Scotland Uncovered #5: Helena Celle’s Outlet Archive

Scotland Uncovered #5: Helena Celle’s Outlet Archive

You might already know Helena Celle;

a founding member of the outrageously underrated Herbert Powell (who could rightly lay a claim to being the best live band in Glasgow, and your favourite muso’s favourite band) and the acclaimed righteous punk band Anxiety, she also records under her own name, and produces, too. However, her newest project, Outlet Archive, is truly innovative. Releasing music periodically through Patreon rather than working with labels, Helena eschews standard formats and structures, putting out big slabs of music all at once.

And what music, too. I thought it best to reproduce our chat in this Q+A form.

Hello, who are you?

Hello, I tend toward using the pseudonym Helena Celle. It helps with not having to explain myself.

Could you tell us a little about your musical background? I’m specifically interested in Herbert Powell and the off-shoots of that band, I would argue they were very influential.

I have no formal musical background, and was discouraged from pursuing one. I believe that this led to a manner of negative identity formation, whereby I became determined to define myself in oppositional defiance by playing instruments without any knowledge of their workings. In a similar regard, although perhaps relating more to growing up in difficult circumstances in working class Glasgow, I identified with the likes of Aleister Crowley, Throbbing Gristle, and Coil from an early age. Although I am frankly repentant about these formative influences, these are the aspects which led to my involvement in Herbert Powell.

I played in a band called Anxiety after Herbert Powell, which dealt with many of the same themes but to a more successful degree, for example, being played by Iggy Pop on his BBC radio programme. I’ve since been pursuing avenues in life outside of music, but continue to release recordings on a monthly basis.

Which musical space does the Outlet Archive come from? Is this a continuation of your work as Helena Celle or is it a different prospect?


Helena Celle

What I am always trying to foremost in any creative endeavour is to give representation to the autonomous ongoings of the psyche, the contents of which are not linguistic but take the form of images. The image can be considered the fundamental unit of mental activity, prior to the formation of thoughts and feelings. I think when we discuss where music comes from, we often retroactively construct a linguistic narrative that draws from circumstance, and if I were to do that then I would have to dwell upon my experience of the pandemic. 

I went from playing in a band, co-running a label, and organising a regular improvisational event to doing none of the above. Simultaneously, I went from being employed to being unemployed, and from being in training to no longer being able to afford to do so. 

One particular aspect of pandemic living found itself at a crossroads with another consideration, which was the social function of recorded music, because it occurred to me that my life stuck at home was being lived via media, or that media was vicariously living my life on my behalf. It got me thinking about stock music, music for films that feels emotions on our behalf, music played in public so that we don’t have to be left alone with our thoughts. I wanted to experiment with this medium of library music, and make it available on a monthly basis like a commercial product. I thought it would be interesting to see what it would produce.

Your use of Patreon is really interesting. What led to you choosing this platform? Advantages/disadvantages?

I had wanted for some time to do something that could forego the conventions we have come to associate with recorded music, things like song titles, tracklists, album artwork, which are required by all of the major hosting platforms of course. I thought initially of something like a monthly radio broadcast.

There is certainly a smaller audience with this approach, although paradoxically there is far more financial reward and stability. I’m just fulfilled with having the capacity to explore the initial concept, and that there are people who are happy to support me doing so. It also means that if I have time beyond the initial commitment, I can explore other endeavours and release them for my patrons.

What are your experiences of the “traditional” system for releasing music, and are there particular reasons in rejecting those in favour of an artist-only subscription model?

I think once you’ve released a recording on vinyl then the illusion of the value of doing so dissipates. Sound as a medium is as transient as our lives, and perhaps it would be more conducive to psychological wellbeing to think this way. If we are to speak of use and value, a patronage model has been much more financially viable for me.

Where do you place yourself in a Scottish “music scene”? Do you think such a concept is out-moded because of the internet, or does location still serve a vital role?

I worked as a venue engineer for half a decade, which I cannot recommend in any good faith to anyone. Similarly, an album that I produced (Not Passing by Comfort) has made it to the shortlist for the Scottish Album of the Year Awards this year, but I don’t really enjoy recording bands. 

What is most important to me is playing music with others in close physical proximity, which to me is a more embodied and somatic manner of communication and social bonding than linguistic communication. There is meaning to be found here, which is otherwise absent from the music industry, counterculture, and contemporary life in general.

There are things that get in the way. It requires time and space, which must be paid for. Many properties that facilitate this are dependent on alcohol sales, charity, or partisan ideological adherence. I am critical of counterculture, and I think we should be, as it is defined by its rejection from the monoculture. It casts a large shadow, and carries a lot of baggage. There’s a collective victimhood which conceals an unconscious mimicry of the violence of the monoculture. The source of neurosis is all too often heartbreak.

What else is going on? What have you been able to enjoy during the Hell Year of Our Lord 2020? Any tips for making art under lockdown?

I have a 2xLP release upcoming via Kit Records, which has been sent to the pressing plant. It’s nearly three hours of lo-fi chamber music that I composed and then recorded to tape with a virtual orchestra, and that’ll be released under the name of Time Binding Ensemble. It was produced with assistance from the music writer Chris Ott, and I’m very excited for people to hear it.

I’ve also been working on some manner of jazz-oriented music with my boyfriend, who is a talented saxophonist and pianist. I’m very grateful to be living under the same roof as another musician under lockdown.

It can be very difficult to contrive an idea, and if this is the case then it is generally for commercial or ideological ends. If you are doing this then you should be aware that on a neurological level this is a process of mimicry (despite our antithetical notions of copyright) and it is more conducive to be conscious of this than not. You will get more done. 

However, my own approach to art at this point in my life is a wholly other matter, which is to observe the autonomous contents of the psyche, the unit of which is the image, and the medium of which is the imaginal. If you do this, and you record your perceptions as representations, but not interpretations, then this is a wholly authentic and embodied relationship to creation. You will find that this relationship will deepen, and you will find meaning that is absent from the outside world.

Check out Helena Celle’s Patreon:

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