Mazwe Cuba ’18 moves to his own beat. Literally. Settled in a modern lime green chair at Forman School’s new, state-of-the-art Ingenuity Lab, the junior from South Africa begins explaining his project with a vocal exercise.
“For Michael Jackson’s Thriller, the melody for the chorus is like: bum, bum bum, bummm, bummm,” he sings. “The background of the song is produced including that melody, and then you add the singing and the words on top.” Based on this, one might guess that Mazwe is creating his own music, but it’s more than that: he is crafting music with a mathematical algorithm of his own making. It’s called The Mazwe Bypass.
“I have been studying philosophers like Pythagoras and this guy called [Andrey] Markov and how they link math to music. So I decided – well – why don’t I use those ideas and match these notes and chords to different numbers and put it in an algorithm? Which I did,” he says. “I also developed ‘creative variation’ which allows the algorithm to then kind of make it by itself. So, for example, the jazz genre would have certain numbers while the pop genre might have other numbers. It creates the songs like that,” he says emphatically, snapping his fingers. But, of course, it isn’t as simple as Mazwe makes it sound, and it is clear how adept he is at synthesizing math and music.
The Ingenuity Program is all about taking original concepts and making them a reality. It gives the time, space, and guidance needed for students to hash out business or career ideas while still in college preparatory school. “Before the Ingenuity Program, I had the idea; I just never did anything about it. And then in the summer, I started to do some stuff with it on my own and it worked better than I expected. I took it to the Ingenuity Program and it started functioning well and now I’m able to do more each class,” Mazwe says.
The young innovator says that in his daily schedule, he is quite busy, but “Ingenuity makes it so much easier to work on my project.” He utilizes the hour-and-ten-minute block to plan and then solve any of the kinks in his algorithm. Now, he is communicating and receiving feedback from others in the industry through his personalized website. “At first I was resistant to having a website because I wanted to just contact people and pitch to them directly, but [Ingenuity Director] Mr. Ford encouraged me to make a website. Eventually I did it and the website has actually made it much easier to contact people. I’ve been talking and comparing approaches mainly with people in the field of computer music.”
And the result of each composition, such as his latest release, Autumn Nights, is a stunning amalgamation of catchiness, rhythm, and complexity.
Mazwe’s goal is to sell his algorithm to big music companies. “What I’m trying to do is get it into the industry. I think it works and it’s more cost effective than the process that is currently being used. If it takes a day to make a song now, this would take about three hours,” he says. Mazwe chose a year in Ingenuity rather than a semester, but he plans to continue next year. Having begun last fall, it has taken time to develop the Mazwe Bypass, and he doesn’t feel he is quite done yet: “I want to firm up my idea by the end of this year, but I’m still going to carry on doing it next year because I’m still trying to get it picked up, so that’s my end goal.”
Although Mazwe sees this as more of a “fun thing” that he is passionate about rather than something he will pursue in college, he still wants to see it through and watch where it goes. “Hopefully one day, the songs you hear will be using my algorithm,” he says, smiling.
Discover more at www.themazwebypass.com.
Check out more Ingenuity projects at www.formaningenuity.org.