I'm a member of a large ensemble called Grizzler which is led by Dave Gross. We had a rehearsal on Sunday evening at Lou Cohen's house. There were 9 of us at the rehearsal.
One of the things we worked on was trying to (during the course of a piece) not play for an entire minute (as an ensemble). I made a couple of comments during our post-play discussion about what I observed during the improvisation.
Before the minute of silence actually occurred, there were at least a couple of "false starts" during which some members of the ensemble made a conscious effort to institute the minute of silence. These false starts imbued a certain pregnancy to the music which I actually found quite exciting.
It seemed to me that once we got to the minute of silence, everyone was really ready for it. But that could be because I was really ready for it. What do I know.
I was surprised at how well I thought that the exercise worked, because personally, I'm not that interested in the aethestics[sic?] of silence.
I have two main approaches to improvising within a group. The first is to be an active collaborator who seeks to blend sound effectively. In other words, I'm not always looking to stand out, I'm looking to add things that make the music as coherent as possible. I don't mean accesible, I mean that what I'm doing makes some sort of sense compared to what other people are doing.
Now, there are times when I will do the exact opposite, usually for the following reasons: 1) To make a point 2) To challenge the dominant paradigm 3) Because I deserve it since I've been a team player for most of the rest of the time. A further explanation:
1) To make a point - another of saying "For the heck of it", "Because I can", "I got kind of bored", "I wanted to see what would happen".
2) To challenge the dominant paradigm - To challenges the expectation of what the ensemble will sound like or what I will sound like.
3) Self explanatory
The other main way that I play is to see the improvisation as a series of events, to interpret those events, and to react to them. I often watch other players very closely and react to what they do. This happens a lot with drummers. I just wait for them to hit the hi-hat, or the ride. I literally wait for the moment when they do it and that's when I play. I keep an eye out for visual cues as well as musical cues.
Improvisation for me is a serious and solid study into the aethestics[sic?] of interaction. That's how we build collectively as a group of musicians.
So there you have it, a look into what goes in my brain when I'm playing with other people.