Michael Gordon was born in Florida and grew up in Nicaragua and on the outskirts of Managua in an Eastern European Jewish community before moving to Miami Beach at age eight. Gordon's music is an outgrowth of his experience with underground rock bands in New York City and his formal training in composition at Yale where he studied with Martin Bresnick.
Gordon is one of the founders and artistic directors of New York's Bang on a Can Festival, alongside fellow composers Julia Wolfe, his wife, and David Lang. He has collaborated with them on several projects. The opera The Carbon Copy Building, a collaboration with comic book artist Ben Katchor, received the 2000 Village Voice Obie Award for Best New American Work. A projected comic strip accompanies and interacts with the singers, and the frames fall away in the telling of the story. Gordon, Wolfe and Lang subsequently collaborated with librettist Deborah Artman on the 'oratorio' Lost Objects, the recording of which was released in summer 2001 (Teldec New Line).
A further project is Shelter, a multi-media work that was commissioned by the ensemble musikFabrik and features the Scandinavian vocalists Trio Mediaeval in a staged spectacle. Shelter premiered in Cologne, Germany in spring 2005, and received its US premiere in November 2005.
Both Shelter and Carbon Copy Building were staged by New York's Ridge Theater, in collaboration with Laurie Olinder (visual graphics), Bill Morrison (film-maker) and Bob McGrath (director).The opera Chaos, with libretto by Matthew Maguire premiered at The Kitchen in New York in the autumn of 1998 with stage direction by Bob McGrath. The work, which opened to rave reviews and packed houses, is a fast-paced science fiction spectacle in 25 short scenes.
In 2017 Chinese singer Gong Linna premiered Cloud River Mountain, written by the three Bang on a Can composers in addition to Lao Luo. They also premiere Road Trip, a celebration of Bang on a Can's 30-year journey, together at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in October 2017.