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Eberhage lives ambient dream with cyberCHUMP musical project

Growing up, we all had fantasies. Some of us wanted to be best-selling authors or decadent rock stars, and some of us wanted to be astronauts, firemen or pro ball players. As we grew up and realized how the world worked, those dreams began to fade and only the few who had determination and drive were able to live out their dreams.

Mark Eberhage, Ph.D. is one of those who had the drive to not only see one of his dreams realized, but to have many of them come to fruition. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as president of Behavioral Solutions Inc., a geriatric behavioral health consulting firm, he is known as Mark G.E. Rubbing his goatee and gazing at the world through his thick-rimmed glasses, his alter-ego is best known for indulging his artistic side in many media.

There is his work as a filmmaker, where his documentary on the making of the film "Wisconsin Death Trip" has earned kudos, along with his tribute to the late illustrator Edward Gorey. He also founded the well-known public access television show "Joy Farm," which from 1984 to 1999 made its mark by mixing commercial parodies, performance art and appearances by up-and-coming bands They Might Be Giants, Black Flag and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

It was Eberhage's love for music that led him to his friend Jim Skeel. Together they created cyberCHUMP, a compelling outlet for the duo's love of experimental and ambient music.

The two met when Eberhage moved to Kansas City, Mo. to get his doctorate in 1983. Skeel and his band Short-Term Memory assisted Eberhage in recording material for "Shindig," the second album by Xposed 4Heads, Eberhage's former lo-fi new wave group. The group was described by critics as a cross between The Cramps, The Residents and Wall of Voodoo, but the two discovered they both shared a love for early electronica innovators like Tangerine Dream, Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno.

"There was a time when the music meant something and there was a revolution afoot, like there were a few hundred of us on the East Side," he says. "We were really changing the world. Then Duran Duran got popular and all of a sudden it was 1985 ... I was completely disillusioned.

"I had always listened to (experimental music), but I never had anybody to do it with. Milwaukee's attitude back in those days was, 'Get drunk and have some fun.' Kansas City had more of an art-rock thing going on. They were more about performances and multimedia presentations. It really inspired me to go back in my record collection and put on the Eno albums with Jim."

"Scientists in the Trees," cyberCHUMP's fourth release on Internal Combustion Records, consists of 10 songs that comprise of simple melodies, dour soundscapes and meaty grooves that are influenced and inspired by the duo's love for sound, vision and Kraftwerk. Eberhage says he tries "to take listeners on a trip rather than have it be a collection of songs."

The "trip" that "Scientists in the Trees" takes the listener on is not only inspired by Eberhage's love for ambient and experimental electronica and Skeel's tendencies toward looping and the psychedelic, but by the recent events our nation has gone through.

"The new album is a reflection of what's been going on in the last two years," says Eberhage, "I think there is a darkness to it. We had a couple of labels that are interested (in distributing the album), but they all tell us that we're too dark for what they're doing. We don't think we're that dark...I don't think if we calculated it we could be."

CyberCHUMP's releases through the years have proven that the music the pair creates comes from more than just a pretty interface. Like Steely Dan in the 1970s, both Eberhage and Skeel use the studio as an additional instrument, with each of them utilizing their identical facilities to the fullest, with Eberhage's in Milwaukee and Skeel's in Kansas City. (Ironically enough, cyberCHUMP's name grew out of their ripping on '70s supergroup band names like Steely Dan and Supertramp.)

Most of the tracks are laid down separately, with one of them giving it birth and sending the track to the other via the Internet. The track is then a child dropped off for the weekend at grandma's house, constantly being added to by the other and returned to the birth parent. The process continues until the song is just right, with the two old friends occasionally meeting in person to finalize the mixes. But the collaboration is mostly performed online.

Eberhage explains how Skeel is the Felix to his Oscar: "I think Jim is a better musician than I am, but how we work together comes from two different angles. Jim is more of a child of the '60s. He has a sort-of jam band background. I sort of have an experimental music background. And now there is this group that's never really met each other that collaborates through the Internet."

Eberhage and Skeel are already working on new material for their next album, and cyberCHUMP's first two releases, "Dreams Groove" and "Inner Grooves," are being remixed by Metronome, which has been given permission to re-envision the albums.

In addition to all this, the group has recently remixed a song for the UK artist Thin Films and the title track of their third album "Abstract Air" appears on the compilation "Ambientism Volume One," on Spotlight Records. With so many balls in the air, Eberhage somehow manages to juggle everything quite well.

"I simply say, 'I've done this film' or 'I've done this album and now I've said everything I've needed to say.' Now I recharge the batteries and see things from a different perspective."

Mark Eberhage's Web site is joyfarm.com.

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