Subtractive synthesis – Part 1

What is subtractive synthesis?

Wikipedia says: Subtractive synthesis is a method creating a sound by removing harmonics, characterised by the application of an audio filter to an audio signal.

If that sounded like Greek to you, well… it did to me too, a year back. With a little bit of research, I figured out that it is actually quite simple.

Okay, think of a stone sculptor. The sculptor has an idea of a sculpture in his / her mind. The first step that they take up is to find the right stone as a raw material.

What defines the “right” stone? The answer depends on the sculpture that needs to be carved out of it. I’m no expert on the topic, but I’m assuming both the material and size has to be right. Some types of stone are better suited for some sculptures, than others. And obviously, you cannot sculpt a 5 foot sculpture from a 3 foot stone, so the size is important too.

Once the right stone is chosen, the whole stone carving excercise is nothing but subtraction. You subtract whatever is not part of the sculpture you plan to create.

Subtractive audio synthesis is the same thing.

You take a “raw material” sound that suits the sound that you want to create. And you sculpt away the sounds that you don’t need, and you are left with your creation. Sometimes you can use multiple raw material sounds. Sometimes you add embellishments to the sounds in terms of effects (more on this later). But the basic principle is the same.

In my next post, I’ll talk about what exactly the raw material and sculpting equivalents in the sound universe are.


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