This classic, distinctive repeated plucked riff has to be on of the most memorable in dance music. The insistent repeated theme was much copied at the time and ultimately lead to that type of sound becoming a dance cliché.
Faithless remained masters of the big riff however, and Insomnia went on to become a crossover success in numerous countries around the globe. Fortunately, we have a unique insight into how this sound was created, as one of us worked with Faithless at the time the track was created.
The simple answer is this: Roland JD-990. The sound is a slightly edited variation of one of the presets based around a pizzicato string sample.
Listen: Faithless - Insomnia
How to get the sound
This sound is quite an easy one to recreate on any sample-based synth, as most have some form of pizzicato string sound. In fact, you will find almost identical samples in most Roland hardware boxes of the same era as the JD-990 (JV-1080 etc). In the virtual world you will need to dial through your preset library to find something with a nice plucked attack - for our purposes, we have used HALionOne in Cubase (having searched on ‘pizz’). Once selected the crucial addition is a smooth hall reverb placed generously across the track.