Why so subtractive?

Discussions about anything analog, digital, MIDI, synth technology, techniques, theories and more.
User avatar
el pr0n
Newbie
Newbie
Posts: 34
Joined: Sun Apr 03, 2011 5:10 pm
Real name: Rory
Gear: Roland SH-32, Ableton Live, Pure Data, Telecaster, Jazzmaster.
Band: Peaks
Location: Dublin, Ireland
Contact:

Why so subtractive?

Post by el pr0n » Fri May 20, 2011 10:14 pm

Something I've been wondering about a lot lately, then kinda compacted by parts of shaft9000's post in one of the threads here;
shaft9000 wrote:It's not like in the 70s and 80s when all this stuff was new - you didn't need to know what you were doing then as pretty much every sound was relatively interesting and new to the audience. Young rock stars in the 70s could impress everyone by just twiddling a few knobs and going 'whoosh' 'wow-wow' or whatever and get away with it....but a LOT of time has passed since then; so it becomes obvious whenever someone doesn't know what they're doing - they use presets or stick to bog-standard Moog-y analog stuff. And that hipster-retro 'Moog is the best' cliched attitude is tired tired (meaning it's on it's last legs).
so anyone with 5-10 yrs of conscious listening experience of classic synth-works will filter the truly innovative from the noob/rehash stuff easily; automatically even.
The vast majority of the electronic music I own/have listened to is done with subtractive synthesis. I don't know if I'm entirely right in saying it, but it seems to me like 90% of synthesisers in, at least the music I own, are doing subtractive stuff. It almost seems a little hard to find the other stuff?

I like "IDM" stuff (though I hate that term...) at the moment, Autechre, Telefon Tel Aviv, AFX, Boards of Canada... Big fan of bands that put rock and electronic stuff together, like The Flaming Lips, Radiohead, Battles, Deerhoof, CAN, Talking Heads... Also really interested in the stuff that came out of 20th century classical traditions, like Xenakis, Stockhausen, Messiaen, those dudes.

It seems to me, from what I can tell at least, it's mostly subtractive and a little bit of FM, where's the additive/granular/wavetable/whatever? Of course I might be talking rubbish, most of you all know way more than me. I thought it might lead to an interesting conversation at least?

And, if I am making ridiculous generalisations that aren't true, I'd love some recommendations :)
"Music must be listened to; it is not enough to hear it. A duck hears also." - Igor Stravinsky

If you like tunes;
Peaks on SoundCloud | Peaks on Facebook | Peaks on YouTube | Peaks on MySpace

User avatar
griffin avid
Synth Explorer
Synth Explorer
Posts: 1568
Joined: Fri Mar 25, 2005 11:08 am
Location: New York
Contact:

Re: Why so subtractive?

Post by griffin avid » Sat May 21, 2011 1:23 am

Speaking as a non-expert, I would say that since subtractive seems (yeah, I know- cue the douche who's going to say that he finds FM and Additive just as easy to program and work with) easier to work with, it's probably the most logical choice when comparing effort verse results- complexity verse cost.


You might as well start another post:

Who so Sine?


I mean most of the sounds I like use Sine waves....I know Triangles are popular and Saws are put to great use, but...
Music Product: Better Sounds for Beats http://www.StudioAVX.com
Music Production: Resources and Research http://www.ProducersEdgeMagazine.com
Music Produced: Abstract Hip Hop Sci-Fi: http://www.TheDynamicUniverse.com

User avatar
tekkentool
Synth Explorer
Synth Explorer
Posts: 3218
Joined: Fri Jun 26, 2009 10:51 am
Real name: Steve
Gear: Lasers (ส้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้ ωส้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้)
Band: none currently
Location: Sydney, australia.(I moved)

Re: Why so subtractive?

Post by tekkentool » Sat May 21, 2011 2:08 am

I think it's just because subtractive is just f**k amazing. Even when you have additive, wavetable or granular oscillators there will always be a filter there too because it's a classic sound and more than anything it's a f**k useful sound. Fm synthesis is great and I KNOW you can make amazing sounds with it, but for sheer ease of use to output you have to go with subtractive.

That's one of the things I like about my workflow right now, I don't NEED to spend more than 2-3 minutes getting a patch ready for a track.

Fm synthesis is gaining popularity again, I know fm8 and operator are pretty popular in production (I see operator used a lot by the dance crowd) but subtractive is king because it's so easy and fun to program.

I mean new synthesis types are always going to come out like this which is mindblowing s**t

But as said by a commenter, it's only really useful if you're making a space documentary.

Subtractive is just the workhorse synthesis style.

User avatar
dustinh
Active Member
Active Member
Posts: 283
Joined: Tue Jan 04, 2011 7:57 pm
Gear: juno-1, ensoniq sq-80, dsi mopho, microbrute, gretsch guitars, motu 2408, monotron, and caffeine
Location: Seattle, WA

Re: Why so subtractive?

Post by dustinh » Sat May 21, 2011 2:24 am

I like exploring new territory in music and sound design, but you know what? I love standard "moogy" sounds and bass lines. I've been a synth enthusiast for 15 years and I still love the basics along with the new stuff. I make sounds that I like to hear, whether they are innovative or classic sounds. I grow tired of all the elitist attitudes.

Steve Jones
Active Member
Active Member
Posts: 565
Joined: Wed Apr 23, 2008 10:40 pm
Real name: Steve
Location: Sydney
Contact:

Re: Why so subtractive?

Post by Steve Jones » Sat May 21, 2011 4:33 am

Subtractive synthesis is made from relatively simple circuits. Additive synthesis is costly and complex to do with analog circuitry, and the machines that did it digitally were very expensive indeed ( I used to own a Synclavier II, the 10 meg hard drive on that thing originally cost $10,000.00).

Yamaha came up with the GS and DX series, and I remember trying to figure out the programmer for the GS-1 when it was loaned from Japan to Australia for a while, it was a big computer box with a screen and a few photocopied pages in Japanese.

The Synclav was lovely to use, but it was insanely expensive, (as was the Fairlight series IIx that I had at the same time, I sold both because I got tired of moving them, they were BIG!).

Really apart from DX's and some other rarities additive synthesis has not been available to most musicians, but now with the age of the beige box there are I presume plenty of virtual instruments that use additive synthesis. I don't know why we aren't hearing lots of music done now with additive software, maybe it just doesn't sound as good as subtractive synthesis? Don't flame me, I really have no idea, I don't use virtual instruments, so I am clueless as to the state of evolution of virtual additive synthesis :-)
Synthesizer service tech since 1982.
Synth parts and service, Sydney Australia.

User avatar
tekkentool
Synth Explorer
Synth Explorer
Posts: 3218
Joined: Fri Jun 26, 2009 10:51 am
Real name: Steve
Gear: Lasers (ส้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้ ωส้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้้)
Band: none currently
Location: Sydney, australia.(I moved)

Re: Why so subtractive?

Post by tekkentool » Sat May 21, 2011 6:16 am

Steve Jones wrote: Really apart from DX's and some other rarities additive synthesis has not been available to most musicians, but now with the age of the beige box there are I presume plenty of virtual instruments that use additive synthesis. I don't know why we aren't hearing lots of music done now with additive software, maybe it just doesn't sound as good as subtractive synthesis? Don't flame me, I really have no idea, I don't use virtual instruments, so I am clueless as to the state of evolution of virtual additive synthesis :-)
Fm is making a resurgence due to the fact we now have the technology to put the interface on them they always needed. Additive is there too but it's difficult to make non "cheesy" sounds with additive a lot of the time (imo) so surprise surprise we see it combined with subtractive synthesis in most of its forms. (e.g )

User avatar
RD9
Active Member
Active Member
Posts: 536
Joined: Tue Mar 02, 2010 4:24 am
Location: NY/NJ

Re: Why so subtractive?

Post by RD9 » Sat May 21, 2011 6:54 pm

el pr0n wrote:
The vast majority of the electronic music I own/have listened to is done with subtractive synthesis. I don't know if I'm entirely right in saying it, but it seems to me like 90% of synthesisers in, at least the music I own, are doing subtractive stuff. It almost seems a little hard to find the other stuff?
In a nutshell, probably because subtractive synths are simpler and easier. (and there's more of them out there)

But I think that if enough designers worked on developing/improving interfaces for alternative synthesis methods, they could easily become as popular as subtractive. It's just more challenging.

Also it helps to have a famous band use them and be seen with them often, then others will follow. ;)

asohn
Newbie
Newbie
Posts: 65
Joined: Thu Mar 04, 2010 1:32 am
Gear: Moog Voyager, SH-101, Analogue Solutions Vostok, MKS-80, Korg Polysix, Juno 60, Roland JX8P, Moog MG-1, x0xb0x, SCI Sixtrak
Band: All Hazards
Location: San Francisco, CA

Re: Why so subtractive?

Post by asohn » Sat May 21, 2011 10:39 pm

There was a period in the 80s when most of the synths you began to hear were probably FM.

For me, I've never been able to personally achieve anything other than cheesy sounds with anything other than subtractive. The subtractive sound just says "synth" to me, and because I've personally listened to music that uses more subtractive analog synths, it's the sound that resonates in my soul. There's something about the simplicity that is just a little more natural sounding I think. Not that it's the best for mimicking acoustic instruments, but it just sounds like a musical instrument in itself.

edfunction
Active Member
Active Member
Posts: 294
Joined: Mon Oct 05, 2009 6:47 pm
Gear: sh-101, monomachine, nordmodular, esx1, nova, jx3p, jx8p, prophet vs, dx200
Location: Basel

Re: Why so subtractive?

Post by edfunction » Sun May 22, 2011 12:09 am

well autechre definitely step pretty far away from subtractive synthesis regularly...

User avatar
Automatic Gainsay
Synth Explorer
Synth Explorer
Posts: 3962
Joined: Wed Feb 14, 2007 12:22 am
Real name: Marc Doty
Gear: Minimoog, 2600, CS-15, CS-50, MiniBrute, MicroBrute, S2, Korg MS-20 Mini, 3 Volcas, Pro 2, Leipzig, Pianet T, Wurli 7300, Wurli 145-A, ASR-10, e6400.
Band: Godfrey's Cordial
Location: Tacoma
Contact:

Re: Why so subtractive?

Post by Automatic Gainsay » Sun May 22, 2011 4:10 am

Part of the reason that "subtractive (a term many of you know I despise because of its inaccuracy)" synthesis is popular is that the human voice is subtractive.
‎"I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question." -Charles Babbage
"Unity and Mediocrity are forever in bed together." -Zane W.
http://www.youtube.com/automaticgainsay

User avatar
Stab Frenzy
Moderator
Moderator
Posts: 9723
Joined: Tue Jun 06, 2006 5:41 pm
Gear: Eurorack, RYTM, Ultranova, many FX
Location: monster island*
Contact:

Re: Why so subtractive?

Post by Stab Frenzy » Sun May 22, 2011 10:58 am

el pr0n wrote:The vast majority of the electronic music I own/have listened to is done with subtractive synthesis. I don't know if I'm entirely right in saying it, but it seems to me like 90% of synthesisers in, at least the music I own, are doing subtractive stuff. It almost seems a little hard to find the other stuff?

I like "IDM" stuff (though I hate that term...) at the moment, Autechre, Telefon Tel Aviv, AFX, Boards of Canada... Big fan of bands that put rock and electronic stuff together, like The Flaming Lips, Radiohead, Battles, Deerhoof, CAN, Talking Heads... Also really interested in the stuff that came out of 20th century classical traditions, like Xenakis, Stockhausen, Messiaen, those dudes.
Have another listen to all that. Particularly Xenakis, Stockhausen and Messiaen, you won't find much use of subtractive synths there.

These are the reasons I see for what you're describing:

a) 'Subtractive' covers a huge range of synthesis types. Analogue subtractive, virtual analogue, wavetable, samplers and romplers are all subtractive. Anything that has filters is subtractive.
b) Subtractive synths have been around in large numbers for a long time. There are more subtractive synths out there, so you're more likely hear them.
c) The signal flow and interface of a subtractive synth is somewhat standardised and familiar to a lot of people. Someone who learnt on a Juno can easily figure out what's going on on a VA or a rompler or whatever. People are more likely to buy something they feel like they know how to use, which goes back to point b.
d)
Automatic Gainsay wrote:Part of the reason that "subtractive (a term many of you know I despise because of its inaccuracy)" synthesis is popular is that the human voice is subtractive.
e) Filters are really good things to have on synths. You don't want an instrument hogging the whole frequency spectrum so you need to have a method to keep it in one place. Guitars are subtractive in that the strings make the sound and then the pedals and amp filter that down to what you hear. When you mix any instrument you cut out frequencies that you don't want. Having that ability built into the instrument means you can get some really good sounds out of them fairly easily.
f) The way that filters effect the timbre of an instrument often adds character to the instrument.

User avatar
el pr0n
Newbie
Newbie
Posts: 34
Joined: Sun Apr 03, 2011 5:10 pm
Real name: Rory
Gear: Roland SH-32, Ableton Live, Pure Data, Telecaster, Jazzmaster.
Band: Peaks
Location: Dublin, Ireland
Contact:

Re: Why so subtractive?

Post by el pr0n » Sun May 22, 2011 2:57 pm

Stab Frenzy wrote: Have another listen to all that. Particularly Xenakis, Stockhausen and Messiaen, you won't find much use of subtractive synths there.
Hm, I know, I wasn't listing out a load of people I thought used only subtractive synths, just ones I listen to. The reason I got into Xenakis, Stockhausen, Autechre... was because I was looking for people who used other methods of synthesis. As far as I know (I haven't read very widely, just a few articles), Xenakis invented granular synthesis, or at least did lots of research into it?
Stab Frenzy wrote:These are the reasons I see for what you're describing:

a) 'Subtractive' covers a huge range of synthesis types. Analogue subtractive, virtual analogue, wavetable, samplers and romplers are all subtractive. Anything that has filters is subtractive.
b) Subtractive synths have been around in large numbers for a long time. There are more subtractive synths out there, so you're more likely hear them.
c) The signal flow and interface of a subtractive synth is somewhat standardised and familiar to a lot of people. Someone who learnt on a Juno can easily figure out what's going on on a VA or a rompler or whatever. People are more likely to buy something they feel like they know how to use, which goes back to point b.
...
e) Filters are really good things to have on synths. You don't want an instrument hogging the whole frequency spectrum so you need to have a method to keep it in one place. Guitars are subtractive in that the strings make the sound and then the pedals and amp filter that down to what you hear. When you mix any instrument you cut out frequencies that you don't want. Having that ability built into the instrument means you can get some really good sounds out of them fairly easily.
f) The way that filters effect the timbre of an instrument often adds character to the instrument.
I wasn't using the term 'subtractive' very well - I hadn't thought it through properly, I was really just thinking of analogue and VA synths.
Automatic Gainsay wrote:Part of the reason that "subtractive (a term many of you know I despise because of its inaccuracy)" synthesis is popular is that the human voice is subtractive.
lesson learned ;)

Not so sure about the guitar analogy though? Distortion pedals add to the frequencies made by the strings, right? Wah and other filter and modulation pedals subtract, but all the other stuff (on my board anyway), adds to the sound? Then the amp will only reproduce a section of all that, sure.
"Music must be listened to; it is not enough to hear it. A duck hears also." - Igor Stravinsky

If you like tunes;
Peaks on SoundCloud | Peaks on Facebook | Peaks on YouTube | Peaks on MySpace

User avatar
Stab Frenzy
Moderator
Moderator
Posts: 9723
Joined: Tue Jun 06, 2006 5:41 pm
Gear: Eurorack, RYTM, Ultranova, many FX
Location: monster island*
Contact:

Re: Why so subtractive?

Post by Stab Frenzy » Sun May 22, 2011 3:21 pm

el pr0n wrote:Not so sure about the guitar analogy though? Distortion pedals add to the frequencies made by the strings, right? Wah and other filter and modulation pedals subtract, but all the other stuff (on my board anyway), adds to the sound? Then the amp will only reproduce a section of all that, sure.
I was saying there's a bit of subtractive in everything.

User avatar
GuyaGuy
VSE Review Contributor
VSE Review Contributor
Posts: 1547
Joined: Fri Sep 17, 2010 2:10 am
Gear: YES PLEASE!
Location: Brooklyn, NY

Re: Why so subtractive?

Post by GuyaGuy » Sun May 22, 2011 6:26 pm

el pr0n wrote:
Not so sure about the guitar analogy though? Distortion pedals add to the frequencies made by the strings, right? Wah and other filter and modulation pedals subtract, but all the other stuff (on my board anyway), adds to the sound? Then the amp will only reproduce a section of all that, sure.
Guitar amplifiers traditionally roll off the high end and accentuate the mids, unlike a PA, which has a fairly flat response. High gain amps tend to do the opposite; they scoop the mids for heavy bass and clear highs. A Roland Jazz Chorus amp is about as flat response as you can get for guitar without it sounding crappy.

Try playing a guitar through a PA or just directly into a mixer into your computer and you'll hear how much amps subtract.

Primal Drive
Junior Member
Junior Member
Posts: 153
Joined: Wed Jul 22, 2009 5:26 am
Location: Colorado in the US of A

Re: Why so subtractive?

Post by Primal Drive » Mon May 23, 2011 2:01 am

Automatic Gainsay wrote:Part of the reason that "subtractive (a term many of you know I despise because of its inaccuracy)" synthesis is popular is that the human voice is subtractive.
Oh for f**k's sakes, take a basic course in electronics. I have a good laugh at most of your posts, but this one almost makes me feel embarrassed for you.

And to save what little face you have left (despite your comic avatar) at least have the balls to give credit to those whose info you've blatantly ripped off and splattered on this forum as if you actually understood what the f**k you're talking about.

You're just a freaking mook that's owned a few synths, nothing more. At least admit it, if nothing else.

Damn! I thought VSE was better than this.
And then she said, "What the f...?"

Post Reply