Born in 1966 in Cologne, he grew up in Africa, Europe, and Asia. Having completed his studies in musicology and political science at the University of Bonn, he worked at the Goethe Institut in Kathmandu, Nepal (1990–91), on a project to support and sustain local music traditions. In 1994 he moved to the United States, where he studied composition at Boston’s New England Conservatory, and later with Tristan Murail at the Columbia University of New York, where he obtained his doctorate in 2002 for a dissertation on music and space. At the City University of New York he designed and expanded the CUNY Computer Music Studio. In 2000–1 he stayed in Paris, taking part in IRCAM’s composition and music informatics courses. As assistant to Tristan Murail, he taught composition and computer music at Columbia. He also organised the “Lachenmann in New York” Festival in 2001. Of music importance to his artistic development was attending masterclasses conducted by Salvatore Sciarrino, Jonathan Harvey, Brian Ferneyhough, George Benjamin, and Vinko Globokar.
His music has been performed at international festivals such as the Paris Agora, Brussels Ars Musica, Musica Strasbourg, Parisian Présences and Tremplins, Wittener Tage für Neue Kammermusik, MaerzMusik and Ultraschall in Berlin, Les Musiques in Marseilles, musique action in Nancy, Alternativa Moscow, ICMC International Computer Music Conferences in Singapore and Gothenburg, Musicacoustica in Beijing, South Africa’s Indaba, Tanglewood Music Festival, Frankfurt 2000, as well as at Washington’s Kennedy Center as part of the Millenium Stage Series, by such groups as Ensemble Modern, Ensemble intercontemporain, Musikfabrik, Ictus, Percussions de Strasbourg, Speculum Musicae, Court-Circuit, Mosaik, Kammerensemble Neue Musik Berlin, Ensemble Courage, Antares, the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, and St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble, among others. His scores are published by Edition C.F. Peters, and his works have been released on CDs by Mode Records, Wergo, Hathut, Telos, and CPO.
As a saxophonist Oliver Schneller has performed in George Russell Big Band, the Gustav Mahler Youth Symphony under Seiji Ozawa, and also as a soloist in Tan Dun’s Red Forecast with Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra. He has appeared with many jazz and improvised music ensembles in Cologne, Amsterdam, Boston, and New York.
In 2009–10 he taught composition at the State University of Music and Performing Arts (HMDK) in Stuttgart. In 2013 he was a curator for Berlin’s MaerzMusik festival. He taught composition at the Incontri Institute for New Music at the Hanover University of Music, Drama and Media, and was the head of that institute (2012–15). In 2015 he was appointed professor of composition and director of the Eastman Audio Research Studio (EARS) of the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, where he lives with his wife Heather O’Donnell (a pianist) and daughter.
In the autumn semester of 2018/2019 he taught composition at the Technical University of Berlin, and since 2019 also at the Robert Schumann High School of Music Düsseldorf.
Oliver Schneller is continually preoccupied with all aspects of intercultural relations in music. He has headed and curated many projects dedicated to this subject.
Selected works (since 2005): Die unendliche Feinheit des Raumes, “theatrum sonorum” for organ, horn, percussion, tuba, eight speakers and video projection (2005), Turbulent Space for recorder and live electronics (2005), String Space for violin, viola, cello and live electronics (2005), This is What I Am Seeing Here for clarinet, violin, cello and piano (2005), Clair/Obscur for seven instruments and live electronics (2005–6), Stratigraphie I for six instruments and six speakers (2005–6), Engine for accordion and five speakers (2006), Twilight Dialogues II for flute, clarinet, viola and piano (2006), Track & Field for piano, four speakers and video (2006–7), Mobile Resonance for eight instruments and live electronics (2006–7), Resonant Space for two pianos and two percussions (2007), Voice Space, installation (2007), Cell Cycle, electronic music (2007), Wu Xing, installation (2007), Anaclasis for recorder, trumpet, shō, piano and cello (2008), La couleur du son, installation (2008), The Path for clarinet, accordion, percussion and live electronics (2008), Musica ficta for flute, oboe, clarinet, piano, percussion and electronics (2008), Paysage sauvage for trumpet, trombone, percussion and live electronics (2008–9), Rugged Space for piano, accordion and live electronics (2009), Jagged Landscape for flute, accordion, piano and cello (2009), Scattered Scene for kalimba and live electronics (2009), Abendlied for voice, violin, cello and clavichord (2009), Stratigraphie II for six instruments and electronics (2009–10), Wu Xing/Fire for orchestra (2009–10), Kagura for flute and chamber orchestra (2010), Tensegrity Touches for piano, virtual instruments and video (2010), Blips&Ifs for flute, clarinet, piano, violin and cello (2010), Open Space for organ and electronics (2010), Wu Xing/Metal for orchestra (2010–11), Dreamspace for ensemble and orchestra (2011), Cyan for two pianos and two percussion (2011), Sunday in the Park for accordion (2011), Anser indicus for accordion, bass clarinet, violin, viola and cello (2011), Mugen for nō singer and electronics (2011), Amber for two string quartets (2011–12), Transatlantic Jukebox for piano and chamber orchestra (2011–12), Haiku for violin (2012), Wu Xing/Water for orchestra (2013), Alice Blue for six instruments and Nord Stage synthesizer (2013), Introjections for string quartet (2013), Superstructure II for percussionist and electronics (2013), Tinder for tenor and piano (2013),Superstructure for six percussionists (2013), Transience for koto, gayageum, janggu and guzheng (2013), Passagio for four voices and four saxophones (2013), Tropes for orchestra (2014).