The composer has lived mostly in the USA since 1941. He studied piano with Grete Sultan and, briefly, composition with John Cage. Though mostly self-taught as a composer, association with John Cage, Morton Feldman, David Tudor, Earle Brown, Frederic Rzewski and Cornelius Cardew have been important for him. A particular feature of his music has been to allow performers various degrees of freedom and interaction at the actual time of performance. The music is published by C F Peters (New York), and a good portion of it has been recorded. A number of pieces have been used by choreographer Merce Cunningham starting in 1953.
Wolff has also been active as a performer and as an improviser — with, among others, Takehisa Kosugi, Steve Lacey, Keith Rowe, William Winant, Kui Dong, Larry Polansky and the group AMM. He has received awards and grants from the American Academy and National Institute of Arts and Letters, DAAD Berlin, the Asian Cultural Council, the Fromm Foundation, the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts (the John Cage award for music) and the Mellon Foundation. He is a member of the Akademie der Kuenste in Berlin and has received an honorary Doctor of Arts degree from the California Institute of the Arts. Academically trained at Harvard as a classicist, Wolff has taught classics at Harvard and from 1971 to 1999 was professor of Classics and Music at Dartmouth College.