Ordinary language is all right.
One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.
When doing "absolutely" nothing, also: it tends to be with albums that I treasure a great deal, that I'm very familiar with. At least, more often than not, that is, not excluding the not.
I never listen to new albums "carefully" any more. For basically any of them but the ones I've most been looking forward to (see Change), I just immediately integrate them into my normal listening patterns as well as I feel like doing. That is, listening on the bus, listening in my office, at home, while reading, while writing, while grading, while walking, in mixes, alone, listening all the way through, giving up early, changing my mind in favor of something else, changing my mind in favor of nothing, making noises, twitching my feet, dancing, not dancing, occasionally, frequently, constantly, regularly, warily, excitedly, tiredly, dutifully, willingly.
Things I did with my body while listening to various records recently:
Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation: twitched my feet back and forth rapidly.
Stereolab: made farting noises with my mouth, rocked my head back and forth.
Miles Davis, Kind of Blue: put my feet on the wall by my bed, swayed my knees back and forth, held my forearm over my forehead so that I couldn't see.
James Brown: swaggered, ambled, made poor approximation to inarticulate scream of Mr. Brown.
Wu-Tang Clan, "Pinky Ring": whistled horn sample.
Kardinal Offishall, "Maxine": said "a ho is a ho", "tee dot oh", "she love me in her dee vee dee yo", others aloud at moderate volume in imitation of Kardi. Sang "Maxine" etc.
I don't like the word, "banal". The previous sequence of entries might be. But perhaps there's a difference between a thing's being banal, and the act of taking notice of that thing, of the role the thing plays.
Are riding the bus and walking considered "doing nothing"? Sometimes when I ride the bus I read, too, so maybe not. And in either case I think my mind is more active, thinking about whatver it is I think about, than when I do as in the previous entry, listening only.
Walking takes more concentration than one might think.
Even while thinking constantly ("constantly"?), I am focusing a great deal on the music. Often it points me toward my next thought. Often not.
When do I just listen (if I ever do), and do nothing else?
Mostly when tired.
But also when particularly seized by a piece of music.
In the former case, I tend to hear most of the piece of music, as I am not doing anything for a long time. This is where I tend to fall asleep, also.
In the latter case, the time for which I do nothing is briefer. I stop doing something, an start doing it later. Perhaps after I feel rested - so maybe this, too, is something I do when tired. They might be different levels of tiredness.
Records I especially enjoy doing the latter to are by the American Analog Set, when in my office, at my desk, when the sun is shining through my window.
Music I have taken brief naps to in the past few days, or at least, music I have played while sort of drifting in and out:
Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation. Yo La Tengo, Electr-o-Pura. My two previous mixes. The Sea and Cake, The Biz. Sonic Youth, Murray Street. Stereolab, Emperor Tomato Ketchup. Stereolab, Sound-Dust. Lamb, Fear of Fours.
Something I did while listening to...
... Miles Davis, Kind of Blue, last night:
At first, nothing. I had been reading; I set the book aside, and the computer, too. This is one of the few albums which I listen to where my mind doesn't wander at all. Unless this counts: eventually, after following the parts for a while, I started singing along - to the background parts. Singing quietly. I tried to see how long I could keep it up singing to a solo. And how on pitch I could be. Problems I encountered: matching my vocal range to the instruments' ranges. Singing quickly enough for certain fast parts that I knew. Singing anything other than garbled rising or falling or up and down sounds for fast parts which it turns out I did not know as well as I thought. (Sort of like the difference between being able to recognize a room known well to you, versus being able to reconstruct how that room looks from memory.) Tiring. Singing on pitch (to correct this, I tried singing with one ear held closed; I think it helped).
Something I did while listening...
... to: myself, today, playing bass, no amp.
Felt the body of it resonate against mine, differently for different notes. Felt a connection between the clarity of the note, and how I placed my fingers on the frets. Felt myself speed up when I wasn't supposed to. Felt myself moving comfortably from note to note, but caught myself attempting to move without knowing how to when trying to play nonadjacent notes. Heard my D string buzzing. Played the notes from my practice book in time with the music on my stereo, coming from down the hall. Listened to the music on my stereo, down the hall. Played the notes from my practice book swung. Sucked at it. Felt the pads of my first and third fingers begin to hurt, happily. Felt the first and second fingers of my right hand tire, happily.
The technique: blitz.
For immediate use upon the realization that you are surveying much too large a subject. For clearing your head of what you think they want to know, in order to let out what you know. For something to re-survey at a later date, with the benefit of more pieces.