Almost completely self-taught as composer, Wolff studied music under Sultan and Cage, and later studied classics at Harvard University (BA, PhD). Wolff's early compositional work included a lot of silence and was based initially on complicated rhythmic schema and later on a system of aural cues. He innovated unique notational methods in his early scores and found creative ways of dealing with improvisation within his written music. His later pieces often give a degree of freedom to the performers. Some works have an explicit political dimension responding to contemporary world events and broader political ideals. Wolff desire is "to turn the making of music into a collaborative and transforming activity (performer into composer into listener into composer into performer, etc.), the cooperative character of the activity to the exact source of the music, a sense of social conditions in which we live and of how these might be changed."