Kevin Volans was born in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, studied with Karlheinz Stockhausen and Mauricio Kagel in Cologne, and now lives in Dublin, Ireland.
During his Cologne years he travelled back to South Africa to record African music: traditional African forms became an important influence on his composition, even though he later described himself as setting out to "compose my way back to Europe". There have also been significant American elements in his musical journey: the influence of composer Morton Feldman and a productive collaboration with the Kronos Quartet, for whom he wrote White Man Sleeps (1986), Hunting: Gathering (1987) and The Songlines (1988). The Kronos recordings of his work broke all sales records for discs of string quartet music; in 1997 the BBC Music Magazine listed him as one of the 50 most important living composers.
As well as being a composer and pianist, Kevin Volans is a challenging and original writer and speaker on music. He has taught composition in Durban, Paris and Cork (he became an Irish citizen in 1995), and has been composer-in-residence at Queen's University Belfast and Princeton.