On the surface, Henry Plotnick's story is not the most unique. A child musical talent is encouraged and supported by his parents, discovered by a record company and, in turn, releases an album. This is how the Aaron Carters, Jaden Smiths, and Jordys of the world get unleashed upon an unsuspecting populace.
But the young man's music—at the time of this writing, he's 12 years old—is startlingly original. His work centers on the synthesizer, from which he produces rhythmic and melodic loops, layering lines on top of one another to create dense blocks of beautiful music. If that weren't impressive enough, Henry does it all on the fly.
"Most of it is improv," he told me recently, speaking from his home in San Francisco. "I'd say 90 percent. I've never written a fully realized piece. Sometimes there will be a loop that I'll start with that I've used before, but otherwise the first thing that comes out is what inspires a song."
In all reality, Henry's music might not have gotten beyond him goofing around on his piano or with GarageBand, but his mother, Alison Faith Levy, decided to share a track with her friends on Facebook.
"I just put it up there, like, 'Hey check out what Henry's been doing,'" she says. "John Whitson, someone we've known for many years, heard it and said, 'You know, I love this. Does he have any more?' I thought he was joking."
Alas, Whitson was so serious he ended up releasing a double LP collection of Henry's work on his Portland-based label, Holy Mountain.
"I was sort of speechless," Henry says of having his music put on vinyl for mass consumption. "'What?! No one does this! I'm 11 years old!'"
The rest of this story is the kind of thing that could make a best-selling parenting book. Two artists (Faith Levy is also a musician, and her husband, Danny Plotnick, is a writer and filmmaker) have a kid and do what they can to encourage him to be as creative as he wants. They give him piano lessons at an early age and keep a big record collection around for him to dip into.
"We would play our rock and pop stuff for him, but that didn't seem to impress him," says Levy. "But when we would play Kraftwerk or Philip Glass, he would just light up and go, 'I love this!' He got minimalism on such a deep level."
Henry wasn't pushed toward making his own music, either. When he decided to spend last summer wearing a pair of headphones in front of his computer, working on what he called an album, his parents' reaction was, "That's fine, dear," says Levy. "As long as you're not getting into trouble."
It wasn't until Henry brought his iPod on a family road trip and offered to play his album for mom and dad that they got any impression of how far their son was taking his musical endeavors.
"He puts it on," says Levy, "and Danny and I both look at each other, going, 'Are you hearing this? Oh my God!'"
Now that word is getting out about this young musician, it has become a balancing act for Henry and his family, making sure that he's getting homework and chores done while also taking him to his occasional live performances.
"We've been getting a few out of town offers. L.A., maybe Europe. Things like that," Levy says. "We just have to weight whether it fits into his school schedule and if it's worth it to us to travel. You just never know, though. It could go either way for him: It could all fizzle or it could turn into something that we have to juggle."