I haven't had this much of an excuse to be grossly atonal since a composition lesson in college when I was asked to create a piece of music using random elements. For that project I created a system by which a piece of music could be created with various rolls of dice. It was a lot of fun and the piece was quite a hit with my wife (then girlfriend) to whom I dedicated it. It was titled "You Are So Sexy You Make My Blood Boil: Blub, Blub". Seriously.
With Russell's Velvet Dunes I wanted more of a challenge than the one I gave myself with Victoria, so I decided to actually write some counterpoint and derive a more complex harmonic progression. This worked out well also with my decision to write for string quartet, which is especially well-suited to this kind of counterpoint. The composition is largely based upon two melodic bits that I mined from the raw image data. The first (which I call Velvet) is the melody in the first violin for the first six measures of the piece. The second (which I call Dune) is a 10 measure melody that you hear played unaltered by the viola (1:13) and then the second violin (1:34) in the first half of the piece.
I decided to let "Dune" become the harmonic framework for much of the rest of the piece. This melody begins with an leap of a tritone (the most dissonant interval) and is followed by a major seventh (the second most dissonant interval), so it is very distinctive and destroys any sense of tonality. The melody also contains several minor seconds (also very dissonant). These intervals form much of the harmonic progression on which I set the melodies. If any of the melodies sound too dissonant for your ear, blame it on the picture--they made me do it. (The funny thing about dissonant melodies, though, is that once you listen to them a few times they start to sound better as you become more familiar with them).
Halfway through the piece (~2:00) I increase the tempo and modulate into G# minor. I wanted to create a more lively texture and I wanted to continue to force these musical materials into an increasingly tonal structure. This turned out to be a bit like forcing a dozen greased mice into a bread pan. At this point "Velvet" comes back, although it is presented much faster than it was before. The piece ends in a relatively solid G# minor cadence.
Anyway, I don't want to bore everyone with a play-by-play of the entire composition. Suffice it to say that the raw melodies played a part in every measure of the composition. It was a lot of fun to write, and I'm looking forward to starting a third piece for this album. (After I finish "Tune My Heart").