Product Review - Sensora Spatial Sound, Color and Vibration Therapy - May, 1997

By John Sunier


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The first U.S. installation of a new cutting-edge technology employing home theater equipment, a modified satellite dish, a computer, a custom reclining chair and special sound, light and vibration programming is now in operation in that center of mellowness, Marin County, California. The Sensora applies art, science and therapeutic principles to overall relaxation and stress reduction.

A project of Sensortech in Montreal (where the original installation is located), the Sensora is installed in a darkened room of at least 100 square feet size with all surfaces covered in black carpeting. An 11-foot parabolic screen is the largest component. It is constructed from a satellite dish coated on the inside surface with many layers of quartz crystals and reflective silver particles. It is mounted at a proper distance to cover nearly the entire field of view of the person in the reclining chair below it. The screen is angled down toward the special Sensora VIA transducer reclining chair which contains eight built-in sound transducers. The chair is motor-driven to gently shift from an upright position all the way to a nearly horizontal reclining position, and is ergonomically designed for maximum comfort of the user. Each of the eight sound transducers embedded within the chair vibrate a section of the chair's surface under one's body. They contact the shoulders, the lower back, the thighs and the feet.

A four-channel home theater system plays from an eight-channel professional cassette deck which allows the other four channels to encode and store the digital programming for the light and vibration portion of the Sensora experience. Cambridge SoundWorks loudspeakers, including powered subwoofers, are used throughout - under the screen and on the sides of the room. Behind the transducer chair and above the head of the user is the LPA-1 Light Projection Array - a standing unit incorporating 15 independent electronically-controlled light sources merged into five tri-color light beams via fiber optics technology [
click here for photo]. Using special dichroic filters, it is capable of projecting a seamless wall of pure colors on the screen.

The entire Sensora room is controlled by the SC-1 Sensor Driver mounted in an adjoining area. This is the nerve center of the operation - a computer coordinating all the elements through multiple data ports [
click here to see photo]. It synthesizes the light patterns on the screen that are an essential part of the experience, controlling over 60 different parameters of the projections. It also operates in conjunction with the TD-1 Transdriver, which is hooked to the reclining chair. Together they generate gentle waves of low frequency sound vibrations that flow across the body from head to toe, creating a sort of "sound massage." The chair idea is somewhat similar to the home theater subwoofer chair and hassock which Pioneer and others have demonstrated, but carried out with a great deal more sophistication and complexity. Its purpose is not to shake you up when you're supposed to be flying in the Millenium Falcon, but to bring about a deeper level of relaxation.

The TD-1 receives a signal from the tape and filters out the higher frequencies. It then compresses the low end information and limits it so that the level is optimal for playback in the transducer chair. The unit then distributes this signal over the eight outputs in the chair, smoothly varying their respective levels in a coordinated manner. A special amplitude modulation algorithm program is used by the built-in microcomputer. Eight separate power amplifiers drive the chair transducers. Thirty pre-programmed vibration patterns are in the memory bank of the computer and twenty more can be customized. An infrared remote controller allows all playback operations to be performed while lying in the chair if one wishes.

So what is a half-hour Sensora experience really like? My first thought upon entering the darkened room was that this experience would probably not be a pleasant one for anyone suffering from claustrophobia. After getting into the chair, the motorized recliner tilted back and I thought of my last dental visit. But as the sounds and colored lights slowly begin to come up I began to slow down and breathe more deeply. There are many different audio programs from which to choose, for different purposes such as energizing, relaxing or balancing oneself. A variety of environmental sounds were part of the tape I chose, mixed with flowing New Age music.

The colors and patterns of the lights on the screen pulsated, changed and moved in sync with the rhythms of the surround sound music and nature sounds. Then the chair transducers began their gentle kinesthetic sensation on my body. The whole thing is a sort of bath in light, sound and physical sensations. The programs are synchronized with the flow of brainwaves, breath and heartbeat. The usual half hour session is over far too soon, but I felt refreshed, as after a genuine massage or perhaps a period of meditation.

A team of psychologists, psychotherapists, physicists and artists developed the various Sensora programs. The composers of the music are specialists in the field of relaxation music, often combined with natural sounds recorded around the world. The originator of Sensora is a Canadian physicist, Alain Martel, whose equipment for sound spatialization is used by NASA, Disney World, and Imax among others. His technology is used in bringing movement and direction to the Sensora soundscape. The work is based on research showing that the brain tends to spontaneously harmonize with different pulsed frequencies of sound or light. For example, stimulation of the senses with pulses in the Alpha brainwave range (one of the four brainwave types) will help the brain to move toward the relaxed state normally associated with the Alpha waves.

The Sensora employs the known power of beautiful sounds and music on the human body, mind and spirit. It maximizes the potential of these benefits to create a unique sensation of a sound-space completely surrounding and filling the listener. One customer described it as a voyage inside a rainbow. Spas, chiropractic clinics and the Wellness community are the major targets for purchasing the Sensora installation and using it as a tool for stress reduction and relaxation as well as in combination with different forms of psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, massage and bodywork. However, if you're looking for the ultimate Home Theater for the mind and body, you can have your own private Sensora in your home for $35,000 plus $2,500 installation fee.

For more information: Paul Devlas, Pres., Rainbow Vision, 1368 Lincoln Avenue, Suite 108, San Rafael, CA 94901. 415-457-9275.

John Sunier

Copyright 1995, 1996, 1997 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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