second album by One Key Magic, a duo comprising of political geographer Michael Mulvihill and electronic producer Chris Tate.
The new album continues the duo’s exploration of electronic phenomenon produced by RAF Fylingdales, a Ballistic Missile Early Warning station on the edge of the North York Moors. The album features field recordings by Ivor Novella award winner David de la Haye and is an immersive mix of electro-acoustic improvisation broken by moments of soaring melodic guitar.
OKM is part of Mulvihill's research looking at the clash between electronic music and electromagnetic military technologies for an Arts and Humanities Research Council project called ‘Turning Fylingdales Inside Out’ at Newcastle University.
Situated on the edge of the North York Moors in North East England are three giant, geodesic domes containing the space radars of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). Built in 1962, the purpose of the ‘radomes’ at RAF Fylingdales was to track everything in Low Earth Orbit and distinguish the signal of an incoming nuclear weapon from the ‘noise’ of satellites and space debris. Along with designing and building these radar systems (as well as those on the Apollo program’s Lunar Module), RCA developed revolutionary innovations in recorded music such as the velocity microphone, the 45rpm single and the music synthesizer. Indeed, during the early years of operations at Fylingdales, the supply chain of radar component parts (many of which were the same switches and dials as those used on early RCA synthesizers) was managed from the same office that dealt with the distribution of records by ABBA, David Bowie and Iggy Pop.
Dr. Michael Mulvihill, artist and research associate in the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology at Newcastle University, is the first artist in residence at RAF Fylingdales. Together with musician and producer Chris Tate, the pair formed One Key Magic in 2021 to interpret and materialise the scintillations and aurora of these electro-magnetic engagements, while folding together the geographic, cultural and historic trajectories of music production, space exploration and nuclear deterrence.
The starting point was to make audible the electromagnetic pulses from the space radars, and from the Apollo Lunar Module, as drone tones. By transposing the frequencies of the radar pulses, they were brought into the range of human hearing and a different composition for each radar location was created. Compositions were improvised over the tones, with the musical key and relevant melodic scales being determined by the fundamental and harmonic frequencies present in the radar pulse drones. Using synthesizers and guitar played with electronic bow (a device which uses electromagnetism to vibrate the strings without touching them), morphing textures were allowed to form and flow. Seeking an immersive sound through processes of human and the more-than-human creative forces interacting within the world, the project shares sonic concerns with artists and musicians such as Laurie Spiegel, Catherine Christer Hennix and Alvin Lucier.
One Key Magic seeks to make audible the way that electromagnetic practices of nuclear deterrence have invisibly shaped our experiences for the past half a century.
"We used to camp in North Yorkshire when we were kids, on the edge of the moors. Dad would drive up into the heather and we would explore the stone crosses. The dips and furrows and paddle in the streams. Play for hours outside pubs as Mum and Dad sat inside. One of the most striking sights on the moors was man made, the giant golf ball structures that Dad explained were the Fylingdales, an early warning system for nuclear attack. We were young but at that point in time everyone knew about nuclear war. We all knew we were going to perish in one and it wasn’t just a matter of if, it was a matter of when. When I was older we walked the Lyke Wake walk across the moors and had to skirt the perimeter of the installation. It was immense.
This music then, sounds that come from that place, is tied to my childhood and teenage memories and as such means an awful lot to me. The place was bad enough when it was functional, it was alien and strange, lurking on the edge of the purple heather. Now that the golf balls are gone and it’s just the crumbling cement foundations of the site left I don’t want to think about what ghosts haunt the shadowed spaces.
The music drones and speculates as it finds hidden corners and lost rooms. Added sounds of guitar and electronics focus your mind towards them but underneath the spirits of the moors are circling. I mean, it’s good that such a place doesn’t exist anymore. A constant reminder of a death by fire. But on the other hand, could such a place that provides inspiration for something this beautiful not have contained a little goodness somewhere deep inside."
- Fighting Boredom
released February 1, 2023
Produced by Michael Mulvihill and Chris Tate
All songs written by Michael Mulvihill and Chris Tate (except track 7: Michael Mulvihill, Chris Tate and David de la Haye)