Before Irmin founded the now legendary German band CAN in 1968, he received a formal musical education and studied composition, piano, conducting and music ethnology. Amongst others his teachers were Karlheinz Stockhausen and Ligeti. Between 1962 and 1969 he conducted numerous orchestras including his own compositions. During this period he also composed music for various film and theatre productions. In the late 60ies Schmidt decided to unite classical New Music with Rock and Jazz and founded CAN. Between 1969 and 1978 he worked exclusively with CAN .
After 1978 Irmin released several solo albums , an opera, a ballet, as well as over 120 film scores.
Schmidt's sound-journeys combine what is usually opposed: Rock, Pop, Jazz, Classic, Electronic, Ambient, Drum'n' Bass, Walz, Oriental... He is a musical alchemist. The unusual paths Schmidt choses for his compositions were celebrated in 2010, when the prestigious Festival "Ludwigsburger Schlossfestspielen" presented a gala evening in his honor. Schmidt conducted the Orchestra of the Schlossfestspiele and presented a selection of his work to great critical acclaim.
In 2012 the CAN Label Spoon Records released The Lost Tapes, a 3 CD Can Box of previously unreleased Can material curated by Irmin Schmidt . The following year he released his double CD compilation Villa Wunderbar, a selection of his solo work and work for film (curated by Wim Wenders).
In 2015 Irmin Schmidt was knighted by the French Ministry of Culture and received the highly prestigious medal Chevalier De L'Ordre Des Arts Et Des Lettres for his contribution to art and music. The same year Spoon Records released his 12 CD box Electro Violet - a complete set of Schmidts work (6 solo CDs and 6 Soundtrack CDs).
In 2016 Irmin - in collaboration with Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth) - performed a live composition at the Louvre, Paris to the film STREET by English artist/film maker James Nares.
At „The Can Project Event" in April 2017, Irmin presented „Can Dialog" a new composition for large orchestra by Schmidt and G. Schwellenbach as well as Schmidt’s ballet „La Fermosa" and conducted the London Symphony Orchestra at the prestigious London art centre The Barbican. The orchestral part was followed by an "Homage a CAN" concert curated and presented by Thurston Moore.
May 2018 saw the release of the Can book „The Story Of Can – All Gates Open". The book in two parts presents a biography written by Rob Young and a second part „Can Kiosk" written by Irmin Schmidt, a collage of diary entires and interviews. The book is already in the second re-print.
In November 2018 Spoon Records released Irmin’s new piano solo album „5 Klavierstücke".
Irmin also finished a new composition „Filmmusiken" together with Gregor Schwellenbach with whom he already wrote „Can Dialog". The piece – an orchestration of several of Schmidt’s soundtracks - premiered at the International Film Festival Braunschweig in November 2018 where Irmin conducted the Staatsorchester Braunschweig. In December 2018 he took the composition to the Volksbühne Berlin where he conducted the Deutsche Filmorchester Babelsberg for the CAN PROJECT BERLIN event.
31. October 2019 Irmin received the HOLGER CZUKAY award from the city of Cologne for his life time achievement.