What I see in general? In fact I "see" a black (but a black like the night time oil stain of a quik stop grocery parking lot). I find that knowledge gives you a decreased ability to "let go" - the more you know about the mechanics of music making or recording engineering the more likely you'll dissect it into parts than enjoy it as a whole. When I can get away from that I see in my thoughts range from musings on the people who introduced me to the song/band to abstract visualizations like you get with computer digital music players to devising a story around the lyrics with specific people playing the roles. But they aren't laid out like a film in front of me - they're further deep in my brain like a four inch sphere from the center point.
Okay, I did it - I put on my headphones and closed my eyes and listened to a song (one for which I had never seen the video - since that usually burns an imprint in my visuals). I listened to "I'm A Mess [mp3]" by Nick Lowe from The Convincer album. What I see in specific? Well, despite strong showings of memories of Nick in a fine bespoke suit from when I saw him in Philadelphia, I get sparks of musty wall to wall carpeting and very wide vertical venetian blinds closed against the daylight and figuring out ways to avoid the neighbors. (And a tiny delight in that one snare hit at 2:07 where the bridge hovers for a bar.) What a great song!
I suspect that she would do justice to "I'm A Mess" as a live cover.
I mentally break songs up into parts, too; I'll dissect them, and I never listen to the same song in the same way twice, but I'm still able to "let go," and that's where the high is. It's an especially strong high when the album has one good song after another, with material that breaks through all the stale pop clutter - a patch of clean grass as we walk out among the manure. It's hard to find albums that sound new, and doubly hard to find ones that are both new and good. Bullette's The Secrets (free download or $10 limited edition CD) and Final Fantasy's Has a Good Home are two records that are both. That's why I asked them the question (Owen Pallett's reply is in the comments to Monday's post): I thought they'd have the most interesting answers. If you don't have their albums, you're missing out on a piece of the future.
Many thanks to Monika Bullette and Owen Pallett for their replies.