Addititive vs. Subtractive Paradigm applied to MIDI

If you have been involved with synthesizers you are likely familiar with the paradigms of “additive” versus “subtractive” synthesis. Additive being the combination of frequency fundamentals toward building a sound, and subtractive being the carving out of sounds from a spectrum of frequencies by means of filtering.

It occurred to me that in composition, music creation, these paradigms also can be found. You can either start a composition by coming up with the basic chords, progressions, harmonies etc, perhaps starting with a scale, and building upon another. Or you can take something existing and remix, re-compose, etc.

In my own style, I use Scaler as a recomposing tool. I make it create lots of stuff, either randomly, or in combination of its various presets, just to carve out the pieces that sound good to me (subtractive).

Going way back into human history, another good analogy would be making sculptures with clay (additive) or out of carving marble blocks (subtractive).

What is your style?

I was reminded just how involved composition can be in a simple ditty by

It’s interesting that, after the event composers analyse the complexity of some of the Beatles music, although probably John Lennon didn’t know what Dorian was. It just goes to show that IMHO emotive music can arise equally from those with a deep understanding of music theory AND from composers with just an innate and creative feel for how sounds and words progress.

I got a feel for analogue programming via my Oberheim Matrix 1000 (abeit impossible without a software editor - it had 6 buttons. I recall).

Bernd, what’s you talk on physical modelling? It’s likely to displace (if it hasn’t already dome so sample based synthesis for ‘real’ instruments’, but the majority of sounds from older digital synths didn’t reflect any this in the real world, so maybe S+S will tend to be around still for some time.

From my limited understanding of physical modeling, it is an additive method? Similar to FM (frequency modulation)? You basically establish some fundamentals and then have them interact with each other, right?
So I suppose there is a third method, next to additive and subtractive, “combinatory”? Mashups? The whole being bigger than the sum of its parts?

Man thanks for sharing Adam’s explanation there, I had never considered it that way, but now it’s all coming together…

ROFL :rofl: :joy: :sweat_smile:

I read a little bit about it during a conversation I was having with a church organist friend. It’s really going back to the basic physics of a vibrating string or pressure oscillations in a pipe etc and dealing with all the myriad of nuances … I suppose one might think about it as ‘white box’ modelling as opposed to the ‘black box’ approach in FM, and maybe half and half as in the use of convolution on impulse responses. There are probaly a lot of folk on the board who know a lot more than I do on this stuff.

Not sure what you mean with “blackbox” in FM? I am also confused why many people make reference to FM being so complicated. Perhaps the user interface of the original DX-7 was less than intuitive, but I find the general FM routing patterns quite intuitive, when just visualized appropriately (making a clear distinction between parallel and serial routing paths, just like with effects). Especially with user interfaces like in FL Studio or NI FM-8, using a matrixed approach.
I also suspect that my experience as software developer makes concepts like recursion (feedback in synths) natural to me.

It wasn’t intended in the context of ‘black box’ being something mysterious and/ or complex, but strictly using the term in the mathematical modelling sense.

I was drawing a distinction between white box (and I guess physical modelling) ; e.g. with a piano, the model would be a stretched string where he mathematics of vibrating systems can predict the audio effect of this.
I’d see black box modelling (which I spent 3 years doing in Algol 60 with complex vibrating systems) as not being concerned with the actual mechanics of the physics of a system; When Chowning devised the DX7, I suspect he didn’t perceive a piano as vibrating string, but used the maths to determine how he could produce a given waveform (which was the sound of a piano) by the modulations he used. This I would think of in terms of a ‘black box’ model as it was largely divorced from being based on the actuality.

I agree with you fully that programming FM synths has gained a certain mystique, possibly promulgated by Brian Eno’s tale of locking himself up for n years with a DX7 and a case of chocolate bars. Like any synth (or human endeavour) mastering it is not binary, but the more you learn about it, the better one becomes, I suppose.

I messed about quite a bit with the Yamaha FB01, which was a poor man’s version of an FM synth, but I did have this for a time (pictured on my dining room floor)

So I’m completely in tune and agreement with your comment.