We’re going to recreate that big stack synth sound that sits alongside the very basic drum track in Rihanna’s 2011 single S&M.
The key to the sound is the synth technique of Pulse Width Modulation (PWM). In the realm of analogue synthesis, this is most often applied to an oscillator’s square wave, effectively changing the width of the ‘square’ under control of a modulation source. If this modulation source is an LFO with its rate pushed up to around 5Hz, then there is a noticeable thickening - much like doubling a sound.
For this example we’ve turned to Arturia’s Jupiter-8V to deliver the starting point. A key aspect of the riff is that the bass follows the higher elements, and for this we’ve added some low-end from TAL’s NoiseMaker (a good free synth). Further layering is achieved with Steinberg’s Prologue (another analogue-style synth), and this is all topped-off with some reverb, compression and a little overall dynamic control.
A video guide to getting the sound is below - read on for a step-by-step walkthrough.