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Why is it called subtracrive when the signals are added or multiplied?

The sound making starts with creating “all” the spectral content (e.g a saw or square wave is a sum of infinitely many sine waves, up to the nyquist limit) and then the synth uses a filter to subtract some frequencies - typically all frequencies above a certain cutoff. So the term subtractive comes from the fact that it first makes a lot of spectral content, then removes some of it.

I see, thanks. I never thought of filters like "cutoff" as subtractive, but I guess that's what they are.

I believe it's named this way because filters are used to subtract harmonic content.

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