Les Granules (the Kernels) was the duo project of guitarist René Lussier and saxophonist/flutist Jean Derome, active from the early '80s to the late '90s. Considered by many as embodying the esthetic of early Ambiances Magnétiques music, the unit played a crucial role in the popular conception of what musique actuelle is (or at least used to be at the time): creative, resourceful, funny music drawing from many backgrounds including rock, jazz, contemporary music, and Quebec folk.
Lussier and Derome met in the late '70s and started to work together in 1978, mostly on film soundtracks. By 1982, they had developed a duo concert, Ambiances Magnétiques; this title became the name of the artists collective and record label they co-founded a year later. The performance already included voices, acoustic and electric instruments, together with tape collages, home-made instruments, and an array of small objects. In the next few years, the two musicians developed a closer relationship and humor took a key role in the project. From Derome's whimsical wordplay and constant shifting between sax, bird calls, and what else, to Lussier's foot-tapping, angular guitar lines, and frenetic strumming, added to the two-man-band approach they used, gave their concerts high entertaining value and their albums something to sink your teeth into.
A first LP, Soyez Vigilants... Restez Vivants! Vol. 1, came out in 1986. Credited to Derome/Lussier, it featured the duo's most serious material. Like its follow-up, Le Retour des Granules (1987), it made extensive use of studio techniques, especially overdubbing. The second LP attracted very good reviews and yielded cult underground classics in "Nombril/Fusil" and "Si Tu T'Ennuies du Temps." For a while the album became Ambiances Magnétiques' best-selling title. Soon both musicians embarked on a number of solo projects (and joined Fred Frith's group Keep the Dog). Performances became sparse, but by 1990 a new album was in the works. Finally completed and released in 1992, Au Royaume du Silencieux shifted the focus from studio to live work. Instead of creating multi-track pieces and then trying to play them live with only two musicians, they performed the pieces in real time but recorded many takes and edited together the best sections. The result became their most accomplished record, both in terms of silliness and serious musicianship (a comparison to Eugene Chadbourne's approach works well). Les Granules resumed live performance for a while, but both musicians were again busy with new projects. By 1998, Derome and Lussier had grown dissatisfied with their musical partnership, and after a final performance at a Lussier retrospective concert series, they split.